Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

First Impressions

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?

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!

 

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

Bryan compares his Top Chef Masters finale to his Top Chef Season 6 finale.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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' Table.Bravotv.com: After the heavy comment about your beef dish? Did you think you won?
BV: Yes, I thought I won. I know I won.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.