James Oseland

James Oseland breaks down the hits and misses of the final meal ... and gets a little misty-eyed doing so.

on Aug 20, 20090

Writing this blog post, my last for the season, is like pulling teeth. Why? Well, for starters being in the presence of such outstanding chefs working at the top of their game for so many weeks was an unforgettable experience, and it’s not easy to let it all go.

But even more difficult was going into the finale knowing that only one of the three finalists would walk away a winner. I realize that’s the nature of competition — humans are hardwired to want to watch a great contest and see a single victor emerge. Competition begets great performances, of course, and we love to see people striving to do their best. But picking a winner can sometimes entail some tough decisions.

Rick, Michael, Hubert: each one of the finalists was, I can say without hesitation, a master in the truest sense of that word. Having witnessed firsthand, with all my senses, what these chefs are capable of under pressure has been a gift. The thoughtfully conceived, cook-your-autobiography challenge in the final episode, perhaps more than any of the challenges that came before, brought that mastery into sharp relief. I tasted the food of cooks who had an innate, almost unconscious knowledge of the properties of their ingredients, of how those ingredients behaved in a pan or an oven, about what techniques and seasonings make them shine.

Another thing that sets Rick, Michael, and Hubert apart from the flock is what we didn’t see in the last episode: namely, over-caffeinated tempers — the kind we got a whiff of when Dale Talde attempted to trash talk Michael on Episode 9. Instead, what we witnessed firmly refutes the notion that yelling and insults have a place in the professional kitchen. Sure, there were high emotions in evidence — after all, these cooks were being asked to make dishes with which they had deep personal and sentimental connections — but those feelings, far from getting in the way of good cooking, brought these chefs closer to what the business of preparing a meal is all about: nourishing and giving pleasure to the eater. They proved that being a master is more than just being able to have total recall of a battery of techniques; it’s about knowing, in your heart, that cooking, not drama, is what kitchens are meant for.
As with all the previous episodes, there were a few misses and hits. The seafood in Rick’s arroz a la tumbada was overcooked; it was heartbreaking to witness the moment — when he pulled the half-sheet pan laden with overly steamed scallops and mussels from the oven — at which he realized that. The almost-hard garlic in the center of Hubert’s rack of lamb was a detriment to the dish; too bad he couldn’t have sensed its rawness in the same way most of us at the table had. Surely he would have blanched it for longer. And Michael’s deep-fried, and very bony, whole fish was ugly and hard to eat, while his second-course polenta (the dish with the, uh, vaguely bizarre, burned Saveur-page doilies) was for me aggressively over-salted. Was there too much Parmigiano-Reggiano in it?

82 comments
500
500

A judge should be objective!!! A chef should be judged solely on his food!!!!!!!

Suzie Chapman
Suzie Chapman

I loved Top Chef Masters. The chefs that competed were all true professionals who respected each other and enjoyed the differences in styles. They were there to compete but also to learn from each other and have fun. It made it all that much better. The only blight on the show was Dale and his behavior. I have been in a lot of kitchens over the years and the service industry is stressful under normal (whatever that is) circumstances, the stress in this competetive arena must have been 100 fold. The diference of a professional is the chef's who were competing and the sous chef who feels that bad behavior is ok. It's not!! I hope he learns a valuable lesson from the chef's he had the opportunity to work with.

Janet
Janet

How sad it is to deal with the decline of a pet. My thoughts and prayers are with you as I know the difficulties of preparing for a loss. My two rescues never judge me for my odd sleeping/eating habits, are there when I need a cuddle, and are just aloof enough to make me laugh when they ignore me. Treasure this last time with Pete-when the time is right another furry face will steal your heart and while it won't be a replacement, it will help you heal.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed you on Masters-I did not think you were overly harsh on Michael-I think the bony fish did him in. And I saw that you understood the humor behind the "doilies". You gave an air of class and your well thought out and beautifully expressed criticism has me longing to see more of you.

kim
kim

the diners seemed to like michaels dishes the best. i hope we have seen the end of dale for good. one theme i keep seeing is that making grade d celebrities out of seriously immature people does not bring out the best of them. great taste deserves a better theme. even richard blaise started trash talking about others not keeping their cool while he was doing the same thing. his stating that he should have one over stephanie was poor sport. stephanie stayed ultra-cool and rallied when dale messed up her meal and showed many times why she did deserved to win.

mmc
mmc

I enjoyed Top Chef Masters more than I can say. The three finalists all were winners in my book.They not only cooked wonderful dishes but they showed respect and admiration for each other.Rick Bayless is not only a great chef but he seems to be a great guy.Bravo to all of them and to you for being a real Gentleman when giving your critique!

