Top Chef: Just Desserts interview Judge Dannielle Kyrillos18 Oct 2010, Posted by Interviews, Top Chef, Top Chef Just Desserts: Season I in
Compared to Johnny Iuzzini, Hubert Keller and Gail Simmons, fourth judge Danielle Kyrillos might seem a little under the radar. In fact she’s no dessert newbie–she’s been covering the Aspen Food and Wine Festival and writing about sweets for Daily Candy for years. After reading some of her New York Dessert recommendations in Daily Candy I decided that she had the requisite skills to earn the official DessertBuzz Seal of Approval.
DessertBuzz: You have kind of a dream job, judging desserts made by some of the best up-and-coming chefs in the US. How did you score this gig?
Dannielle Kyrillos: I do feel like the luckiest girl in the world! As an editor at Daily Candy my job was to identify the newest, best and most interesting things, including sweet things and tell our readers about them. I learned about the opportunity and then spoke to my friend Gail Simmons. For the audition, they sent a film crew and said “tell us a funny story about dessert”. I told this [really unfunny] story about my husband and I entertaining. After the take this 18 year old P.A. says “yeah, that’s really funny” – I felt like I really bombed it!
DB: You don’t look like you eat a lot of dessert.
DK: First, thanks. You know, everything in moderation. If you have ever tasted 13 plated desserts in a row–
DB: I have.
DK: Right, well you get this head rush and then your heart goes crazy like it’s going to leap out of your chest. You really have to moderate your intake, even if something [you’re tasting] is something you really like.
DB: Obviously, you bring a lot of credibility from covering the Aspen Food & Wine Classic and from reviewing foods on Daily Candy but it still must be a little intimidating reviewing desserts with the likes of Johnny Iuzzini and Hubert Keller?
DK: Well, at first it was. Gail has been a friend for some time but I didn’t really know Hubert or Johnny. I have to say how great they both were. Right at the beginning in episode one, (special guest judge) Jacques Torres was also very kind and supportive. One of the executives at Bravo told me “you are not a pastry chef and we don’t want you to try to be one. We want your take, your impressions of the desserts”
DB: Ok so let’s say one night at the start of the judging Iuzinni says about one of the desserts “this is really great…” but you don’t think it’s good at all. Would it be easy to voice your opinion even if it contradicted one of the other judges?”
DK: It was easy because everyone was so respectful. The best dessert is not always the most elaborate or complicated. It really depends on the challenge. We (the judges) collaborated really well. Johnny took the job as head judge very seriously and was very conscious about not being too overbearing.
DB: Your bio says you have had a passion for baking “since you were little” – what do you like to bake?
DK: I’m a big pie aficionado. My grandparents owned a restaurant and my grandmother made all kinds of pies. She regarded the recipes as closely held family secrets. One time I asked about one of the recipes over the phone, and she asked “is this a secure line?” But with pies, once you learn how to roll out the dough they’re really pretty easy. Pies tend to impress non-bakers too.
DB: I read one of your posts on Daily candy and there were all kinds of sweets from all over the country. How do you decide what to review? You must get stuff sent all the time.
DK: Daily Candy is made up of mostly crazy women who are really interested and engaged in what they are writing about. For me, one of my favorite beats (as the editor-at-large) is the food. I really love discovering new things, new products, new sweet items to tell people about.
DB: What are some of your favorite desserts in New York?
DK: I definitely like “breakfast as dessert”. Egg custard, even a Chinese pork bun works. I think Colleen Grapes at the Red Cat makes really elegant “comfort desserts”. She takes basic desserts, like strawberry shortcake and then uses seasonal toppings (the Red Cat recently had strawberry bread pudding and sweet Corn custard on their dessert menu – ed).
DB: What do you think about the current cup cake craze going on in New York right now?
DK: The cupcake craze is something good that’s become the victim of it’s own success. Everyone has to make a cupcake and they’re not all going to be good. We recently got some very good cupcakes from the Street Sweets truck along with some excellent Pumpkin whoopie pies.
DB: It’s your last meal, what do you have for dessert?
DK: At first, I was going to say a really good Japanese tea cake but that would not be satisfying enough. I think my mom’s chocolate pudding with fresh whipped cream and a garnish of mint leaves.
DB: A lot of people initially answer this question by naming a dessert that would be very satisfying in terms of flavors or ingredients but then after considering that it will be their last actual dessert, change it to a dessert that’s personally more meaningful – like mom’s pudding.
DK: People are very nostalgic about desserts, it’s the most celebratory meal. We mark special occasions not with savory dishes but with cakes!
DB: You have your name on a dressing room at the Today Show and you’ve been a judge on Top Chef: Just Desserts what’s next for Dannielle Kyrillos?
DK: My personal mission is to convince people they can have friends over to their home for a meal, even just dessert, it doesn’t matter if you have a small apartment or you don’t think you’re a good cook, it’s the best way to spend time with friends.
More Top Chef: Just Desserts coverage on DessertBuzz:
For Fabio Viviani’s take: Go here.
Go here for an interview with contestant Zac Young from New York’s Flex Mussels
Go here for an interview with contestant Eric Wolitzky from New York’s Baked bakery.
For a recap of episode 5 go here.
For a recap of episode 4 go here.
For a recap of episode 3 go here.
For a recap of episode 2 go here.
For a recap of episode 1 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.