Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

All About the Ingredientses

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?

All About the Ingredientses

Kerry Heffernan made a decision that may have cost him the title.

Well, my little blood sausages, the day finally arrived -- finale day. And oh was it glorious. Ironically, it's Yom Kippur and I'm fasting, so a) please don't tell my rabbi I'm doing work, and b) please excuse my stomach grumbles. Let's dive right in!

There was obviously no Quickfire Challenge for this challenge, so our two chefs -- Chris and Kerry --  headed straight in to a truly inspired challenge: to create four courses based on letters. These letters were: a love letter, apology, thank you note, and a letter to yourself. These two chefs happily embraced the challenge, and I wondered if we were actually going to make them write letters. We didn't hear any, so I'm going to assume they didn't. Some chefs are great writers -- if you don't believe me, just read Hugh Acheson's blog, while other chefs prefer to only write menus.

The two chefs get a surprise -- they get sous-chefs! And not just any sous-chefs, but their usual sous-chefs -- or in Kerry's case, a longtime colleague. This is usually my favorite moment and I think truly adds a special element to these challenges -- the viewer gets an even bigger taste of what these cheftestants are like in their professional kitchens. I have to say this season's sous-chef surprise also brought a fun extra element in the form of Manfred. I'm obsessed with that name. I would never call him Manny. It would be Manfred all day, every day. And although his name is Manfred and not Alfred, whenever Chris said it, I considered him Batman. He's certainly got the voice for it.So the two teams start menu-planning. Predictably, they both dedicated their love letters to their wives. and perhaps somewhat predictably their 'I'm sorrys" rang very similar -- both wish they didn't spend so much time away from their families in pursuit of culinary excellence. This isn't the firs time I've heard a chef lament this, but it's never any less sad to hear.

After the chefs have their dishes somewhat in mind -- Kerry will formulate it as he shops. In a crucial decision, Kerry decides only to shop at Whole Foods, while Chris and Manfred decide to hit up two other shops-- a butcher and an Asian specialty shop. In the immortal words of Real Housewife of New Jersey Teresa Giudice, ingredientses are everything. I actually don't know if she said that, but we'll pretend for now. It was this decision that may have really sealed Kerry's fate.

Because of the extra shopping and the L.A. traffic Chris and Manfred suffered, Kerry and Nick had a major time advantage in prepping, but Chris caught up by the end of Day One. And so they were on an even playing field for service. Or were they? Now Chris had the ingredients he wanted while Kerry made multiple compromises to his dishes. For example, in Kerry's first dish, he wanted to make a lobster jjigae, but Whole Foods sold out of lobster, so he made shrimp. Was it still delicious? Yes. Was it what he wanted to make? Not really. One of the diners makes a comment that Kerry's dish was too subtle, and I have to wonder whether his broth would seem more powerful next to a piece of delicate lobster rather thn a hearty prawn. Kerry finds out from Chris that the butcher had seafood -- he hadn't thought of that. That moment of realization was a bummer to watch. But before we breakdown the entire meal, let's not forget that the two chefs were treated to a meal cooked by none other than host and accomplished chef in his own right, Curtis Stone. I really didn't think this man could get any sexier but watching him cook, well.... He got to finally speak to Chris and Kerry on a chef-to-chef level, and this was a really nice moment.

But don't relax, guys! It's showtime! We already discussed Kerry's first course, but let's talk about Chris' beef heart tartare. My best friend actually traveled to Canada recently where I believe she ate this for the first time, so this dish wasn't too shocking to me, and the concept was literal and lovely. The next course, Kerry created a delicate snap pea flan, while Chris made something with uni. I say it like that because anything with uni will be greeted well by fellow chefs and food critics. They just love uni! (This is of course an overgeneralization, but test it out. See for yourself!) There's a reason Ruth said it was one of the sexiest dishes she's ever had -- that is truly saying a lot.

For the third course, Chris whips out the tripe, an ode to his grandmother. It gets OK reviews, and a large brown streak on a dish is always going to get the side-eye. Kerry "thanks" his parents for taking him clamming on the Cape when he was younger. 

And the final dish -- a note to one's self. Chris made a dish that made me think of Wylie Dufresne, a fellow egg-lover. Chris served his diners blood sausage and eggs. As we saw, blood sausage is not easy to make. In fact, it apparently "spooges," a term I never need to hear on Bravo again. Some scoffed at the dish's simplicity, but there was nothing simple about that dish. Making blood sausage and a perfectly-cooked egg for that many people is hard. On the other hand, Kerry finally let himself indulge -- in a perfect piece of steak. He's such a New Yorker.In the end, a really interesting question came up: with two great meals, which is better? Kerry's classic cuisine or Chris' "I dare you to eat this" style? This is something I've actually thought about myself. When I used to go out to dinner, my friends knew exactly what I would order, not only because it probably had corn or bacon in it, but because it was probably the weirdest thing on the menu. But I don't really do that anymore because a) many chefs aren't as skilled as Chris, and though I'm all for trying new things, I'm also for eating delicious food, and b) really, what am I proving by eating these foods if I don't enjoy them as much as something maybe a little bit more "safe"?

Kerry's critique reminded me a lot of similar things said in past seasons of Top Chef about the subtlety and restraint of Hung Huynh and Bryan Voltggio's food, and you now what? Their food is what I love to eat, so maybe I need to let go a little too! I do still think about a lamb heart cubano Chris served at a BBQ this summer, though, and so...

Ultimately, Chris wins! And maybe it's cliche, but they are truly both winners. I don't think Chris' win necessarily says anything about risky foods vs. classic cuisine, I think at the end of the day Chris provided a better meal and really let himself go. 

Well, as always, I want to thank you you for reading my recaps this season, a season I really think to be the best one yet! Don't forget to watch Life After Top Chef next week at 10/9c. And until then, Have a Nosh!

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!

Cheers,

Curtis

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

Ingredients

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 

 

Method

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.