Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

First Impressions

Bravotv.com's Senior Editor breaks down the early competition.

Hello, my little Top Chef Masters, and welcome back to the 4th (can you believe it?!) season. I'm fresh off recapping the first season of Around the Worldin 80 Plates, but I'll try to switch gears, shake out the cobwebs, and not mix up people, as I'm sometimes prone to do.

So, we're in Vegas with 12 amazing chefs, Curtis, James, and Ruth, and two exciting new judges Krista Simmons, and Francis Lam (you'll meet soon.) I know every year we gather a great group of chefs, but when I saw the list of this year's cheftestants, I was blown away. 

I won't go through all of them, but here are few quick impressions I feel compelled to mention.

Art lost 120 pounds?! Way to go, Art!

Clark and Mark are partners, in every sense of the word. Art confuses them for brothers as they look so much alike. I don't blame him.I wasn't too familiar with Patricia Yeo before this season, but i already love her.

Lorena Garcia has more energy than anyone i've ever seen. I'll have what she's having.

Some of you might remember Takashi from the Top Chef Season 9 finale.

Chris and Patricia might be interesting allies since they worked together before already

Game time. OK, so Curtis -- as sweet as he is handsome -- enters the kitchen and gets a standing ovation. OK -- he was already standing, but I've never seen the cheftestants that excited before!

He issues the Quickfire which is to  first grab a partner, then create a dish from two randomly drawn ingredients blackjack-style. Yay, Vegas! The combos dealt seemed pretty traditional. I think the balogna was probably the hardest ingredient -- sorry, Kerry and Takashi! -- but no one pulled marshmallows or something like that.

World-class dealers will be judging the food and the pairs will earn $10K to split between their charities -- another aspect of Masters that i've always loved.The dealers seem to lean towards the dishes with heat, and so Chris and Patricia win with their "surf and turf" of steak and catfish. Each of their charities win $5K!

For the Eliintaion Challenge, the chefs split up into two fairly arbitrary teams, Red and Blue, and they start to plan their menus for this week's challenge… creating world-class buffets!

We see Chris and Art start to go at it a bit about what kind of food they should serve. I'm never for dumbing down one's food, but Art's point about making something that will appeal to a large group of people isn't a bad one. Ultimately, this is Top Chef Masters, and if we've learned anything it's that at the end of the day you're cooking for the judges (they are the ones making the decisions after all) and people's palates are more sophisticated than one might think. Good food is good food.

Finally, the chefs head to the supermarket. Watching the Masters shop is always so amusing to me, and i don't know why. I love the camaraderie between Thierry and Takashi -- yes, they're competing  but they're friends. Love Thierry's joke about eating at Jaleo because they are $800 under budget. While Thierry and Takashi are joking, Art is is being slow (something that will come up again later.)When the chefs arrive back to their kitchen, Curtis is there with scratch tickets. Some chefs get immunity -- Art and Debbie -- some lose 30 minutes cooking, some get $1000 extra bucks for their teams, and some have to switch teams! Not only that but the two teams get tickets revealing "Mexican " and "Indian," the two cuisines they'll be cooking. Since these cuisines have very distinct flavors, the chefs are allowed to send one team member back to shop for ingredients. While the Blue Team (Indian) doesn't what to lose the manpower, the Red Team sends Art. This decision baffles me as he was already the slowest person on the team before! But he goes. Don't worry -- I'll eat my words on this point later.

Almost immediately, Missy Robbins cuts herself on a mandoline and has no choice but to go to the hospital. We find out later she must get a skin graft and keep her finger immobilized for two weeks. Yikes. At the end of the episode Curtis offers her a spot on next season's show. I know this is nice and all and I wouldn't expect anything less, but this offer felt like when you complain to company about poor service and they just offer you coupons to come back. Liiike, why would I want that?! Hopefully Missy doesn't feel this way though and will come back for a next season!

Anyway, Red Team is now down a person, but has to make Missy's dish.

Although ultimately Patricia makes Missy's dish, Art and Chris once again go into it about sharing ingredients. Chris needs his ingredients but Art lays a guilt trip on him that it's for Missy! Chris eventually gives in, but not before making the excellent point that it's easy for Art to care more about someone else's dish because his arse has immunity! 

After prep, the chefs get ready head to Wicked Spoon. Their diners? The fabulous entertainers of Vegas. I love a Vegas buffet, so I would've loved to join, but alas I have no talent worthy of a Vegas stage.

The judges walk in. We meet new judge Krista Simmons. James Oseland is wearing plaid, my favorite. Curtis is giddy and says Patrica like "Patriciaaa." He also says "It's just de-licious" about Art's dessert. I love Curtis.

I won't go through each chef's dish, but basically the Mexican buffet was better received than the Indian. In fact, few if not none of the Indian Team chefs' dishes were Indian. Guess they should've sent someone to get more ingredients! (This is where I eat my words about sending Art back to the store for more ingredients.)MMChris Cosentino's play on pork and beans wins, so I'm sure he feels slightly vindicated in his argument with Art earlier about the level of food they should serve. Debbie Gold might have gone home if she didn't have immunity. I will say she should stay just for providing a dessert that caused such a great little exchange between Ruth Reichl and James Oseland. In the end, Sue Torres goes home for dry chicken.

Ruth asked a great question at Judges' Table: if you're a chef and you're asked to cook a cuisine you don't know, what do you do? I honestly have no idea. What do you guys think?

Well, I will admit that I've watched a few episodes ahead and I'm not exaggerating when i say this season is awesome. Let me know what you thogut of the premiere and who your early picks to win it all are.

Until next week, Have a Nosh!

 

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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.   

 

 

 

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