Tactical Hugs and Southern Jazz Hands

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?

Tactical Hugs and Southern Jazz Hands

Hugh Acheson will not be showing this episode to his children.

Art had a dream about chocolate and thinks this a breakthrough to understanding his psyche. 

They have to turn on Dita Von Teese with food. I recommend some citrus and a six pack of beer, cause girl looks like she may have scurvy. Don’t get me wrong: she’s plenty sexy, but just a little pale. Couple of Flintstone vitamins will clear that right up. Then we can go shopping for vintage bondage outfits together. 

Lorena is making sexy tuna with alligator pears (avocados). If you are replicating Lorena’s dish think domestic: buy the California avocados. You know that avocadoes have a lot of potassium? This is all in my brain because last week the news was all a-buzz about potassium cutting rates of strokes and heart disease. It’s food trivia day at Hugh’s blog!

Chris is being kind of selective with whom he’s going to turn on with his food, and it’s not going to be Alicia Silverstone, the hottest vegan ever. 

So this is what they have made: 

Art has gone crazy and has dreamed that he is a turn-of-the-last-century French pastry chef with Ile Flottante. I wish Art had called it Islands in the Stream of Chocolate, as an ode to his Southern roots. He is still all strident from his speedo moment at the pool last week. Dita and Curtis enjoy their Islands but then Dita drops the, “I’m not really a chocolate person” line, and Art’s ego gets deflated. We need an ego fluffer, stat!

Lorena says, “I always bring sexy” with her tuna telitas. They look good, but the beauty shot comes up with that big pithy lemon next to it. Garnish is important, people. Dita loves cilantro but does not think this is sexy in the least. She likes it, but is just not turned on by it. Takashi has made oysters with yuzu, sea urchin, and truffle. Oysters confound me. I love them but often think about the brave soul who was like, “Hey look, a rock with snotty stuff inside! I’m gonna eat this!” Sorry, I just made oysters forever unsexy. Dita is not following my chain of thought and thinks this is one sexy dish. Takashi is ecstatic but nervously reading the warnings on his Viagra bottle because his erection has lasted for eight hours. 

Is Curtis the most dazed we have ever seen him? He is so buying 50 Shades of Grey after this Quickfire. 

Patricia is looking to get out of her slump with a Chawanmushi, a Japanese savory custard. The adornments include caviar, tempura asparagus, and apple salad. Dita says, “It’s like a soft caress followed by a crisp smack.” Curtis has gone to Australian jelly in her hands. 

Chris’s foie with figs is kicking it. Dita she likey. She talks about eating figs naked and Curtis is now hiding his Wallabee, a Outbackian term I just invented for a boner. This is getting awkward. Man, the Elves are frisky this season. 

Kerry’s Uni and Tuni is getting raves. Dita she likes that too and makes more comments that make me blush. This may be the first episode of Top Chef Masters that I keep hidden from my children, like a collection of 1971 Playboys. 

Art and Lorena are in the bottoms. Art’s ego has gone home to have a nap. Lorena has failed to make cilantro sexy. That’s a hard mountain to climb. 

Tops are the Uni & Tuni from Kerry and also Takashi’s oyster. Takashi wins with the oyster. The winnings are money for the Red Cross and immunity. I think immunity will be off the table after this episode. Takashi has raised $20,000 for the Red Cross. That’s not sexy, but it is awesome. 

Northern Thai flavors time. Saipin in the house! I love Lotus of Siam! Rieslings and Thai food for lunch have always been a tradition for me. Patricia has a definite advantage in this Restaurant Wars: Thailand. Everyone must be responsible for one dish. 

They go out to the strip mall that houses Lotus. Lotus is not a fancy place at all, but really you should go there if you get the chance. The food rocks. Saipin won a Beard award two years ago. Totally badass. The sextet eats it up and enjoys immensely. You see the gears working hard in some of their heads, but some are just eating and gabbing. This is a crucial point to the competition, as some chefs will revel in capturing these flavors in their dishes and some will just wing it. Art, I am talking to you. Art?

