clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Top Chef Just Desserts Contestants Named! Also, a Premiere Date: September 15th

New, 3 comments
Top Chef Just Desserts judges.
Top Chef Just Desserts judges.
Photo: Bravo

Attention sweet tooths and chocoholics! Not only do we have the full contestant roster for the first season of Top Chef Just Desserts, we also have a premiere date: Wednesday, September 15, at 11PM. As previously announced, the show will be hosted by Gail Simmons and feature judges Johnny Iuzzini, Hubert Keller and Dannielle Kyrillos. Pastry world luminaries appearing this season include master chocolatier Jacques Torres, wedding cake maven Sylvia Weinstock, Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard and Le Benardin pastry chef Michael Laiskonis.

Video: Top Chef Just Desserts Preview

Top Chef Just Desserts Contestants

Zac Young
AGE: 27
HOMETOWN: Portland, Maine – currently resides in New York, N.Y.
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, Flex Mussels
CULINARY EDUCATION: A.O.S. Baking and Pastry Arts, Institute of Culinary Education
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: "Upside-Down" Apple Crisp with Creme Fraiche Ice Cream.
While employed in the wig department of the Radio City Rockettes, Zac Young had an epiphany: he would rather be baking cookies than fluffing Santa beards. Born to a vegan mother, Zac never had chocolate mousse, but knew all too well the flavor of a tofu and carob pudding. After graduating with honors from the baking and pastry arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education, Zac went straight to the top, working under Sebastian Rouxel and Richard Capizzi at Bouchon Bakery. In 2006 he was offered a position of Pastry Chef at the New York City hot-spot Butter Restaurant. While there, Zac developed his signature style, using classic French technique, bold flavors, and fun to put a creative twist on American desserts. Always hungry for more, he trained in France with such renowned chefs as Philippe Givre at Valrhona and Philippe Parc at Chocolate Michel Cluizel. In 2009, Zac moved uptown to the bustling bivalve mecca Flex Mussels.  His whimsical creations caught the fancy of New York Times’ Restaurant Critic Frank Bruni, causing him to exclaim, “how lucky of us to find room for dessert” in his review of Flex. In his free time, he can be seen making dresses out of chocolate for the opening night of the International Chocolate Show. His mother is proud, even though his desserts are not vegan.

Yigit Pura
AGE: 29
HOMETOWN: Ankara, Turkey – currently resides in San Francisco, Calif.
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, Taste Catering & Event Planning
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Farm-Pluot Galette, Hazelnut Frangipanne, Vietnamese Cinnamon Chantilly.
Yigit Pura began his culinary training at the age of four in Ankara, Turkey while helping his mom make spoonfuls of dark caramel. His official culinary training began at the age of 20 in San Francisco, working in some of the top kitchens. He then moved to New York City, where he landed a position at Le Cirque 2000, and moved shortly after to The Four Seasons Hotel.  Yigit then landed what he would call his "golden step," as the Pastry Sous Chef at Daniel, under Chef Daniel Boulud, where after working for two and a half years, he was promoted to Executive Pastry for Daniel Boulud in Las Vegas. He has since returned to San Francisco working for Taste Catering and Event Planning.  Yigit relates his philosophy on baking to Buddhism – "Enlightened desserts lie between the two extremes.  You have to respect the history and heritage of food, while still feeling inspired to re-create things everyday."  If he could be re-incarnated as one thing in his next life time, it would be Jamaican Lilikoi (Passion Fruit), or a green cardamom pod.

Tim Nugent
AGE: 41
HOMETOWN: Alburgh, Vt – currently resides in Oakland, Calif.
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef at San Francisco’s Sir Francis Drake Hotel
CULINARY EDUCATION: A.O.S Culinary Arts, New England Culinary Institute
A native of Vermont and a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, Tim Nugent has both sweet and savory sides when it comes to cooking. His career began in Monterey, California, where he was Executive Chef at Fresh Cream Restaurant. He eventually relocated to San Francisco and landed at Acquerello, where he continued to create his signature savory dishes. Around the same time, he offered to do pastry as a favor for a friend, and the rest is history. From Zuni Café to Campton Place to Café Rouge (with stints at The Wine Spectator and Liberty Café, as well as the opening of Arlequin Café), his sweet creations have earned consistently high praise. Tim has also appeared on "Bay Café," a Bay Area cooking show, and taught local cooking classes. He has been Executive Pastry Chef at San Francisco’s Sir Francis Drake Hotel for over three years, and believes "Rustic, simple and delicious are always my goals."

