Rick Bayless: Top Chef Master

The Mexican cuisine chef takes home the title. When you found out what the final challenge was, what your strategy?
I wanted to really represent those stages accurately but also keep in mind the challenge of delivering good, exciting food.

Did you have any trouble deciding what dishes you would do?
No … because I grew up in a restaurant BBQ family, I knew that my first food memory would be my home BBQ, and doing the dish with quail was updating it to the now with all of the flavors of my past. As for the experience that made me fall in love with Mexican food and want to make it my profession, traveling to Mexico and tasting black mole in Oaxaca really was life-changing. For my third dish—on opening Frontera Grill almost 23 years ago — my chef Brian and I knew right away would represent and be over-the-top. You really can’t beat Cochinta Pibil. As for our last dish — where we are now and where we are going—we (Brian and I) really wanted to bring in the food from Topolobampo, our fine dining restaurant. So we came up with the arroz a la tumbada. Each course had a direction behind it from Kelly — how concerned were you and other chefs about making sure the courses progresed well? (light to heavy?)
I thought of the menu as a whole, even though each had to represent something. That is why I thought I could still keep my past, etc. but place it in the menu where it would fit best. What did you think of your competitors’ dishes?
I thought Hubert and Michael were true competitors. They all had great stories, and to tell you the truth … I knew it was anyone’s game. Not for one second did I think I had it in the bag. No way. It seemed the only criticism you received was on the last dish, and that I believe was the one with the seafood that you knew at one point was overcooked. Did you ever think about changing the dish? Yes, we did think about it … but during this contest I really did learn one BIG thing—you have to commit to your dish and go with it. The problems we had all came down to not having a clear vision about this dish from the beginning, and that is why it eventually did not work on the plate.

Did you think the seafood was overcooked when it was sent out?
Yes, and there were other problems. The plating was wrong, and there wasn’t time to fix it. Gael seemed especially bothered by “air.” What’s your take on it?
I think it is always good to try new things and listen to your team of chefs. As in the prior challenge with Richard and the avocado ice—I let him run with it. In my kitchen in Chicago, when I have a chef that wants to try and use different techniques, I welcome it. It makes the environment exciting and quite satisfying.

Do you use it often?
In Topolobampo we do play around with using different flavors of “air” on our plates. I don’t think we overuse it or try to make it like we are trying too hard to create something that doesn’t fit for us and our cuisine. How excited were you to win?
I couldn’t believe it! I really couldn’t. This was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life—physically and mentally. I also was thrilled to know that I would be bringing 100,000 back to our farmers in Chicago. How hard has it been keeping the secret?
Not too bad—I sort of stuck to the “We aren’t even done filming it yet” sort of approach. And I loved being able to say: Watch what happens! How did you think your family/chefs will react?
FREAK OUT… they know that it was hard for me to be away from them and the restaurant. Was it helpful was it having your sous-chef there?
Yes! Instant bond and a feeling of great support. Brian has been with me over 10 years. Mexican food doesn’t always get the cred it deserves, do you think this will help? I sure hope so!
To beat out a fabulous French and Italian chef—pretty amazing stuff.

Why do you think that is in the first place?
Perhaps because the ingredients are sometimes not super-expensive. For ages I have stood behind French and Italian cuisine and waited, waited for America to discover authentic, high-end, contemporary wine-drinking (not just beer and margaritas!) flavorful food. Hopefully I showed that on this series. How was your experience overall?
Tough, amazing, incredible, overwhelming, lifetime friend-making, satisfying, tough.

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Curtis Stone's Lemon Creams with Poached Cherries

Curtis describes cooking for the finalists. Recipe included!

Well done, Doug! He put in a cracking effort this season. Were you happy to see him go all the way to being crowned the Top Chef Masters Season 5 winner? It’s great that he won 100K for his charity, Green Dog Rescue, Inc. Congrats, mate. 

The finale is the most exciting time in the entire competition, and it was a seriously great night for the critics and me. Each dish that was served up to us was absolutely bloody delicious. Jen, Bryan, and Doug should be so proud of themselves. 