Ray
Ray

It was a really good show but also disappointing that as a judge of food, you weren't able to put you personal feelings aside. it's pretty obvious that michael got hossed by you.

it's just sad that you couldn't own up to it and admit it.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

This was a wonderful show! I was so inspired and amazed at how these chefs cooked and also how they behaved towards one another. Although I like Top Chef, Top Chef Masters was many steps above in quality. I also think the judges attitudes were different on this show, much less negative. Mr. Oseland's comments helped me to get a better idea of what the food might have tasted like. I respect his opinion, and he gave Top Chef Masters more credibility in my book, as Saveur is much loved in my house. I could tell that the judges loved the food, admired the chefs, and throughly enjoyed themselves, I only wish I could have been one of them!

Competing for charity is also a brilliant concept, and I came away every week feeling like I had watched something positive and worthwhile.

I hope Mr. Oseland's kitty will not suffer too much, poor thing!

Billy
Billy

First off, Congrats to Mr. Bayless - he is truly a wonderful chef with tremendous passion for his chosen cuisine (and a nice guy to boot!).

Secondly, all three would have been a great choice to be champion. All demonstrated mastery of their profession like no others and it was a thrill to watch them perform and deliver the consistency they did every week.

Finally, are you intimidated by Michael? By his success? By his touch of arrogance? I don't understand why you had such a vendetta against him. Show after show, you made it clear that Michael would never have your support. All three finalists had minor issues with one dish but your 3.5 score indicates some deeper motivation than just the quality of the food. I will pray for you...

nancy
nancy

Just can't figure out your attitude toward Michael C. I loved all three of the finalists and the winner was fine to me but I never thought you ever really gave Michael a good chance. I hope not to see you as a permanent judge on tc again.

Antonella
Antonella

You were so unfair to Michael the entire season!

Viewer
Viewer

How could gnocchi top Hubert's fish mousse! Michael deserved the 3 1/2 stars and Hubert more.

Viewer
Viewer

I loved the show and thought the judges were very kind with constructive criticism.. refreshing after seeing most of the competitive reality shows. On another note, being a "cat person" my whole life, I feel for you. I have lost many a cat companion over the years, so, I wish you many great memories and the realization that you probably made that cat have the best life ever by the way you loved it!! Get a kitten from a shelter and start new memories.. Cats are the most intelligent, easy companions and there are so many in need of homes!! Best wishes to you and Pete..

Viewer
Viewer

I am so sorry to hear about Pete. I lost a cat to cancer last year, and know how it feels to lose a cherished friend.

Rosa
Rosa

I live in Mexico and watched Top Masters religiously, enjoying each episode. I think the judges were fair and chose the right man to win (Rick), although the other two were just as excellent. Just one observation: there are several kinds of moles in Mexico according to the specific region. What Rick cooked was a Mole Negro (black) from the state of Oaxaca and NOT the Mole Poblano (reddish) from the state of Puebla. I just thought that you should have known this already as a published connoiseur.

Ron
Ron

My thoughts are with you and Pete. I've gone thru a similiar situation once and am afraid that I'm about to go thru it again.

But, I still have to say my piece - that you seem to have had a personal bias against Michael Chiarello. Unless I hear of a more believable explanation for the 3 1/2 stars, I'll give you even less.

Lolo
Lolo

James,

Well done on a wonderful series. I really enjoyed it. My prayers go out to you and Pete, I know first-hand the helplessness and heartbreak you are feeling. Just remember that Pete will be waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge. Stay strong.

