Throughout most of episode 1 of Top Chef: Just Desserts it was difficult to know what to make of contestant Zac Young. He clearly had one of the strongest and funniest personalities of the new show but what about that giant bow tie and all those zippy one liners- he seemed to be having far too much fun to be a legit pastry chef, let alone a threat to win. Then he made the top 3 for his Vanilla Bean Cupcake.
Another episode and 10 quotable quotes later, Zac has shown that he has skills in the kitchen (Ho Ho’s w/ Red Hot cream/ Hot Tamale and licorice sauce anyone?) and is also a fan favorite, (see the results of the live in-show poll).
This past Friday (after episode 2 aired) DessertBuzz caught up with telegenic pastry chef to what kind of filling he’s made of.
DessertBuzz: So Last night I had some of the desserts at Flex Mussels [where Zac is executive pastry chef] – the Lemon Meringue Pie in a Glass and four of your signature donuts. – salted caramel, pbj, fluffernutter and chocolate.
Zac Young: That’s sneaky!
DB: How did the lemon meringue dessert come about?
ZY: When I was young, one memory from Cape Elizabeth, ME was of all the seaside fish shacks. They always had pies out on the ledges cooling. The light seafood meals really lent themselves to pies for dessert. So I wanted to make a lemon meringue pie but since I can’t do anything “by the book” I decided to make it without a crust and in a glass. I also hate making pie crusts – and tarts! At Bouchon, I was making crusts for 14 hours a day – so I really developed an aversion to tarts with shells. Instead, the graham cracker crumble takes the place of the crust.
DB: Which of your signature dishes at Flex Mussels do New Yorkers seem to respond to?
ZY: The donuts or anything fried. I tried to put a light dessert on the menu and it just didn’t sell. But anything fried does well. I mean, I could put a deep fried pile of lard on the menu and I think it would be popular.
DB: Out of the four donuts I tried (Salted caramel, fluffernutter, chocolate, PB&J) my favorite was the salted caramel.
ZY: The salted caramel is my favorite too. I think there’s something about finishing a meal and then coming off a savory buzz to something too sweet. It can be too much. I think a meal should have an arc to it. Savory, then salty sweet – then maybe more sweet. So the salted caramel works great that way.
DB: I wanted to order the Deep Fried Whoopie Pie but I was scared of the cream cheese! [the dessert is listed as "Deep fried whoopie pie with dark chocolate cake, cream cheese filling caramelized white chocolate cream"]
ZY: You should have gone for it. The cream cheese really compliments the dark chocolate – the sour just makes the chocolate taste that much better.
DB: What was it like working for Bouchon Bakery? It seems like their style is a bit tighter than what you do at Flex? Or what I have seen so far on the Top Chef?
ZY: For me learning the classic techniques provided a great foundation for creating news desserts. But I see desserts as a funny, almost irreverent pursuit. I mean desserts are silly! (I agree – Ed) Dessert is such a luxury – let’s make fun of it a little! I think to take desserts too seriously takes a lot of the enjoyment out of them.
DB: Let’s say you’re on vacation for a week and you have a night in your home kitchen what dessert do you prepare for yourself?
ZY: Ice cream! Crème Fraiche ice cream.
DB: Just plain, no belles and whistles?!
ZY: Well a deep fried crème fraiche cookie sandwich – like a giant deep fried oreo with a crème fraiche center.
DB: Do you have any favorite Desserts in NYC?
ZY: Catrine Oscarson from Mas Farmhouse (on Downing St.), what she does with local fuits and produce is amazing. Her deconstructed rhubarb crisp, has such a great rhubarb flavor. She is really a master with fruits and natural flavors.
DB: Now your mother is vegan – have you ever tried to create a really killer dessert with no milk or dairy?
ZY: Yes I have but with absolutely no success! I am aware of some really great vegan desserts like from Candle Café and some great soy-based ice creams, some are even better than the ones with full dairy. Growing up there was always carob flavored pudding around and even today when I go home there will be some vegan treats in the fridge.
DB: Maybe more than the other chef so far this season, you seem to really enjoy yourself while competing. Is creating pastry your favorite thing to do?
ZY: I love my job. I have to have a challenge and the show is never about about just who is the best chef it’s about handling the twists. Pastry chefs are so linear. The joy is in figuring out a way to solve the challenge. It’s funny, for most people pastry is a hobby but for me its what Iove – it’s also what I do. So what I am going to do for a hobby? Finance!? It really does have to be your life.
DB: Are there any past top chef contestants that you think you can relate to?
ZY: I saw Dave Martin [season one finalist] a little while ago – and I said thank you. He said why and I said for making it ok for a gay man to cry on Top Chef.
DB: If you had to get some chocolate or a chocolate chip cookie in NYC where would it be from?
ZY: For chocolate it would have to be Mr. Chocolate [Jacques Torres] He is really god. He’s brilliant. I mean for cookies I love [chocolate chip cookie from] Levain too. The Levain cookie is a big blob of comforting dough! As far as other desserts deinitely Il Laboratorio del Gelato. Jon Snyder is a crazy mad scientist. He is always up late working on new flavors, sometimes until 3:00 a.m.
DB: Congratulations on making it past the first and second episodes. During episode 2 the viewers picked you (by an overwhelming margin) as the chef they would most like to have a cocktail with? Why do you think you have connected so strongly with viewers in the first 2 episodes?
ZY: I am so thrilled with this poll! I can be a little polarizing. People seem to feel strongly either way with me . In episode 2 I think you got to see a little more of the human side of me. It also didn’t hurt that I got a lot of screen time.
The DessertBuzz prediction: Zac will team up with Fabio Viviani and have their own Bravo show.
More Top Chef: Just Desserts coverage on DessertBuzz:
Go here for an interview with contestant Eric Wolitzky from New York’s Baked bakery.
For a recap of episode 1 go here.
For a recap of episode 2 go here.
Go here for a look at Johnny Iuzzini.
Go here for a closer look at Judge Danielle Kyrillos.
Official Bravo Bios for the judges: Johnny Iuzzuni – Executive Pastry Chef Jean Georges, Hubert Keller – Owner/Chef Fleur De Lys, Gail Simmons – Food and Wine Magazine, Dannielle Kyrillos – Daily Candy
Go here for the DessertBuzz Top Chef: Just Desserts preview page.