These chefs are truly at the top of their culinary game, which makes it even more exciting and daunting for me to cook for them. Chefs love cooking for other chefs, but it’s also pretty nerve-wracking. We cook for critics, customers, and celebrities all the time, and that’s par for the course, but no one can break your food down like another chef. We only got to see the spot prawns and lemon cream on tonight’s episode, but I also got busy in the kitchen and hand-made some beautiful ravioli and chilled soup too. (My lemon cream recipe can be found below). I’ve put these three chefs through the ringer for 10 weeks, thrown a bunch of crazy challenges at them, and have said some not-so-great things once or twice while critiquing their meals, so it’s safe to say I was a little nervous awaiting their reactions. They seemed to enjoy the dishes a lot, and it was great to just sit down, reflect, and celebrate their accomplishments.  

Bryan is a total superstar and has elevated his career more than anyone could have imagined going from Top Chef finalist to Top Chef Masters finalist. It’s just unbelievable. It’s kind of like going from playing local football to suddenly being in the premier league. 

It was also amazing to watch Jen come back fighting like a champion in this competition. She really fought hard and deserved a place in the final after going from being eliminated to winning her way back in, and then winning a handful of challenges. 

I think Doug had that winning edge in the end due to a number of key factors. He’s an accomplished chef with years of experience and has a vast amount of knowledge to draw on from his travels and training. Doug’s spent a lot of time behind the stoves and has never turned his back on them (well, only when he is working and playing with his beloved dogs). He’s got an admirable roll-up-the-sleeves, resilient attitude and gave each challenge a good crack. And we can talk about him facing his fears of skydiving? A lot can change in 10 weeks, huh? I had a ball filming this season, and it was a pleasure to work with such a talented group of chefs, critics, celebrities and the crew. I’m already thinking about next year and the chefs on my wish list to lure into the Top Chef Masters kitchen. I’d love to see April Bloomfield from NYC’s The Spotted Pig, husband and wife team Karen and Quinn Hatfield from Hatfield’s Restaurant and The Sycamore Kitchen, Josef Centeno from Bäco Mercat, Christopher Elbow from Kansas City (his chocolates look insane), and I’d also love to see Missy Robbins come back to us. 

Thanks for a great season, everyone!



Lemon Creams with Poached Cherries

This dessert is a bit of a calorie killer, but hey, what the hell. It’s dead easy, but you’ll need a thermometer. Use two lemons if you like a subtle lemon flavor, or three for more of a zing. I like using frozen sour cherries to cook with -- fresh cherries should be eaten fresh. 

Serves: 6
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes


Lemon creams:

3 1/2 cups 35% whipping cream
Finely grated rind and juice of 2-3 lemons
6 oz instant dissolving sugar

Poached cherries:

Finely grated rind of 1/2 orange

7 fl oz red wine (Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon)

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 whole clove

1 tsp instant dissolving sugar plus extra, if needed

7 oz frozen sour black cherries, defrosted 



To prepare the lemon creams: 

In a saucepan, heat the cream to 160°F. Remove from the heat and cool to 150°F.

Add the lemon rind, juice and sugar to the cream mixture, and mix well. Allow to cool, then pour into six 6-inch dariole moulds (cups, ramekins, or glasses will do if you don’t have molds*). Place on a tray and put in the refrigerator to set, about fur hours.

To poach the cherries:

Place the rind, wine, cinnamon, clove and sugar in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Add the cherries, bring to the boil, and taste for sweetness. If necessary, add a little more sugar to neutralize the tannin of the wine, while retaining some zing. Simmer for five minutes, then cool.

When ready to serve, carefully up-end the moulds over serving plates and give them a shake; the creams should just slip out. If this proves difficult, run a small knife around the edge of the mould to release the cream and try again. 

Serve each lemon cream accompanied by 5-6 cherries. Drizzle a little of the syrup over each one. 

*You can also make molds from 3-inch diameter PVC pipe from a hardware store cut to depths of 1 1/4-inches. Sand the edges and then seal the bottoms with plastic wrap.   




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