Joel
Joel

Mr. Oseland I learned a tremendous amount from watching you and the other critics. It was eye opening knowng you knew from the beginning you were rating top chefs in the world - therefore I believe and know your ratings were based on the food, not on any perceived bias among the other bloggers. That respect and admiration makes your profession step hand in hand with those of the chefs. I was thrilled that Rick won - as much for his grace and humility as his dish. Of all the chefs, with the possible exception of Hubert, he demonstrated not just a mastery of his food, but a respect for those who first cooked it, and those who ate it. Bravo for that decision. I never perceived a dismissal of Chiarello in your judgements. He made tiny mistakes - those that would never lose Top Chef, but could doom a top chef Master. That was the distinction. And despite the opinions here, I respect tremendously the attention and respect given by Hubert and Rick to their top chef Sous chefs, that Michael refused to give - it is probably his Achilles heel in this whole affair. Cooking involves a level of respect and love that I just never saw demonstrated in Chiarello's camp - his dishes were divine - but they lacked that tiny bit of soul that I saw in the others.

Bravo - I enjoyed this season more than any of the top chef episodes. The arguments and posturing get tiring - we finally got to watch masters at work, and master critics as work as well. Well done, and bless you.

Liv Saunders
Liv Saunders

Not having ever watched Top Chef, I was shocked at how addicted I became to Top Chef Masters. Every week, I would come home - excited for the new episode. You were by far, my favorite judge. I thought your comments were smart, fair, and genuine.

I think part of the reason I never watched competitive food shows were that I felt - how could I judge who was far better when I could not taste any of the offerings? On other reality competitive shows like project runway, the viewer could make their decision on who was their favorite & thus deserved to be the winner. Your obvious wisdom on food and the way you articulated the dishes made me feel like I was sitting next to you - tasting the special offerings.

Bravo to you for making me a new Top chef addict. I look forward to future episodes. Now a prayer to the little guy, Pete...

Viewer
Viewer

I have two tomcats that are the light of my life. My heart goes out to you in this time. Give him the love he gave you, and let him have peace.

danielo
danielo

What a great series! The artistry of all the chefs and the passion stood out throughout the whole show. They are all winners! James you were a bit harsh in your scores for Michael. It caused him to lose.What gives?

reggie210
reggie210

James - let me say how sorry I am about your cat. I have lost 3 over the years, one went suddenly and two were ill and a choice, a very hard but very much with love, had to be made. The comfort is that I am sure your cat knows how much you care.

So now for comments on the points. Unfortunaly I do agree with the other comments that the score for Michael had a stench of lack of favoritism. It was obvious to those watching that Michael was trying to be amusing. I was even more surprised that you gave Hubert a higher score than Michael based on the other judges and guest comments. Could it be that you favour French cookinig more and respect Rick for his approach on Mexican and with that do not appreciate Italian cooking. I also agree a 4, didn't have to be a 4 1/2 for Michael would seem like the good thing to do. However to your credit, none of us ate the food and throughout it appeared your pallate was more refined. None of us watching and not eating will ever know.

Viewer
Viewer

I was so sorry to read about your buddy - Pete. The little guy will definitely be in my prayers.

Mr. Oseland, I enjoyed your farewell blog as well as your insightful commentary on this wonderful show.

Diane
Diane

Dear Mr. Oseland,

My thoughts are with you and Pete. I have two wonderful cats and know what joy they bring.

Thank you for your thoughtful commentary throughout this first season of TCM. I loved this program for the expertise of the chefs, the professionalism, graciousness and passion for food and the judges' opinions that were always delivered with respect, courtesy and honesty.

I was delighted that the finale was minus any surprises or twists and the focus was on the food! Thanks for a superb show and hope to see it's return.

pensuesil
pensuesil

I know it's already been said, but I want to add my two cents anyway. The judging for Michael seemed out of line given the comments and scores of others. The fish was supposed to represent his first restaurant. It might have been a bit dated and simple, but that was part of the story and not inconsistent with the concept of old-school Italian cooking -- fresh ingredients, simply prepared in peasant fashion. And others thought the polenta so wonderful, they wanted to bathe in it. I think Michael was on to something when he sensed an unfavorable bias from you over several episodes. It's not that Rick didn't deserve to win, but did Michael deserve to lose the way he did?

