Hi, guys. It’s great to be back here. Blogging about Top Chef Masters, Season 1, turned out to be an unexpected pleasure, and it feels good to get back to it for Season Two.
The blogs I wrote last season allowed me to see each episode anew, to re-experience the crazy-quilt of foods we judges were presented with, and to re-assess not only those foods but my original reactions to them. It was a wonderful cushion, an addendum to the sometimes very raw — literally! — process of eating a dish on the Top Chef Masters set.
More than that, blogging provided me with clear evidence of what wonderful readers all of you are. The comments you posted edified me. They made me feel good. They confused me. They entertained me. They angered me. They humored me. But most of all, they comforted me. In the last blog I wrote for the season—about the finale episode, in which Rick Bayless took home the grand prize—I ended the entry by mentioning my beloved cat Pete, who was then dying of cancer. The outpouring of support in the comments that you left was beautiful and humbling, a big cyber hug. Pete passed away in my arms on a drizzly Sunday morning in September. He was peaceful, a valiant fighter until the end who taught me a lot about what friendship can be. He’ll be dearly missed, but I’ll always have your lovely comments to guide me through difficult moments.
Sadly, I’ve recently experienced another loss. About three weeks ago, my eighty-five-year-old mom passed away in California. She was, until about six weeks before she died, a healthy, happy California mom. She drove her Toyota Echo to the nearby Trader Joe’s every few days to stock up on flax seed cereal and frozen peas. She did tai chi with a group of East Bay seniors. She learned conversational Spanish and was taking a class in Buddhist philosophy. Then, after a trip to Hawaii, she suffered a heart attack, followed by an emergency bypass, and then developed pneumonia—a particularly vicious strain of the disease that lives and breeds inside hospitals.
To describe her passing as devastating wouldn’t be close to accurate. In fact, there really aren’t any words to describe it. It’s more like a sensation—the feeling of being ripped open, completely and fully gutted. It is, simply, the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. My mom and I were intensely close. She was my guiding light, my best friend, my biggest critic, my greatest advocate. She was the person who not only introduced me to literature but made me love it, the person who taught me not only to taste food but to relish it. Actually, my mom was never much of a cook, but she was one of the world’s great eaters. Her palate was almost shockingly en pointe. Coming from such finicky stock, I hardly consider it an accident that a large part of my adult life has been dedicated to savoring — and describing — food.
In the last weeks of her life, my mom was nourished by way of a feeding tube. To help her overcome that cold and terrible indignity, I described to her, on a daily basis, everything that I ate. That might sound like a strange (if not cruel) thing to do, but she loved it. For her, it was like watching a great movie or having a really amazing novel read to you. Sharing those food narratives with her was wonderful and intimate and grounding.
I will miss my mom more than I can say.
Writing this blog, on the evening of the Top Chef Masters Season 2 premiere, is hard. I’d say I could think of lots of other things I’d rather be doing, but in fact, all I’d rather be doing is staying in bed, resting, which feels like the most comforting thing to do right now. My mom, however, would want me to carry on. She loved Top Chef Masters. She loved not only my blogs, but Jay’s blogs, Kelly’s blogs, Gael’s blogs. But I’m going to keep the rest of this one today short and sweet, or at least try.
You know I have watched Mr. Oseland many times on different shows here and another channel. I am glad that he holds his mother's memory in such high regard but I have to make one comment concerning Mr. Oseland and the way he presents himself on television. As much as I would never consider myself to be a culinary expert like Mr. Oseland I do, however, must be a "judge" of his work and say that it is quite obvious that he failed to learn a very important lesson from his mother, manners. I have seen him especially and other so-called experts display the most repulsive manners when judging; talking with your mouth full, chewing with an open mouth, and the worst which brought Mr. Oseland to mind, spitting food out while talking! I can't even watch when he is eating, please read this and respect manners!
I was deeply moved by your blog. You have a sensitive palate and a sensitive heart. You honored your mother in your words here (and all mothers everywhere). I send my condolences to you at this terrible time. I also send a big hug!
Thank you for taking the time to comment on the episode. I love taleggio cheese and am now curious how it is within a pasta dish.
I am so very sorry about the loss of your mom. She sounds like an amazing person and your immense love for her is evident. I'm sure she and Pete are watching over you!
