"Top Chef: Just Desserts" Serves Up Some Sweet Gays

Hot on the heels of Top Chef’s upset win over The Amazing Race for Outstanding Reality Show at last month’s Emmy Awards, Bravo is launching the latest spin-off in their growing Top Chef franchise: Top Chef: Just Desserts.

For fans of Top Chef, a new show featuring the best pastry chefs from around the country competing against each other is as natural as putting chocolate and peanut butter together. It’s especially welcome since on the original Top Chef desserts usually get short shrift as something requiring lesser skills than savory cooking.

Definitely not getting short shrift in the first season of Just Desserts is Team Gay which includes, not one, not two, but three out pastry chefs: Zac Young, Yigit Pura and Tim Nugent. recently had the chance to chat with Young and Pura when they appeared at the Television Critics Association Press Tour where they and four of their fellow JD pastry chefs each prepared a dessert for the assembled reporters. (Alas, as this writer is lactose intolerant, I had to forgo testing Team Gay's culinary skills.)

29-year-old Yigit Pura (pronounced “Yeet”) is originally from Ankara, Turkey, but now lives in San Francisco. A pastry chef for ten years, Purga was a fan of the original Top Chef, which he calls “therapy for chefs,” but had no plans on being on TC: JD. But when he was visiting a friend in New York City, the show contacted him and Pura began a process he calls a “wild rollercoaster” ride. But he says that “…was a very small preparation for the wild rollercoaster ride that was the show.”

Asked what most surprised him about the experience, Pura doesn’t hesitate to answer. “It was actually a kind of test of my self-character. There’s something to be said for a very compact and intense experience. If you come out through to the other side, you really have a lot more faith in yourself.”

Yigit Pura

While Pura is currently single (and looking!) he did have a boyfriend during the show, a topic that apparently came up during filming, something that made him happy. “I do a lot of queer activism in New York with HRC and American Equality,” says Pura . “I felt it [Just Desserts] was a very natural platform for America to see that gay men can be as natural as anyone else, and they can be talented and ambitious and polite, and one's sexuality has nothing to do with the person that they are.

Asked about the attitude of savory chefs toward pastry chefs, Pura says his experiences have been good and bad, and ultimately depends on the personality of those involved. But he does allow that “… most savory chefs do tend to think that pastry chefs are these dainty, cute little things that play with flour, you know? And eat chocolate all day. What they don't understand is that it has a lot more planning and science and knowledge that goes into it. A pastry chef is usually very compulsive and detail-oriented.”

When told that Bravo’s Andy Cohen had picked him to be TC: JD’s “break-out heart throb,” Pura laughs and says, “The thing is, I always wanted to present myself on the show as a very professional chef and I hope I did that. But as far as a heartthrob ... sure, why not?”

Indeed, Purga is quite handsome and fit, something he says he maintains even though he eats “absurd quantities of sugar” by exercising a lot, including biking 115 miles a week.

While he currently works for Taste Catering and Event Planning, San Francisco’s largest catering company, Pura would love to one day open his own business, something he hopes winning Top Chef will make happen sooner.

Pura moved to the U.S. when he was twelve and says the experience was “Interesting. It was definitely a culture shock. I think when you are that age, you just kind of roll with the punches.”

Asked when he came out, Pura says, “I was 18-years-old, and I never looked back.”

The San Francisco transplant is one of those fortunate men who’s coming out was relatively painless. “My parents proved to be very supportive and they're amazing. I actually have a gay sister as well – she's married to her wife in Seattle and it's great. My extended family is great.

“It's one of those things – I think to me it's so nonchalant. Whether you're an out gay man or a straight man, you surround yourself with people who are open-minded and kind, or if you're conservative person you surround yourself with those people. I have an amazing group of friends and people who love me and actually they're very supportive through this process and they were actually a good source of strength for me when I was down on the show.”

But Pura also found support from two fellow contestants, including Heather Hurlbert and fellow Team Gay member Zac Young. In fact, Pura calls them “The two sisters that I always wanted.”

Speaking of Zac Young, he lives on the opposite side of the country from Yigit in New York City where he is the Executive Pastry Chef at Flex Mussels. Originally from Portland, Maine, the 27-year-old young was first asked to appear on the original Top Chef, but declined. “I was sous-chef at a restaurant called Butter in New York – a high-profile restaurant, and they'd asked me to be on the regular season,” says Young. “I said no, I'm gonna wait until you just do pastry, because I knew it was in the pipeline.”

Why did he pass on Top Chef to wait for Just Desserts? Desserts are where his talents are, but adds Young, “Cooking real food scares me. I try to avoid it. I'm on an all-chocolate diet.”

Asked what the craziest thing was about being on TC: JD, Young doesn’t miss a beat. “The talent of the other chefs,” he says. “Everyone was insanely talented. There was not one person who I would consider a hack or untalented. I thought it would just be kind of varied, very easy to kind of weed out the people without talent. Then I got there and found out that everyone was really talented.”

Young stresses that viewers really can’t know just how exhausting being on a show like Top Chef can be. “I think that there comes a point in the competition where you are so tired and so exhausted and so over the challenge that you just lose it. There was kind of a lot of moments that just out of sheer exhaustion, you know, you just kind of look at everyone else and you just have to start ... you're stressing out and stressing out and stressing out, and then you look at everyone else and you've been cooking for twelve hours and you just start laughing and you can't stop. You don't know why you're laughing – it's just sheer exhaustion.”

While Purga sees himself as opening his own business, Young found he really enjoyed being on television. “I kind of love the intensity of production,” he says. “A lot of people didn't enjoy the whole television aspect. I did, so I can really see myself kind of staying in food media.”

Indeed, Young hopes to increase his profile with a website – or potentially another show.

That being said, Young isn’t quite as certain as he thought was that he’s ready for the onslaught of attention that comes with being on a Bravo reality show. It’s weeks before the show airs and Young says, “You know, I thought I was [ready for the attention], and this morning I posted it on my Facebook ... and already I have 114 messages on my Facebook wall. So, just that kind of reaction just makes you go, ‘Holy sh*t. What am I getting myself into?’"

Top Chef Just Desserts premieres Wednesday September 15th at 9 PM on Bravo.

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