Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

Tongue Thai'd

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?

Tongue Thai'd

Curtis Stone defends his reaction to Dita Von Teese.

Food is sexy. I realize I may be biased. As a chef, I find everything from salmon roe to russet potatoes pretty seductive. But there’s a reason some foods have been widely accepted as aphrodisiacs—they’re just undeniably luscious. The same could be said for Dita Von Teese, our guest judge for the Quickfire Challenge. Aside from the obvious, what really made her sexy was how much she loves food. Naturally I was a bit ruffled. What chef isn’t a total sucker for a girl who likes to eat?

At this point in the competition, the Elimination Challenge needs to be seriously challenging if it’s going to rattle any of these amazing chefs. This week’s challenge fit that bill. In the real world, a pop-up restaurant would take weeks of planning. And the chef would ideally serve food within his or her comfort zone. Our chefs had one day, and besides Patricia, little to no experience with Thai cuisine.

Proving that everything has an upside, our chefs got a crash course from the best. Lotus of Siam is arguably the best Thai restaurant in the U.S. Way off the strip, in a nowhere strip mall, this unassuming restaurant serves some of the most exciting Thai food I’ve eaten outside of Thailand. If you go, don’t miss the Issan Sausage, a grilled sour pork sausage. It’s outstanding.Unlike previous weeks, this Elimination Challenge created quite a bit of conflict in the kitchen. It makes sense. To completely run a restaurant, the chefs had to switch back into a 200-covers-on-a Saturday-night mode. All of these chefs are used to running the ship—from the kitchen. Lorena and Art were in a tough spot. Not only did they have to work the front of the house (and there aren’t a whole lot of chefs who can do that), they had to give up control of plating their own dishes. In the kitchen, Kerry seemed a bit overwhelmed expediting, but his Braised Pork Belly with Chinese Mustard Greens and Taro Root Puree was truly outstanding and a very close second for the win to Chris’ Sirloin Steak Larb Tartare. 

Every kitchen moves to its own unique rhythm, which is set by the chef, the executive chef or chef de cuisine. It’s the critical hum that makes service if not flawless at least possible. In this case, our chefs seemed to be competing to control that rhythm, so egos were bruised, timing was off, and in Patricia’s case, food wasn’t prepared properly.

In the end, though, it was Art’s dish that didn’t meet the challenge. It was sad to see him go. Art’s love of food is matched only by his love of life. He’s a great spirit and he’s made some amazing dishes for us this season. Best of luck, Art!

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.