My sympathy for what you're going through with Pete. I know that love and that sadness. We lost our beloved 18-year-old Norvell last year. The hardest thing was choosing between putting him down or prolonging his days as much as possible. In some ways, it may seem childish, but we kept hoping that somehow with enough love we would have just one more day, just one more, just one more. The night before he finally gave up, Norvell ate, was purring, and was lovingly laying on my chest sleeping. The actual death was thankfully swift for him and while I can't know what it felt like for him when his little heart gave out, I'd like to think that he too valued the final weeks of love enough to make it worth it. Obviously, Pete is very much loved too. I hope you can find a way to take care of him and yourself and find comfort for you both in the months ahead.

ria bit
ria bit

Your score for Michael was ridiculous - I don't think you got the humor of the "Saveur" doilies and gave him a lower score as a result. There is obviously a part of you that does not like him which is too bad because you were suppose to be objective. Any of the three could have won but your score was so out of line that it makes one think maybe Michael and his charity should be the winner.

PeachPie
PeachPie

Mr Oseland, What a wonderful last post.

I don't know about anyone else, but I often find that critics in general (of all types) often lose sight of the fact that their job ought to be to describe and enlighten. Far too often, in my opinion, they believe that that their role is to find clever ways to bash whatever they are critiquing, with the ultimate goal being nothing more than to show off their intellect and ability to make witty and caustic comments.

Most certainly, that was not what you and the other judges delivered on this season, and I thank you.

I'll miss watching the show and the judges. I wish you the best and my heart goes out to you about Pete.

Gooch
Gooch

James - Thank you. I enjoyed your passion, insight, comments and questions at each judges table. Your criticism and explanations were fair.

The scoring however...

Specifically the final judging table you really lost me. The comments, praise and criticism for one particular Chef before sharing his score - inconsistent.

Many bloggers discerned- your final score for Michael Chiarello was less about his food and more about personality. (Some mention a pattern in giving Michael low scores. I missed a few episodes - no comment.)

Truth be told Michael was my least favorite Chef as portrayed by the show. My family and I were happy to see Rick win.

But do friends, family and I feel you were fair with Michael in the end? NO. I ask you- Did his reputation, likability with cast and crew weigh with you when scoring? DId you have a history (fondness) with the other chefs or Michael (dislike)? DId you know the other judges score before recording your own? Calculating?

Michael may not have been the most likeable of the three - but from what I understand that should not be a criteria when judging. Alas- Dale Talde's objection and contempt toward Michael feels mild in comparison. About $100,000 milder..

I apologize if this is truly not the case. The depiction of events has given this perception.

Finally, Last Tuesday my family said goodbye with love, hugs, thanks and tears as we held our golden chow mix girl all night before she finally passed -for 15 years her unlimited love was bestowed upon us - the memories remain vivid.

This evenings prayer included my young daughters heartfelt plea for Pete and James.

Slog On, Gooch

Leslie Stavrowsky
Leslie Stavrowsky

James,

You were a wonderful judge and I appreciated all your thoughtful and insightful comments. In general, you seemed to be a tougher judge than Gael or Jay on all the contestants in ALL the episodes. But those are your high standards and you have every right to your personal integrity in judging, according to your own high standards.

I don't think you had anything personal against Michael, you simply did not think his food was as good. According to your comments about the final episode, Michael's crispy fish dish was ugly, hard to eat, full of bones, and his polenta was over seasoned. So, those were several serious faults from Michael. I heard a younger Top Chef judge comment as well that Michael's fish dish was crispy, but there was nothing really interesting or complex in that plate. Yes, Hubert's garlic was too strong in one of his plates, and Rick's sous chef had overcooked the shellfish on his final dish. But at least Hubert's and Rick's dishes were more complex and interesting. It appeared that the faults of Michael's crispy fish dish were worse than the errors in Hubert's and Rick's dishes. I did not think your judging of Michael was unfair.

I'm so sorry to hear about your cat. Both you and your cat will be in my prayers. We get very, very emotionally attached to our pets - and don't want to let them go out of our lives. Please keep in mind that he may be suffering very badly with the cancer, but he can't talk and tell you so. I'm sure you will consult your vet about this.

I hope to see you as judge in other episodes in the future. Thanks for everything!