Tania Peterson
AGE: 39
HOMETOWN: Cambridge, MA - currently resides in Boston, MA
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, Max Ultimate Food
EDUCATION: BFA Photography, S.U.N.Y Purchase; Professional Program: Food Photography, New England School of Photography
FAVORITE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Red Kuri Squash & Mascarpone Cheesecake, with Cacao Nib & Marcona Almond Short Dough
Tania Peterson is the Executive Pastry Chef at Max Ultimate Food, one of Boston's most prestigious catering companies. She trained "on the job" at Tremont 647 in the historic South End after switching careers from food photographer to pastry chef when she was 30. She loves to make tarts of all flavors and textures from a simple, rustic Tarte Tatin to something more refined and exotic, such as a Mexican Smoked Salt & Habanero Caramel Tart. In 2008, Tania joined several area pastry chefs to cook at the James Beard House. Currently, Tania is expecting her first child and planning her next bold move.

Seth Caro
AGE: 34
HOMETOWN: Chappaqua, N.Y. – currently resides in New York, N.Y.
Growing up in suburban New York, Seth Caro was pre-disposed to the arts from an early age, gravitating as a child towards music and drawing. Initially entering the kitchen in his teenage years as a short order cook, his serious culinary aspirations took shape only as he developed a fascination with modern pastry arts. Since then, Caro's journey has taken him through an eclectic array of galleys, including those of Nobu, Chanto, Perilla and Atria. Constantly pushing himself to expand his pantry of ingredients and his arsenal of techniques, his cooking remains rooted in a very simple and honest love for food. Seth sums up his culinary viewpoint, "Cooking is a celebration of nature and of ourselves. My best memories are colored with tastes and smells, and now when I cook for someone, I hope to provide them with a few new memories of their own."

Morgan Wilson
AGE: 37
HOMETOWN: Sonora, CA – currently resides in Dallas, TX
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Sticky Toffee Pudding with Banana Anise Ice Cream
Morgan Wilson’s culinary career has spanned the globe.  It began when he first enrolled at the California Culinary Academy, where he met Chef Nicholas Snell, who changed the course of his career by showing him the magic and possibilities of the pastry kitchen.  Following graduation, Morgan worked at Essex Supper Club and EOS Restaurant & Wine Bar in San Francisco before leaving for Paris and studying at Le Cordon Bleu.  After a brief return to San Francisco, he left for Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he worked alongside Francois Payard and also opened two restaurants, Cannelle and Supra.  After three years, he moved to Southern California where he took a position at Aubergine with Scott Gottlich and went onto teach pastry at the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. In 2006, Morgan moved to Dallas where he worked with Gottlich once more to help open Bijoux, and in 2007, he joined the Ritz-Carlton, Dallas, as Executive Pastry Chef, where he continues to work.

Malika Ameen
AGE: 35
PROFESSION: Pastry Chef/Consultant, ByM desserts
CULINARY EDUCATION: French Culinary Institute, Institute of Culinary Education in New York
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Creme Fraiche Cheesecake with Concord Grape Sorbet, Pecan Crisp and Ginger Caramel 
Born and raised in the Chicago area, Malika Ameen's cooking inspiration comes from two things: ingredients and people.  She believes that beautiful, delicious food brings people together. She is also passionate about traveling, as it often opens her eyes to new ingredients, techniques and flavor combinations. A single mother of three boys, Malika is always incorporating her "chef thinking" into the foods she cooks daily for her children, in order to "open up their palates and make eating as exciting for them as it is for me." The five ingredients she keeps on hand at all times are candied citrus, dried lavender, vanilla bean sugar, green cardamom pods and bittersweet chocolate.

