Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

Uncle Jonathan Got Hosed

Best of the Best

Francis Lam: What's on the Menu?

Curtis Stone's Lemon Creams with Poached Cherries

Bryan Voltaggio: "I Thought I Won. I Know I Won."

Jennifer Jasinski Was a "Great Miracle"

Lesley Suter's 'Ratatouille' Moment

What it Takes to Be Top Chef Master

The Finale Countdown

Doug and Sang: Bad Romance?

Sang is Back!

David Burke Has Titanium Balls

See Ya, Suckers!

Why Jennifer Jasinski Didn't Go Home

James Oseland's Teacher Tribute

Gail: "I Still Can't Believe Sang was Eliminated"

The Strangest Episode of 'Top Chef Masters' Yet?

Lesley Suter: On Tongue, Flautadillas, and Birthday Cake

What Has Curtis Stone "Spewing"?

A Series of Unfortunate Culinary Events Leaves Blood on the Mat

Gail: "We Couldn't Excuse Neal"

Lesley Suter: Hey, Chefs, Why So Raw?

Pull it Together, Sang!

Francis Lam: I liked Sang's Fish

Curtis Stone in Nacho Libre

Gail Simmons: "Neil Went for Our Bellies"

The Evolution of Sue Zemanick

Curtis Stone: Throwing Curveballs

Ruth Reichl: "I'd Rather Be Training a Nation of Food Warriors"

When Plex Met Toodee

'Top Chef Masters' ' Toughest Critics Yet

Gail Simmons: No "Chef" in Lynn's Dish

Restaurant Wars: 'Getting' Busy

Francis: A New Kind of Locavorism

What Being a Chef Really Means

Ruth Reichl's Perfect Los Angeles Restaurant

Restaurant Wars' Controlled Chaos

Franklin Just Did Too Much

Curtis and Lindsay: A Perfect Pairing

Curtis Stone: This Episode Sends Hearts Racing

Franklin, Can You Hear Me?

Uncle Jonathan Got Hosed

Harold catches up on the last two episodes of 'Top Chef Masters.'

All I have to say for last week, is Uncle Jonathan got f—king hosed. He’s Uncle Jonathan. Because of him, we all are where we are today, because he started it. He’s the first rock star. He’s Uncle Jonathan. He’s one of my dear and closest friends. I wish I worked with him at some point and I never did. And I can’t think of too many other people than I get more nervous cooking for.

I thought it clearly came down to the Quickfire. He got f—king hosed on the Quickfire. I thought he did a nice dish. Art did a risotto. That’s not risotto. That’s not what risotto looks like. Risotto is a cooking method. It looked like rice on a plate to me — it looked gross. In my opinion risotto is like the number one most bastardized dish in the United States. Everybody says they do a risotto, but who does a risotto right? That’s who I want to see. That winning risotto wasn’t even cooked properly.

I thought Michael’s chocolate dish looked great. I thought it was really sharp. I thought it was a tight dish and I’m not disputing that at all. What I am disputing is that Uncle Jonathan got hosed in the Quickfire Challenge, only getting those x amount of stars. The dish was much better composed than that disaster of a risotto.

I think that's why Jonathan lost. I mean, I love fried chicken. And the little pile looked nice. So yeah I felt a little disappointed. I wanted to see Uncle Jonathan win.

Roy had no game. He just couldn’t do it. I would think at some point you kind of know the type of chef you are. Why sign up for this if you don’t think you’re going to be able to do it. Some people can put sh-t together on the fly and other people need a lot of time to conceive things, which is clearly your style. It’s just funny to me. Michael’s clearly the most contemporary chef I relate to the most. So, it’s just like, why shouldn’t everybody do super, ultra classical food that’s kind of cute, like a throwback.

Onto this week's episode: What I think would’ve been pretty cool is at some point, there should be record holders. They do this competition every year and I want to see a stopwatch. I want to see a stopwatch on the bottom right hand corner. And I want to see who the champion are. I want to see if someone can break chickens down faster than Hung. Or some who can break down oysters quicker than Brian Malarkey. That’s what I want to see. And they keep doing this competition every season so there should be the mise en place wall of heroes.

I think I probably would have done pretty well on all of them. I don’t whisk egg whites. I’m very good with my knives. I’m very good at opening oysters. My first job was kind of like a shellfish shucker/ dishwasher and I had a little marine entire island. I saw a lot of interesting things. I have pretty top-notch knife skills.

And I still do stuff like that in my kitchen. I do everything. I have a small kitchen.

It is clear that Anita is not rusty at all. She’s in her kitchen cooking everyday. She is on the top of her game. And I ate at Bottega, Michael Chiarello’s place. He did a TV thing for a while and wasn’t really cooking at a restaurant. He’s got a lot of stuff going on, he’s a busy guy. So, I wouldn’t really see him doing everything. But after tasting his food, I know that he is very legit.

One of the other chefs said they’d never seen someone cut it like Art had. Here’s the deal: When you chop an onion, you’re supposed to make seriously legit slices; the way Hubert Keller was doing it. There’s no difference from what Art was doing than putting it in a Cuisinart or Robot Coupe and just grinding, and the problem with that is you’re bruising and shredding all the onions and all the moisture just comes pouring out. It’s kind of a half-job, but is it effective for a speed competition when you’re not using the product? Sure. But the way Art was cutting isn’t the proper way to cut an onion. Hubert was cutting the onions properly.