I'm so terribly sorry for your loss James. Your loving words and beautiful description of your feelings touched me. I'm sure your mother was very proud of you and your success and she will always be in your heart. : )
James, It's so good to have you & your cohorts back for a second season of Top Chef Masters. It is a welcome respite from the punishing neurosis of the Housewives.
Conceptually, you wouldn't expect a competition about food, that the audience cannot taste, to be so popular but it's about so much more. The grace and good will demonstrated by participants really elevates the show and everyone's passion for their craft and their charity sets it (along with the original Top Chef) apart from all the other Bravo offerings.
Sincere condolences on the loss of your mother. From your description it seems that she is with you always through the proclivities she fostered in you and it certainly sounds like she relished her life.
Looking forward to seeing what delicacies the pros have in store. Welcome back.
So sorry for your lose. And, thank you for sharing your story.
I love your critics of the Chefs. I can always tell you think highly of the chefs and want to challenge them and appreciate them all at the same time. I also love Saveur, by far the best Foodie Magazine out there.
So glad that you are back this season. You are the most charming person. I am really sorry to hear about your mother. She sounds like a wonderful, interesting person. As a mother I appreciate the love and closeness that I have with my child and feel if we have that we are fortunate. You are in my thoughts. If you are ever in Michigan you have an open invitation for dinner.
I am so sorry to hear of your loss and I cannot imagine what you must be going through. My parents live with me and at 92, my mother is also my dear friend. We share a love of nature, food, music and books and I know that when I lose her, I will never be able to listen to Wagner, or see a beautiful sunset, or eat a wonderful meal without missing her. My heart goes out to you and I pray that you will find strength and comfort in knowing that you were a good son and that your mom knew how treasured she was.
James, So sorry to hear about your loss. Your beautiful description of your mom was moving, and (as a mom myself) quite a tribute to your mom. She would be proud to be thought of so well. It's great to see you back this year! My husband and I LOVE Top Chef Masters, and it just wouldn't be the show we love without you! Thanks for being so much fun during these episodes! We can't wait to get further into the season. Keep your head up...you don't know us, but you have lots of people offering prayers for you. :)
I love the show. Please share the receipts the chefs prepare for competition for all of us that watch the show. If anybody reaching this agrees mention it in your blog.
Sorry about your loss(es) James. I'm glad the new season of Master's can take you a little bit away from the pain you must be experiencing right now. I would have done anything to taste all three duo's - each looked interesting for their own individual reasons. Here's to a new, grand season!
Your blog speaks to many, especially to me as you describe you very close relationship with your mom. You are right, she would not want you to shut down; although I am sure as she was in the hospital you probably found youself looking at her in an attempt to outline and memorizing every last detail of her to retain to memory. I, too, have gone thru that. Please know, that as our heart and brain processes this, somehow as hard as we try to remember, the sooner we stop trying so hard, the easier and more clear each memory becomes and more natural, and as the days goes by by the grace of god, the sadness is replaced byy the clarity of the memories. I remember spending so many moments forcing myself to remember because I loved so deeply and hurt so much, and things changed, and years later, my father is with me every day sharing everything and it is a happiness because I know nothing can ever take that away.
God Bless you.
So sorry for your loss, James. I'm sure you were your mother's favorite judge, but you're mine too. Thanks for sharing your story with us.
James, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. I hope that through the food you and your mother loved you will find a boost to your spirit. If there's one thing that's good for that, it's a meal with friends. May you find many of these.
Please know that I as a reader really do appreciate reading and hearing your insights into the food you eat, as well as everything else. Thank you for writing this.
I am so sorry for the loss of your Mom. Your blog brought tears to my eyes and as Aimee said, please take comfort in the pride and joy that your success surely brought to your Mother. I hope that the sympathy of even strangers like myself will keep you strong. Looking forward to the new season of Top Chef Masters.
James, It's interesting that I read your blog post today, which is the 16th anniversary of losing MY mother. I agree with you that it was the singularly worst thing to ever happen to me.
At the beginning, I especially missed calling her, because she was an expert on so many things. I wouldn't put a plant in the ground without consulting her. The truest thing I can tell you is that it gets a lot worse before it gets better. But THEN time takes over and you'll be able to think of the happy times without being crushed by the loss. I'm so sorry for your loss and I'm sending good thoughts your way.