Heather Hurlburt
AGE: 40
HOMETOWN: Seoul, South Korea – currently resides in Atlanta, Ga.
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, Cherokee Town and Country Club, Atlanta, GA
CULINARY EDUCATION: Associates in Culinary Arts, C.I.A
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Apple Pie with Vanilla-Bean Ice Cream
Heather Hurlbert was born in Seoul, South Korea and moved to the United States when she was adopted at age eight. By the time she was 11 years old, she was a United States citizen.  Graduating from the Culinary Institute of America with a Bachelor’s in Culinary Arts, Heather has a passion for creating anything chocolate-related. Heather serves as the Executive Pastry Chef at the Cherokee Town and Country Club in Atlanta, Georgia, where she prepares dishes from around the world. In Heather’s opinion, what’s the benefit of working with such a variety of food? “I’m traveling without really leaving my job.”

Heather Chittum
AGE: 37
HOMETOWN: Brooklyn, NY – currently resides in Washington, DC
PROFESSION: Pastry Chef, Hook/Tackle Box
EDUCATION: BA, Clark University; Fundamentals of Pastry Arts Program, L’Academie de Cuisine
FAVORITE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Carrot Cake with Creme Fraiche Sorbet and Candied Walnuts
Heather Chittum took an untraditional path to her career as a Pastry Chef.  After studying government and international relations at Clark University, she moved to Washington, DC, where she worked on Capitol Hill for former New York State Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  After four years, she left to work for Share our Strength (SOS), a non-profit organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger. While there, she was introduced to some of the most influential chefs in the US, which inspired her to revisit her passion for cooking. She decided to enroll in culinary school and began working alongside Equinox’s acclaimed Pastry Chef Lisa Scruggs. Since then, she has also worked at Circle Bistro, Dish, Notti Bianchi and Citronelle with Chef Michel Richard before joining Pure Hospitality’s Hook/Tackle Box restaurant in Georgetown. 

Erika Davis
AGE: 40
HOMETOWN: Tamms, Il – currently resides in Jacksonville Beach, Florida
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, Ponte Vedra Inn and Club
CULINARY EDUCATION: Culinary Arts Degree, Oakland Community College
FAVORITE DESSERT RECIPE: My Grilled Cheese Sandwich (Chocolate Cherry Bread sliced and filled with Sweet Mascarpone Cheese) served with a Vanilla Milkshake
Erika Davis works as the Executive Pastry Chef at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, one of the most exclusive inns and country clubs in Florida. Born in Chicago, Erika knew at an early age she would become a pastry chef.  She received her culinary arts degree from Oakland Community College in Farmington Hills, MI, and trained under master chefs of breads, cake decorating and French pastries. Named one of the top African American chefs by Black Enterprise, she is the first black woman to be named “Detroit’s Chef of the Month” by The Detroit News and is the President of the Culinary Wonders USA organization. Erika always has butter, sugar, salt, chocolate and heavy cream on hand, and her favorite quote is "A day is never good without chocolate."

Eric Wollitzky
AGE: 38
HOMETOWN: Rochester, NY - currently resides in Manhattan
PROFESSION: Pastry Chef, Baked
CULINARY EDUCATION: Grand Diplome in Pastry Arts, French Culinary Institute
Eric Wolitzky was born into a family of bakers and began working in bakeries while in his teens.  He obtained a BFA in drama and MA in performance and cultural studies from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, but his heart was continually drawn back into the kitchen. He currently serves as Pastry Chef at Baked, a bakery and café located in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where his focus is updated classic American comfort desserts. Eric's recipes have been featured in magazines including Food & Wine and O, among others. He was also nominated twice for Best Bakery Dessert by Eric is enamored by simple baked goods that are full of flavor and is a sucker for a beautiful bundt cake.

