Years ago, I was watching one of those mainstream food competition TV shows on the where competitors are given an ingredient they must incorporate into a certain course. One of these courses was dessert and the ingredient was corn. An Asian competitor mixed caramel corn into pastry (choux, if I remember correctly) and piped it into this shape:
The judge, which might have been Gordon Ramsay, did not take well to these at all. If I’m remembering correctly, he wasn’t upset because the taste or flavor balance or texture was wrong, but because the desserts, to him, looked like turds. Like swirls of poop. And he didn’t want to eat that.
This upset me. One of the other competitors did some sort of caramel corn pudding. The base was brown and there were whole kernels of yellow corn studded throughout. THAT looked like poop. The judge was upset by this as well, and righteously so. But I didn’t think the pastries deserved so much looks-bashing. I thought they were cute. They weren’t even brown, and they looked like something I’ve eaten all my life. The competitor thought so too, and she was really defensive, saying something along the lines of how she loved to bake and these were influenced by her culture. She was still eliminated. I don’t think her choux puffs with caramel corn bits were creative or even a praiseworthy flavor combo, but I don’t think the appearance deserved so much hate.
I grew up eating choux puffs swirled like “poop” (or soft serve or frosting or ANYTHING COMING OUT OF TUBES?) and filled with delicately sweet custard cream. These come free with food orders at Pho Than Brothers, a no-frills favorite of Seattlelites that was recently voted Best Pho in Seattle Weekly’s popular Best of Seattle Reader Poll. Although this joint has expanded to 14 locations, I find myself always returning to the one located next to the University of Washington. It’s packed with students all times of the day, seeking their generously-portioned, low-priced bowls of warming goodness.
I’ve had the classic pho and the vegetarian bowl numerous times over the years. The vegetarian broth is every bit as good as the meat broth, with a well-developed flavor and silky mouthfeel. Which is saying something, especially since most restaurants don’t give the same attention to vegetarian options the non-veg ones get.
I’ve never left hungry, even when I get the “small” size, but sometimes I’ll get three custard puffs for the road ($1.50). No matter what some celebrity chef might say, these desserts will never not deserve their loyal following.