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!

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

Bryan compares his Top Chef Masters finale to his Top Chef Season 6 finale. How are you feeling going into the finale? Tired? Reinvigorated?
Bryan Voltaggio: Certainly not tired. This is something we do every day, day in and day out, cooking. Going into the finale, I am feeling excited and nervous -- I want to do a great job and win. What went through your mind when you found out Graeme won the last Battle of the Sous Chefs?
BV: I was very excited for Graeme because he finally had an opportunity to shine and he brought it all to the table. I felt a great sense of redemption for him because he got to win a challenge when it counted the most. I strongly believe that Graeme helped us get all the way tothe end-- he clinched it to get us to the finale. Can you elaborate on your menu planning? How did you decide which dish will go for which course?
BV: When it comes to the menu, and what I learned the first go round on Top Chef, you need to cook what you know. There are time limitations, surprises (planned and unplanned), so you need to do what you can to troubleshoot and get good results on the plate. You can't bring anything to the challenge that you've never done before. I go back to dishes we've created at VOLT, things that Graeme and I both know, things that I don't even have to speak to Graeme about. You had a little over 20 minutes less than you thought you would have to prep because of traffic. How nervous were you that you wouldn't get it done?
BV: Traffic was a big factor, but I knew the food, I knew the menu, and I knew I could get it all done. It was worth going to get the extra ingredients (the proteins), and it was worth it in the end. How do you feel each dish turned out? Was there anything you would have done differently?
BV: I was very proud of every plate I put forward. I thought that every dish was done flawlessly, and I achieved every goal I set out for. What made you include an element from Michael's repertoire in your dish (the seaweed mashed potatoes)?
BV: I wanted to put out some sort of element that represented Michael because he's not only family, but I also respect him very much as a chef. As the judges critiqued your food at Critics' Table, what did you think?
BV: I thought that I had nothing but positive comments -- there wasn't anything glaring that made me feel like I misstepped. I felt really good after Critics' After the heavy comment about your beef dish? Did you think you won?
BV: Yes, I thought I won. I know I won. What went through your mind once the critics told Doug he won? How did it differ from when Michael won?
BV: I thought for sure they were going to call my name because I felt confident about my food. Maybe they saw something in Doug's dishes that put it over the top. Compared to when Michael won, it wasn't a proud moment for me because I wasn't playing and rooting for both myself and my brother. I really wanted to win the money for my charity and it was an opportunity for redemption. If anything, I owed it to Michael to win because I wanted to compete again and go for the win. You are on a roll in our Viewers' Choice. Anything you'd like to say to your fans?
BV: I appreciate all the support, and the fans need to know that their efforts will go to feed many hungry children across the country. I encourage everyone to continue to reach out and support Share Our Strength. How's your relationship now with the other contestants?
BV: My relationship with everyone is great. We all got along, and I felt respected amongst the group. At first, they were nervous when I came in because I had competed before. That just goes to show that it was a tough competition, and we're all good at what we do. I still communicate with everyone from the group -- mostly David Burke. What was your favorite overall challenge?
BV: Favorite challenge was the last one. It is always best to cook the food you want to cook- that's where I've always put my best food forward. What was the hardest part of the competition for you?
BV: Being away. There are always two sides to it -- one of the greatest things when you are in a competition, all your focus is on that and not on outside influences. It's a break from the day-to-day restaurant life, but the other reality is that you want to be back home with your family and at your restaurant. Did anything funny happen behind the scenes that you can share?
BV: I had a lot of fun with the Face Juggler app behind the scenes. We were acting like children a lot of the times behind the scenes which kept the grueling schedule and challenges bearable. Anything else you'd like to add?
BV: I want to thank Graeme for everything and helping me along this journey. He is a big player in how we got all the way to the end, and I appreciate all his hard work day in and day out at VOLT.

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