Kim
Kim

Hi, I enjoyed your thoughtful comments all the way through and thought your rating of the chefs was very fair. I think Hubert and Rick came across as two of the nicest, most generous and classy individuals ever to grace the show. Those two gentlemen were a pleasure to watch and provided wonderful role models for aspiring chefs in terms of how to lead. Thanks for your delightful contributions to this series. And, you certainly have my sympathy regarding your beloved Pete. Hope to see you, Gael, and Jay back again!

Nancy
Nancy

So sorry to hear about your cat.

I agree with others about your reviews of Michael. It may be the editing of the show, but to go from saying how incredible the short ribs were and they were the best you'd ever eaten to then giving him 3 1/2 stars seemed inconsistent in your actions and also inconsistent with the other judges and diners.

That said, I absolutely loved the show, the challenges, the fun and professional nature of the participants, and the theme of the final challenge in particular. I was thrilled with the three finalists and think anyone of them deserved to win. Well done on a wonderful season; I hope you do Top Chef Masters 2! Thanks.

Meg
Meg

James, I am so sorry to hear about your cat. That is so difficult to face. I will keep you and Pete in my thoughts and prayers. I wanted to let you know how heartily I agree with your thoughts this week. I have loved TCM! I believe it is because of the humility, respect and rapport these Masters share. It has been a delight to watch. I hope for many more seasons and would love to see you return as well. Peace to you and Pete.

Sue
Sue

James, it breaks my heart to hear about your Pete. Six months ago, I lost my 15-year old dog (and also my sole companion) that I'd had since she was a puppy to kidney disease. I know you'll enjoy her being with you as long as possible. A friend sent me the following before the time came that comforted me and that I've remembered --

So when tomorrow starts without me Don't think we're far apart For every time you think of me I'm right there, in your heart.

James
James

Hey James, Well let me first say what an impressive series.As a culinary student I watched each show unfold with such excitment.I really didn't know anything about yourself until I too the time to read your bio along with the other judges in which I am mostly impress.Ok about the winner I was rooting for Hubert all along.The so called under cooked garlic in the rack of lamb.Were you the only judge to experience that flaw.I thought that Hubert cuisine set the "Bar" to follow for all of the Master Chefs who competed.Thank you for your constructive criticism.I look foward to seeing you again.

Kat
Kat

Oh my God - I thought you were talking about a human companion and I was about to cry until I saw a poster say that he was a cat. I'm still sorry but you really scared me. I did think it was odd that you referred to him as a "little man." But still. Anyway, I loved your participation in the masters season. You were honest but fair. The final was my favorite episode of the any of the Top Chef shows. The challenge was grand and the dishes really did express the ideas and stories they were intended to express, even when they fell short taste-wise. The childhood memory course was magic! Each chef expressed a bond with a parent that was so inspiring and moving. Thank you James and thank you Bravo for a great series.

Cheryl
Cheryl

I agree with what you said about the true professional knows it it about the food and not the drama. Top Chef Masters is what all Top Chef contestants should aspire to be. All the chefs were true professionals and the ultimate winners and losers. Everyone treated their fellow team mates with respect and dignity, as a true “Top Chef” should behave. This was a wonderful and enjoyable show that was 100% about the best food the chef’s were able to prepare. Bravo!!!

Angeswellbeing
Angeswellbeing

I have to say, this show was a real honor to watch, as these are the best chef's in the world. Everyone of them deserved to win. Congratulation's to all. But I have to say I was really routing for Chef Hubert, as I have been a fan for a very long time, and I am always please to see when he is a guest judge. Just every dish that came out from him was perfection (Not saying that all the others did not)

Again, Great job to ALL of the Master Chef's, you all deserve a standing ovation.

Now I cannot wait for the Las Vegas Top Chef, also good luck at the "EMMY'S", you deserve that as well.

Sincerely,

Seattle

Andrew Lawrence
Andrew Lawrence

I've been Tring to find a way to got on the show make me a super model my search has been a bust can any one help me. Looking for the next Chicago open call

Steve P
Steve P

James,

I am very sorry to hear about your cat. You are clearly a pet lover and a kind soul. I will say a prayer in the hopes that you get more time with your friend.

You did a fine job this year. I thought the critics were fair and constructive. I also liked that you had a sensitive palate and stuck to your experience. Don't let anyone tell you what you have tasted.