Love you, James! Hold on. I had a similar relationship with my Dad, who I lost 10 years ago. He had been ill for several years. His passion was baseball - and i had opening day tickets. He insisted I go and he died that night during the game. But he is with me still. Even after 10 years, he shows up in dreams occasionally - laughing and joking and hugging. I was devastated afterward. It took a year or two to recover. But you will get through, and all the lessons you learned from her, you will share with everyone you touch. The love goes on.
Glad to see you back on Top Chef Masters. I am very sorry for the loss of your mother. I am also very close to my mom and have always considered her my guiding light as you stated about your mother. My thoughts are with you.
I am so sorry for the loss of your mom. I have parents about that same age and it is hard to see them unable to participate in some of their favorite things.
This looks to be an exciting season of TCM. Looking forward to more!
I know your mother was proud of your accomplishments and that she would be so proud of your grace and strength now, while you're experiencing this great loss. We're all thinking good thoughts for you and wishing you well.
Thank you for sharing your wit and wisdom with us on Top Chef Masters and in all you do.
James, I'm so sorry for your both of your losses. Your mom sounds like a wonderful woman. Love you on the show
I'm very sorry to hear of the recent death of your mother, James. My thoughts and prayers are with you and all your loved ones at this difficult and painful time.
Sorry on the loss of your mom. I hav e gone through it first my mom and then my dad. I spent my entire 50 years living with them and I miss them so much. Love your show.
My most sincere and deep sympathies on the passing of your mother. I know how you feel having lost my best fried almost 10 years ago. You never forget but you do learn how to remember without pain. Cherish your memories of her and know that you will always have those moments together to comfort you.
James, I am very sorry for your recent loss of your mother. I am sure you miss her very much. I am looking forward to this season of Top Chef Masters and to your informative judging. Welcome back.
I am so sorry.
“Love is stronger than death even though it can't stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can't separate people from love. It can't take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.”
Mr.O: Thanks for the stirring tribute to your Mother. All of us who have lost a parent know your pain, at least in some measure. She sounds like she was a real treasure. I'm positive her interest in things like food and tai chi and her son are the things that allowed her to live such a long and happy life. You make great points about the dish you loved, and how the chefs did not play it safe. I like that idea of rewarding that risk. I thought their idea of a bread pudding was super smart, as well. My boyfriend just lost his pet bird, and it took him months to feel better. Hang in there. These losses are just part of life, I guess. Don't play it "safe," keep living.
Like everyone else, I'm so sorry to hear about you Mom. She sounds like a real firecracker of a lady, and I'm sure you are dealing with her passing as best as you can. I am just thrilled that all the judges from Season one are back this year. You guys are a great team, and I love hearing your thoughts and opinions of each show. Enjoy yourself this season...I know I am going to.
Mr. Oseland, I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. It seems as though you're carrying on your mother's talent and legacy very well. Those chefs may cook with soul, but you write with soul and I had a hard time reading through my tears. As always though, I appreciate your descriptive comments on the food. With all the editing, we can hardly understand why some chefs don't make the cut. After reading the blogs, then we say, "That explains a lot." Thank you.
First of all, I dearly loved watching you on the first season of Top Chef Master and I'm so happy to see that you're back. I'm a Texas gal who is trying to expand her palate and Top Chef Master helps me to do that.
Most importantly, I want you to know that I am so very sorry for your loss. I am now almost 41 and I lost my mother unexpectedly on January 4, 2007 when she was literally 64 years and 6 months to the day. It was very hard for me to deal with the loss of my Mom because she and I were so incredibly close.
I just want to reach out to you and offer you one piece of advice. The pain is severe and it takes time for that pain to lessen but above everything, when you want so much to pick up the phone and talk with your Mom or go visit her, rely on your memories. Sit down in a quiet place and remember what she's taught you in the past and remember how much love she gave you. She's given you every bit of love, guidance and knowledge she possessed while she lived on this earth. She's still living within you. She's given you everything you need so trust your memories. When you're perplexed, rely on what she gave and taught you. It's all still there.
I am so sorry for your loss and I hope that, with time, your pain lessens. Just remember that your Mom is always with you. I wish you the best.