Danielle Keene
AGE: 29
HOMETOWN: Los Angeles, Calif – currently resides in South Pasadena, Calif.
PROFESSION: Pastry Chef and Owner, Bittersweet
CULINARY EDUCATION: Los Angeles Culinary Institute.
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Roasted pears, cinnamon ice cream, almond brittle and creme fraiche.
For Danielle Keene, creating gourmet desserts has been a passion, career and tradition. Coming from a dessert loving home, her first baking memory was cracking fresh walnuts for the oatmeal cookies she baked with her mom. After training at Water Grill, Campanile, and A.O.C. in Los Angeles, she became the opening Pastry Chef at Wilshire restaurant where her "Ice Cream Shoppe Night" received accolades from the Los Angeles Times. In early 2009, Danielle started her online business Bittersweet. Using the finest local ingredients, producing every item from scratch and combining unique flavors, Bittersweet represents Danielle's childhood favorites and modern classics. Danielle hopes to one day open a retro soda fountain with a selection of ice cream and baked goods.

Press Release


Twelve Pastry Chefs Whip It Up Along With Host Gail Simmons, Judges Johnny Iuzzini, Hubert Keller and Dannielle Kyrillos

NEW YORK – July 30, 2010 – You may get a sugar high from Bravo's sweetest new series, “Top Chef Just Desserts" – a spin-off of the 2010 Primetime Emmy-nominated and James Beard Award-winning “Top Chef," premiering Wednesday, September 15 at 11 p.m. ET/PT, and moving into its regular timeslot of 10 p.m. on Wednesday, September 22. These chefs can have their cake and make it too as the main focus of this competition is the Achilles heel of most chefs: desserts. This time the pastry chefs will see if they have what it takes to out flambé, out frost and out fudge the competition. Gail Simmons, a series judge on “Top Chef” for the past seven seasons, takes on the hosting duties of this highly competitive series showcasing the best of the best in the world of pastry arts. Joining the judges' panel as head judge is Johnny Iuzzini, one of the country’s most celebrated and innovative pastry chefs and Executive Pastry Chef at Restaurant Jean Georges. Hubert Keller, critically acclaimed chef as well as guest judge on "Top Chef" and finalist on "Top Chef Masters," and Dannielle Kyrillos, entertaining expert and DailyCandy Editor-at-Large will also serve as regular judges for the series.

Filled with delicious twists, turns and drama unlike anything that "Top Chef" has seen, "Top Chef Just Desserts" features highly celebrated chefs in the pastry world ranging from "Mr. Chocolate" himself, Jacques Torres; the "Leonardo Da Vinci of cakes," Sylvia Weinstock to Wolfgang Puck's famed Spago pastry chef, Sherry Yard and Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin pastry chef Michael Laiskonis, among others. The challenges featured will be some of the most creative and inventive yet: from timed wedding cakes and flaming desserts to chocolate show pieces and edible fashion. The series offers a fascinating window into the competitive, pressure-filled environment of pastry chefs at the highest level. Each episode holds two challenges for the pastry chefs: the first, a quickfire test of their basic abilities and the elimination challenge designed to test the versatility and inventiveness of the pastry chefs. These chefs will prove that a little sugar and spice never tasted so nice.

"Being a successful dessert chef is exacting and complicated," said Andy Cohen, SVP, Original Programming & Development, Bravo. "The results are stupendous and mouthwatering, but the process is intense - kind of like the show itself."

"Everyone expects the world of desserts to be as beautiful, fluffy and sweet as the food," said Jane Lipsitz, Executive Producer, Magical Elves. "But what we got was one of the most competitive and dramatic seasons of 'Top Chef' ever."

Added Dan Cutforth, Executive Producer, "pastry chefs need three things to work comfortably – their recipes, time and complete control. It’s fascinating to see what happens when they don’t have any of them."

The 12 "Top Chef Just Desserts" chef'testants will be whittled down week by week as they compete to outbake their competition. The winning chef will receive $100,000 furnished by Godiva Chocolatier, a feature in Food & Wine magazine, a showcase at the Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival and a 2011 German Engineered Sport Injected Buick Regal.

· Top Chef: Just Desserts Judges Announced! Johnny Iuzzini, Hubert Keller, Dannielle Kyrillos [-E-]
· All Top Chef Just Desserts coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Top Chef Coverage on Eater [-E-]