Best wishes,

Steve

Wendy R
Wendy R

Loved the last episode. Sorry to hear about Pete. I lost my beloved 16-yr old Russian Blue cat to cancer last fall. I know exactly what it's like to lose your feline companion and have to write and carry on as normal, while normal around you is slipping away. Treasure all your last moments, along with the wonderful meals that too can never be recaptured.

Dan
Dan

I agree with Dylan! I too was very disappointed with your score of 3 1/2 stars for Michael Chiarello at the final meal.

The lowest score any judge gave on the final night was yours and only yours. Every other judge score 4 stars or 4 1/2 stars on every part of the final meals.

Imagine Michael's 3 1/2 stars from you and Rick's 4 1/2 stars from you where the exact 1 star difference between the two of them.

While Rick deserved to win as well ... NOT by 1 full star over Michael. A 4 star rating from you on Michael would have been the correct and fair judgment.

It seems your personal feelings towards Michael tainted your responsibility of being an impartially judge.

If Top Chef invites you back for future shows, please be more professional in your judging.

The contested deserve it and as a big fan of this show ... the fans demand it.

Be Professional or Step Aside~

Ed
Ed

It was totally absurd that you gave Michael Chiarello three and one-half stars in the final. The short rib dish alone earned him more than three and one-half stars. It is painfully obvious that Michael was not your favorite and your scores throughout the competition reflected that.

Someone described a critic has someone who has no talent, critiquing someone who does. You are the personification of that statement.

maryrose
maryrose

Please come back! I loved you and the grand rapport with your fellow critics. The format was excellent and it was such a treat to see these greats cook at such a high level. You 3 were certainly equal to it.

Note that Michael was still trying to control things up to the last minute, even suggesting that the chefs divide up the $100,000 three ways. What an egotist. Rick was such a modest, humble person with such an open, generous face. I'm so glad he won.

Hope to see you again soon, and bring Gael and Jay along too. It was great!

Cam
Cam

While Chef Bayliss is truly a wonderful chef, it's clear that Michael lost because of your antipathy toward him. 3.5 stars... saying the polenta was not right when Gail, Jay and Hosea characterized it as truly exceptional.... Michael was surely robbed of the title by you. I hope Bravo does not engage you again.

EP
EP

Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed Top Chef Masters. While a fan of the Top Chef series from series one on, it was so nice to see consumate professionals in the kitchen and enoyed watching the respect each chef showed one another (I can live without the drama and caddiness). I enjoyed you James, as well as Jay and Gael as judges. It was a superb series! Hope for a season 2 with all of you returning as judges.

My thoughts and feelings towards you and your cat, Pete. Having 4 of our own with one our oldest approaching the age of 16, we can empathize your situation.

Dedra
Dedra

I am so sorry about Pete!!! My 17 year old German Shepherd/Chow Chance is 17 and she's hanging in there also, my prayers are with you!! I LOVE Top Chef and Masters was truly the best "food porn" can get!!! I initially felt like Hubert would and should win but after watching the season and the finals in particular, I am so impressed by Rick I want to go to Mexico and EAT (as opposed to the whole bring your own food and water thing - although I still wouldn't drink the water!) -- something that never sounded appealing to me before!!! Thank you and your fellow judges for a great show!

Stella
Stella

So sorry to hear about Pete. We lost our 13-year-old cat Little Man about two and half years ago. It's so hard when to know it's time to let them go. Enjoy every minute you can with Pete.

Nanci
Nanci

James, May this time with Pete be sweet & full of love.

Thanks for a great season!

Viewer
Viewer

Dear Mr. Oseland, As I read about Pete tears were comming...I hope he is comforted being with you...in fact I am sure that he is..God bless him. I have 2 amazing cats who are siblings and 13 years old and they are just such wonderful loving spirits..I am so sorry about Pete. I loved watching you the entire season...a true gentlemen, but also refreshingly honest. It was a most gracious competition and a refreshing change from some of the nastiness that has come from Top Chef...much different energy..these chefs were doing their respective dances in the kithchen and it was all coming from their hearts and souls, very clearly.BRAVO!!

A.nya
A.nya

My thoughts to you and Pete during this difficult time!

Thank you so much for all your blogs, and your time on TV. You are my favorite judge! Hopefully we will see more of you on TV, maybe as a regular judge on Top Chef?