The chefs each made signature dishes for each other. Right now my signature dish at the restaurant would be the spicy cut meatballs my signature dish that I make the people that I am trying to impress would be a Langoustine dish I do with a Phuket black pepper sauce. Phuket is an island in Southern Thailand.

I thought Anita killed the challenge. It was tight. I was watching what she was doing. I was like “she’s really got it.” Hubert’s dish didn’t look like anything that much different from what Anita did. I thought Rick Bayless went for it. And I’m surprised Michael didn’t go a little bit outside of his comfort zone. I thought he was going to maybe go for it. I was a little surprised.

Jay Rayner called him out for catering more to Rick than the judges, but these guys are pros. it’s not the same thing.

Art's Scott egg was bad. I’ve got to be honest. If that were on season Top Chef, Tom Colicchio would be sending people home. I was shocked.

I don’t think the right person went home. I don’t at all. There was like two catastrophic disasters. If you’re taking a nice piece of lamb and you’re going to do a roast if it’s medium rare, it’s fine but if you’re doing a sirloin raw lamb burger, it’s totally opposite. If you’re doing something chopped, the lamb supposed to be cook a little bit more and the egg’s supposed to be raw in the middle. It was catastrophic. I was shocked.

Anita won. I like Anita a lot. As of right now Anita looks really tough to beat. The other guy, you’re not really going to get a bad plate from. In my opinion, I think everything is going to be really solid. He put up some really slamming fried chicken the week before this week he kind of missed his mark a little bit.

Harold
www.perillanyc.com

Francis Lam: What's on the Menu?

The critic focuses on the first part of the cooking process.

When I talked with Chris Cosentino about cooking last season's Top Chef Masters finale dinner, he said one part of it was easy --the menu planning. The challenge then was to cook four courses, with a theme of letters: a love letter, an apology, a thank you note, and a letter to his future self. Chris' menu came together quickly because, he said, "I know who I am." The wording of the challenge was provocative, but it was really just a way of asking the chefs to tell a story about themselves through their food. It left lots of room for personal interpretation. 

This year, the finale challenge also asked the chefs to dig into their personal lives but with more specific instruction. Asking Jen, Bryan, and Douglas to make dishes that represented their past selves, their current lives, something from a mentor, and something from a protégé was asking them to encapsulate their careers in four courses. (Only giving them a day and a half to do it meant that no one could lie on a therapist's couch to unpack their memories, which is probably a good thing.) 

I loved this challenge, and I was happy to not actually be there as a judge, but rather as a diner, as an observer, and as a fan. Without having to worry about who did “better” than the rest, I could just focus on the food and, even more, on the insight into each chef’s culinary life. Who these great chefs thought they were.   

I loved the way Douglas’s first thoughts were to his formative cooking experience, the first dish he remembers making in a restaurant, and how it became his mussel billi bi soup. I once had a version of that soup at his restaurant Cyrus in 2007. It had so much mussel flavor I can still taste it. To taste it at finale was, for me, like the past come back to life. And for him, someone now so inspired by the lightness of Japan, to reach back to the glories of a wallop of cream and brine… it felt like he was starting the meal by going back to his roots. 

I loved the way Bryan went in another direction, going to the first dish he ever cooked for his wife. I thought his dish was fantastic: the sweet subtlety of crab hovered over the grains and the egg yolk, but honestly, I also could’ve eaten the OG version of a sautéed chicken breast with crab and cream sauce. I kind of miss food with names like Chicken Chesapeake. Who will be the brave soul to bring back ye olde cruise liner food in their restaurant? But anyway, Bryan’s cooking impressed me through the whole season with its creativity and intelligence—I was shocked to realize he hadn’t actually won a challenge until the end—but it was so great to see, in the end, how grounded he feels in his emotional side as a person and as a chef. The dish was light; it felt full of possibility. You could tell his was cooking with the memory of being at the start of something, the excitement of it. 


And I loved it when Jen took the “something borrowed” part of the dinner as a chance to nod to her old mentor Wolfgang Puck, from when he was borrowing from Chinese cuisine at Chinois on Main. Her “Chinese duck with shiitake broth, eggplant, daikon, grilled bok choy, and duck wonton” was too busy, too over the top, too 1992… and just freaking awesome. Just like L.A., really. (I used to think that L.A. is stuck in the '80s and '90s, until I realized that, no, it’s just that in the '80s and '90s, the rest of the country was just trying to be like L.A.) I hadn’t had the pleasure of eating her food before Top Chef Masters, but I could see a direct line between what she was “borrowing” and her own food: it pulls flavors from a global palette—pulls them mightily, puts her back into it—to come up with thoroughly American dishes. Her cooking is so muscular, so full of umami and depth and, when she wants to use them, pungent spices. 

There were many other dishes that day: thrilling ones (Bryan’s white-on-white dessert), masterful ones (I mean, you try to wrap a piece of fish in individual noodle strands like Douglas did!), just bang-up delicious ones (Jen’s paella gnocchi. That is all.) But I most loved seeing into these chefs’ past and how they went from there to who they are today. I haven’t had a chance to talk with them yet, but I wonder which of them will say that writing the menu was easy. All three of these chefs were so good, their cooking so assured, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that from all of them.