This season Top Chef Just Desserts features an Argentinian pasty chef. Nelson Paz is a native of Buenos Aires and a graduate of the Argentine Institute of Gastronomy. He’s currently pastry chef at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Boston.
So, needless to say, I’m going to root for Nelson this season. So far my impressions of him are mixed. In a challenge in which they had to create a dessert based on a fairy tale, he said he was from Argentina and therefore didn’t know any of them. And that’s kind of BS. Both the story of Little Red Riding Hood (Caperucita Roja) and Hansel and Gretel are very famous in Argentina, everyone knows them. I did have a book on Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Ricitos de Oro), though that may be much less common. Jack and the Beanstalk, on the other hand, was, indeed, completely unknown when I was growing up (though Nelson is much younger than I). That said, he might not have recognized the names of those children’s books in English.
The show didn’t focus much on him, so it’s hard to know how good he is. He helped another contestant, Orlando Santos, build an amazing show piece, so he has some technical expertise, but it’s not clear how much of the design, if any, was his. Still, for the time being, at lest, I’ll be rooting for him.
Update: I’m sorry to say that Nelson was already eliminated from the show. He seemed very skilled, but I wish he would have drawn more from Argentinian flavors. For example, on the last show they concentrated on making white and pink desserts. He made a lollipop that was too hard to eat and not good enough. Instead, he could have made his own version of merengadas, a great cookie with two plain cookie shells (but he could have covered them on merengue, white chocolate or just powdered sugar) and a pink, marshmallowish/spongish finish rolled in shredded coconut. These things are really addictive and very fun to eat (that said, they are not very sophisticated, they’re really a childhood treat). Well, Nelson is out but I found a recipe for merengadas and I’m going to make them myself 🙂