Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

Carte Blanche

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?

Carte Blanche

Kerry and Lorena winning the Quickfire, Patricia going home -- what does it all mean?!

Bienvenue sur mon blog! (Shout-out to Kerry!)

Let's put last week's episode behind us -- as entertaining as it was, Lorena and Patricia's drama left a bad tatse in my mouth, and I'd rather forget that Takashi -- the cutest guy in the world -- went home. So, it's fitting that this week's episode is all white. A blank slate if you will. But before we get to that, let's get in to the Quickfire Challenge. 

Did this week's Quickfire give anyone else a case of the Full Houses? I'm talking of course about this week's challenge where we sort of cruelly split the chefs into groups of two, put a line down the center of the kitchen, and only let one chef near the burners.

Patricia and Chris miraculously select each other, which left Kerry and Lorena as partners. Even though there hasn't been a real rift between these two, it has seemed a bit tense. And if there wasn't a rift before, there very well might be now. See, Chris -- who makes a duck dish -- and Patricia -- who makes one with tuna, work together splendidly. Even Lorena calls their collaboration "like heaven." Well then, we don't want ot know how she'd describe her own, so we'll just call it, um, difficult. Lorena needs to use the burners to make her salmon the same time Kerry needs them for his shrimp, so Kerry cooks Lorena's first, causing her to worry that it will be ruined by the time her dish is judged. Lorena says that she can handle multiple dishes on a burner at the same time, which makes me wonder why she didn't man the burners in the first place. I actually wonder if Kerry would have objected to that. Kerry does say "I'm in it every day for me."The fat on Chris' duck seemed to be the biggest problem for his and Patricia's team, and although he made it seem like Curtis and the guest judge just didn't like duck fat, it really didn't look rendered enough for my liking either. 

Kerry and Lorena nab the win. Sooo, since I learn everything from Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, I'm searching for a lesson in Kerry and Lorena's win. Not listening to your partner gets you a win? Bookies love pasta? Who knows! It was in fact Kerry's dish that won it for their team because when our Eugene Levy doppelganger guest judge announced the win, he literally sid "Kerry and Patricia pasta." Hey, there was salmon there too! To be fair, if Lorena is very particular about her rice, perhaps she shouldn't' have attempted to make it. Kerry is thrilled about his win, somehow channeling an elderly Jewish woman, with the line "Mr. Heffanan, hitting his stride late in the game." Me thinks he's seen Crossing Delancey one too many times. (If you've never seen it, do!)

On to the Elimination Challenge, where the chefs would participate in a Diner en Blanc. I'd actually never heard of the tradition before, but after a bit of research, I learned it's quite popular and seems like fun! So basically, it's a high-end picnic, sans sandwiches. Joey Tribbiani would not be into a Diner en Blanc. The chefs are psyched -- Chris is ready for whatever "art project" this is, and Lorena Garcia thinks she's the one to beat. Just ask her. She said it. On the third person. Lorena, we've talked bout this. (Also, does :orena kinda look like Celine Dion? I just noticed that this week, but can't tell if I'm crazy or not. I'm sure you'll let me know in the Comments below.)

The biggest hurdle in this challenge, besides the large number of people they have to cook for, is that the food must stay overnight in takeaway boxes. I say "takeaway" and not "doggy bag" or "leftover," because I miss London and that's what they call leftovers there. If you've ever refrigerated your food leftovers for a night and looked at them again in the morning, then you have some understanding of what the chefs are dealing with. But even with these limitations, the chefs rise to the challenge. Antoher thing to remember is that it is effing hot out there -- Las Vegas in summer hot -- and the meal is being served outside, so there's that. I probably would've put some Coronas in a box and called it a day. But that's just me.Before they serve, Patricia gets in one more jab at Lorena, saying she has a "bigger depth of knowledge and a bigger range in which to choose from." Eek! But then again maybe Patricia's just cranky -- since she'd apparently rather be ziplining, which you can watch her do HERE! We see the entire event get set up, all the diners brining their own tables, chairs, etc. Seems like a lot of work to me, but then again, I'm lazy. We meet the two founders of these dinners, and I might have a little crush on the Aymeric Pasquier. He's so perfectly groomed! But then again, i'm super-lazy. Lorena serves first with her chicken salad, potatoes, and jalapeno chocolate mousse. She wanted to mix it up by having a sweet main and a spicy dessert. I just bought a boatload of Jacquest Torres' wicked hot chocolate mix, so I'm all about a little spice in my chocolate. Ruth thinks maybe Lorena's dish was a little too sweet. Her potatoes were great, but the mousse's consistency changed overnight. Aymeric suggests adding cheese to it and Curtis gives him Curtis' kind of side-eye, where he's not really, but I imagine that in his head he's just thinking "Bitch, please."

Next we have Patricia, who came up with a pretty interesting inspiration for her dish -- Marco Polo's Silk Road route. Apparently the concept was great -- it was! -- but it wasn't executed well enough. Patricia bemoans the time difference between creation and serving, but everyone had the same time constraints. If your food would taste better hot, than make something else!

Now let's take out a moment to comment on the jester attacking all he women in sight. No means no, dude!

Chris' dishes were met with a warm reception, especially his pate. He was worried about it drying out, but it was perfect. Finally, we had Kerry's dish. Poor Kerry couldn't get any of the diners to respond to his Frenchifying everything -- until he got to the judges. Kerry starts with a cold soup which I would say was definitely a risk. He followed that up with an orzo salad -- I love an orzo salad. If you're looking for something quick, Whole Foods has a good one in their prepared food section. Even Robin Leach says his food was "primo for a picnic," which makes him a winner in my book.

And so we come to Critics' Table. We find out that Lorena didn't taste her food today. Yikes! Kerry says Chris and Patricia have been amazing helping him. Burn! Chris and Kerry end up on top, and Chris eventually gets the win. And as the chefs await their fate, Patricia says "I think of it as the better person will stay in the competition." Well, Lorena stayed. So what does that mean?! Probably nothing. Patricia will be just fine. And now Lorena has made it to the final three against Kery and Chris. Mazel tov, Lorena! I, for one, can't wait to see who makes it to the finale.

Until next week, Have a Nosh! We'll be off drinking with that random Diner en Blance dad whose son said "My dad really liked the wine… as usual."

 

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.