Season 1, Episode 3

Sugar Rush

This week, the seven remaining cooks face the most dreaded challenge in cooking competitions — dessert. Chef Ron Ben-Israel will join as a guest judge, but one cook's trip to the emergency room may also determine who is going home.
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Putting the Savory Into Sweets

This week the competition lands on the sweeter side; as Ted explains, "to be America's best cook, you have to have range in the kitchen." The home cooks will be taking on desserts, but not just the usual: They'll have to incorporate bacon. Ted warns them: "In the right hands, bacon can enhance any dish, but getting that perfect balance between savory and sweet can stump even the best chefs."

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Tricks Up Her Sleeve

"I don't like bragging," says Christina, "but I entered the Pillsbury Bake-Off, and I won the grand prize, and it was $1 million." So she has no problem coming up with a recipe to impress. She's making honey ice cream pecan sugar sandwich cookies with bacon in the ice cream and bacon fat in the cookies. Her goal is  to "fly under the radar," so she's keeping her competitive skills under wraps.

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Appealing to Their Mentor

"Luckily, Michael Symon is, without a doubt, the king of bacon," says Stephanie, so she's ready to take on the challenge with her mentor's support. She decides to make profiteroles with bacon bananas Foster. Marc is making an apple crumble with bacon in the filling and bacon fat used in the topping. "I think that's gonna be delicious," says Michael.

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Risking the Competition

Ben wants to make a parsnip cake with a nut-and-bacon crumble. As the mentoring time is up, Team South is excited, poised and ready for the challenge at hand. Unfortunately for Ben, only minutes into cooking, a slip of the knife has him going to the hospital. "I am just pissed," he says. "I just know I have to get back, and I'm really coming to grips with the fact that maybe I'm out of this competition."

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Team South in Stitches

"I'm very concerned about him," says Cat about Ben. "He may be out of the competition altogether if they can't stitch his hand up." Her full concentration is now on Nikki, hoping she can pull through for the team. Nikki is going all in, making a maple cake with cream cheese frosting, bacon candy crumble and a caramel sauce. Unfortunately, her caramel seizes twice, so Cat uses her SOS button to help fix it.

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Judged by a Sweet Genius

Ted introduces the guest judge, Ron Ben-Israel, world-famous pastry chef. The home cooks are overjoyed, but the mentors have their reservations. "He's half ballerina, half cake baker, half nutball," says Alex. "He will just either fall in love with something or it will fall out of favor with him, and there will be no ifs, ands or buts about it." Ron says, "When desserts are not well-executed, I can get very upset."

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How the Cookie Crumbles

Christina presents her dish to Ron and is very worried about the possibility of going to the Pressure Cooker. Ron finds her ice cream sandwich very creative – "finger-licking good, that's for sure," he says. But he thinks she went overboard with using cocoa nibs, which have a bitter aftertaste. Luckily, Christina is safe. Alex thinks "she's a real contender for this," calling her "the dark horse" of the competition.

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Anxious and Under-Baked

Sheri is anxious about what Ron will say because her cupcakes didn't bake completely through. "I'm actually ashamed of these cupcakes," she says. "I really just kind of want to hang my head and walk away." She's falsely excited when Ron commends her for the bacon brittle, but immediately let down when he says, "Tasting an uncooked cupcake is a big turnoff." Ron sends Sheri to the Pressure Cooker.

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The Definition of Dessert

Phillip worried about dessert, because he's not a "big dessert guy." Cooking something sweet was a struggle for him, but he made waffles with bacon bits and berry compote. "I would eat those waffles every day of the week," says Ron, "but as a dessert that's supposed to show the best you can do, it's a little disappointing because waffles are waffles." So Ron sends him to the Pressure Cooker.

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Impressing a Sweet Genius

Ron tries Nikki's maple cake with candied bacon, which she prepared despite the fact that she's vegan and hasn't eaten bacon in 20 years. "Your dessert is very appealing because it's cute," says Ron, who surprises Nikki by saying he'd love the recipe. His only criticism is that it needed a bit of salt, but even so, he tells Nikki she's safe.

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Bacon Successes for Team North

Stephanie presents her "Fat Elvis" profiterole, but she's nervous about the fact that it's a classic French dessert. "I really think the bananas are brilliant," Ron says, "so it's a very pleasant balance of flavors." Ron moves on to Marc's apple, bourbon, bacon and peanut crumble. "The topping is amazing. It's all crunchy and crispy and crumbly," says Ron, "but I would caution you to exercise some restraint." He calls it safe for both cooks.

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One-Handed PB & J

Ben returns to the competition for the Pressure Cooker. "He has such resilience," says Cat. "I couldn't be prouder. I have a lot of respect for that." For the challenge, the home cooks must use the classic combination of peanut butter and jelly. Cat advises Ben how to cook with his handicap. "Working with an Iron Chef, I never thought that a whole mentoring session would be spent on how to cook with one hand," jokes Ben.

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Modern Yet Old-Fashioned

Phillip is making a peanut butter mousse with fresh grapes and crushed peanuts for a modern take on the classic, but he's making the mousse the old-fashioned way: "I'm not using the stand mixer, because Tyler told me to do it by hand." Tyler eggs him on from the catwalk: "You're on national television, man. Put some California muscle in that, bro."

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Determined and Crazy at the Same Time

Ben is making a rustic cookie with peanut butter foam, berry sauce and bananas. Cooking with one hand is awkward for him, but he's a trooper. Cat is on pins and needles watching him, though, so she can't help but push her SOS button to help him "because he's doing it with one hand," she says. "You know, that's a little cray-cray on the one hand, and a little bit determined."

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Positives and Negatives Together

Ron goes in for a taste of Phillip's and Sheri's peanut butter and jelly creations first. He likes Phillip's mousse, but finds the toppings "don't show a lot of skill," he says. "They're not that original." Next are Sheri's peanut butter truffles with quince jam and crispy sage. Ron likes the concept of turning "trusted home recipes" into "the context of an elaborate dessert," but it's a sugar overload.

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Coming Back from the Brink of Defeat

Ben is nervous to hear what Ron has to say about his peanut butter cookie. "He's a badass when it comes to desserts," he says, "and you know if there's a mistake, he's gonna notice." Unfortunately, Ron finds the cookie a bit under-baked, but he loves the bananas and the fresh jelly. Ben is relieved to find out that he not only is safe but also had the best dish.  

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Leaving with More Lessons to Learn

Ron names Phillip's dish as the least successful: "You gave me a great chocolate peanut-butter mousse," Ron says, "but it seemed that you spent all your energy preparing that main ingredient. The rest of the dessert looked like an afterthought." Phillip leaves the competition thankful for the experience and all the techniques he's learned, "but now I'm going to learn to make some sweets," he says.

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