Season 2 of Top Chef Just Desserts is premiering on Aug. 24, 2011 at 10 p.m. on Bravo. The show will feature 14 “chef'testants” competing each week for the grand prize of $100,000, a debut in Food & Wine magazine, and a spot at the Annual Food & Wine Cayman Cookout. Local contestant Nelson Paz, Executive Pastry Chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Boston, has shared information about his background and the show, with the following Q&A.
1. Which chef, throughout your career, has most influenced you?
Franck Dauffouis was my first pastry chef back in 1999. He taught me how important it is to share and pass onto other pastry chefs knowledge gained in this profession. I remember his answer when I asked for a recipe one day: “Nelson, a recipe without talent is just a piece of paper. Why I wouldn’t share it with you?”
Pierre Hermé is the pastry chef that inspired me the most since I started in this profession because his techniques are very classic and fundamental. He is always following the book when it comes to techniques but the way he presents a dessert or decorates them are very unique. Simplicity and elegance are key for him - if you create good pastries then it is very easy to make them look beautiful as well.
2. What made you decide to be on Just Desserts?
I was a fan of the show and wanted to challenge myself in something like this. I have never participated in a culinary competition so where better to start with this!
3. Was it what you expected?
Partly. At the end of the day, it was a reality TV show where so much was unexpected! Of course I knew there would be challenges but not knowing what they could be always left a space for surprises.
4. Who did you most relate with out of the cheftestants?
5. What is your signature dish at the Mandarin Oriental, Boston?
I don’t really have one as my menu changes every season. If a particular dessert becomes popular and I take it out of the menu, I believe that another dish will quickly replace its place.
6. How do your roots from Buenos Aires, Argentina affect your style of baking?
The dessert choices in Argentina are very European with great influences from Spain and Italy. I grew up admiring the simplicity and elegance of these desserts and every time I bake, I try my best to imagine what emotions or memories the person eating my dessert will have as a result. For me, it is all about memories created.
7. What is your favorite local restaurant in the area?
I enjoy fine dining French restaurants in Boston such as Deauxave, L’Espalier or Menton.
8. What would you do with the prize money?
I would invest it on my own development. I would go to France to study more and become an even stronger Pastry Chef.