That crispy sausage rice rocks. We totally ripped off that dish at one of my restaurants cause we loved it so much. But we pay homage to the source when we serve it. 

Shopping is uneventful unless you like to watch Lorena say "kaffir" thirty times. 

Prep is very eventful though. They decide on Lorena and Art to be front of house and Lorena doesn’t like it at all. Patricia decides that the best way to make Lorena feel more comfortable is to yell at her with a very condescending tone. Lorena does not like this at all and gets really pissed. The Elves then subtitle Chris, like he’s suddenly speaking Esperanto. 

Service time! Kerry is not really exceling at the expeditor role. He’s confusing everyone. Art is walking around like a Southern John Cleese. Saipin and her daughter are in the house with James, Francis, and the pale guy from Grub Street. 

Lorena’s soup is up first. I love Thai soups. Spicy and sour and limey. Yum. Chris has made a lamb larb. 21-day dry aged lamb. I’d eat both of those things with gusto. Alan doesn’t like the soup’s garnish, but he’s always a bit pesky and picky. The larb is not getting rave reviews from Saipin, but Francis loves the idea. Francis has had the best judge's comments so far this season, with really heartful and informative reactions. Good pick, Elves. 

Art is giving us cashew crusted chicken with crispy rice salad and a lemongrass vinaigrette. Takashi has made a curry with shrimp and crispy noodles. Art’s food looks like a weird all-you-can-eat mountain. Kind of Ponderosa in Bangkok. Takashi’s yellow curry is enjoyed, but Saipin doesn’t like anything. She is so tired of these white people ripping off Thai flavors and wants to go home. Chris, Alpha dog of expediting, jumps in to the captain’s chair. Kerry rebuffs him by taking his sweet ass time putting up his food. This is causing a disaster for Patricia, whose duck is now overcooked and she has to get more breasts on the barbie.

Kerry has done a pork belly with greens and taro root puree. Patricia has a duck with Massaman curry and pineapple. The duck is so rare that James asks for a recook, which is a royal pain in the ass to Patricia. Saipin says something in Thai that equates to, “These people have no idea what they are doing.” Patricia is battling Kerry in the back, but Kerry is not really into the fighting thing. He’s a lover, not a fighter. Patricia decides this war should go all emotional and offers a hug. Is it a real hug or a tactical hug? 

Everyone gets called to the firing squad. Chris and Kerry are tops and Chris wins, some solace for his defeat last week where he made a great dish that was very misunderstood by the Bunny. 

Bottoms are Art, Patricia, and Lorena. Art’s positives contain the terms “plain” and “simple," and that is never a good omen if those are the laudings. James is glad he threw the Southern jazz hands on the dish but has problems with it. James. if you ever say “Southern jazz hands” again I will come at you like a Spider monkey. 

Lorena’s soup garnishes were an issue. I have a rule that soup garnishes have to fit in a spoon. If the spoon was a giant soup maybe this would have worked. 

Patriceo’s duck was underdone and she throws Kerry under the bus for this. Kerry don’t care, cause he was on top. Actually he feels really bad and apologizes profusely. Yeo is tired, and it’s showing. The past three episodes have put the stress on her. I know that feeling. You are all into the competition for a while, and then you start stumbling and it just isn’t fun anymore. Then you start getting a little homesick, and then you just want to get out of dodge. It’s a whole lot easier if you're winning.  

Art packs his knives and his Speedo and goes back to bake cakes for Obama, Gaga, and many others whose names end in "a." Lorena is a Venezuelan version of verklempt. She’ll get over it when the Taco Bell money comes in. 

Follow me on Twitter, people, @hughacheson

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

Bryan compares his Top Chef Masters finale to his Top Chef Season 6 finale. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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' After the heavy comment about your beef dish? Did you think you won?
BV: Yes, I thought I won. I know I won. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.