Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

Leave the Gun. Take the Cannoli.

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?

Leave the Gun. Take the Cannoli.

Hugh Acheson explains why the mentor challenge was so important.

The end is nigh for our three remaining competitors. Chris is the odds-on favorite, at least in this bookie’s opinion. He’s just been solid through the whole season and has a breadth of skill that suits the competition well. Lorena can prevail once in a while, but is limited in scope. Kerry is the dark horse here and could upset but he’s been a team-of-one for a long time and that not been a consistent prevailing wind, more like a gusty, brief storm mixed with stillness. 

Naomi Pomeroy was famous in the last season for screaming incessantly at her dad. This challenge brings that kind of frantic fun. The anonymous culinary  partners are our trio of judges, and I am giving Francis the up-front advantage on this one. He just seems a little more gastronomically able as opposed to merely gifted with words, but I could be wrong. It could be that Chris and Mr. Sweater have the edge here, or that Ruth and Kerry have made a chicken-winning extravaganza. It’s going to come down to who the better explainer is. 

Chris and James are judged first and kudos to them both because the dishes look pretty identical. Chris was smart to do a dish that had symmetry and simplicity in it’s heart; a dish that was easily explainable through a partitioned wall. Curtis can’t decide whose is whose and which is better. Good omen. Chris and James have created conjoined identical twins named Akbar & Jeff (to the Google!)Lorena and Francis have made similar dishes of swiss chard and chicken and cream that are deemed good, but both are inherently sauces more than dishes. When the pasta water don’t boil there will be no pasta. Though Curtis likes the duo of dishes, it’s not a concept that will end up as a Savory Mexican Smoothie© flavor at Taco Bell. Essentially, Lorena and Francis have created identical twins that wear different colored sweaters, like Ronde and Tiki Barber.

Let’s remember that Kerry is not the greatest communicator. And Ruth is a good talker but probably not the best listener (in her defense, I am also kind of like that… working on listening). Can I haz sautéed chicken with chard… again? The plates look very different, and though they taste pretty spot-on, they are not going to win this thing with the real variance. Curtis thinks that Ruth’s chicken is better. Kerry laughs his “I am so angry” laugh. This is about getting the plates as close to identical as possible, and Kerry and Ruth have created fraternal twins, one of whom is a professional chef while the other is a frustrated beat poet with a penchant for cookery.  

Winner winner prawn dinner. Cash to the Fox Foundation. My inner bookie is thinking that unless Chris falls down on his head, he will emerge victorious in this whole season.

Cooking school challenge? I like it. Being a chef is so much more than just cooking. I put it like this: our job is to inspire people to love the work, love the repetition, love the menial task, love the endless learning. Cooking is rarely about the limelight and the accolades; you need to love to cook to be in this business. Inspiring, teaching, demanding, lauding and challenging people is the hallmark of a great chef. Hey Elves: I love this challenge. It’s awesome. It shows truly what Masters should be able to do. More of this. 

In the car we learn that Kerry is old and the kids know it. Godfather 1 is not on their radar. Shopping has also tired him and he slurs the words, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli,” before nodding off. Kids these days -- whadda they know?

Shop is what it is and we see the difference in leadership styles. 

Cook time is more dramatic. Kerry is a squadron leader of the dark side. Chris is a teacher of a different mold, kind of like that math teacher who made you love math until you learned to hate it again the following year. He is careful and caring. Lorena is a little frantic with her peeps, JoJo and Jhane, but is showing some good traits in her syllabus. JoJo is diabetic and is fighting to eat well in life. Hear that, America? Wake up and learn from JoJo. We should not fight the malaise of diabetes with meds, rather we need to strike back with truly nourishing our communities.

Emilio from Chris’ team can come and work for me when he’s ready. I love kids who refuse to give in to the limitations of their upbringing and just strive to advance all the time. Those are the chefs of the future. 

Ruth, Jimmy, and Francis are the judges with some of the culinary staff from the local college. Tasting time is off to the races. First up Chris’ team, Lacey and Emilio. The pork is a loin which is a challenging cut because it is so lean. Though the pork may be perfectly cooked we are shown James Oseland chewing a lot. Emilio’s mother is verklempt with pride. So sweet. This is like a feel good after-four special, but even I can’t seem to make much fun of it. 

Second up is Lorena’s lasagna team of Jhane and JoJo. Three meat lasagna with a nice salad. The tasting panel really seems to like it. Love the proud parents really behind those kids. Kerry is up next and the plate looks good. Maybe the Kerry’s School of Hard Knocks will pan out. This chicken and spinach rocks… much better than the chicken and chard from this morning. 

One taster says it best: “They’re (all) winners.” True. Now let’s viciously let one of these three chefs pack their knives and go. 

It’s interesting to see whether the judges will have any harsh words for the chefs. Curtis is wondering whether Lorena would serve the lasagna in a high-end restaurant… sometimes I wonder what Curtis means when he says high-end restaurant. For most of America, Olive Garden is a special occasion. There are many different types of high-end restaurants. I think that lasagna would be great to serve in a fancy little place, shared with three friends and a great bottle of Riserva Chianti. Nothing wrong with that. 

Kerry is in with a win. Evidently leadership can take many forms. Somebody has been taking notes while reading Who Moved my Cheese? He pushed those kids to the limits and maybe that anti-coddling was good for them. They are crying in the corner right now after being yelled out for hours by Kerry, but hell Kerry won so who cares. JUST KIDDING… Good job, Kerry! 

This is a hard one. Though Chris’ dish looks pretty good and his team had great chemistry, it was plated too soon and was not his best showing. Francis loved it and James did not. Lorena on the other hand led her team pretty well and the dish was just maybe too simple, yet her salad gets described as a “quilt of flavor” by James. James quits because he likes both chefs. But he’s kidding, he ain’t quitting this gig! He loves this job!Lorena is packing those knives. She really rocked it out this season, made a friend in Art, and somehow managed to sign a contract in fast food that would make most people very jealous. She leaves having raised a great amount of money for a great charity and she also leaves with a big smile and a ton of class. No matter my banter, that chef is a Venezuelan tornado of goodness. May she continue to succeed.

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.