Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

I Am the Log. I Am the Ravine. I Am Scared.

It would have been interesting to see Clark Frasier speak up for himself.

Welcome back, my little banana yucca! Who knows what fabulous '90s film my recap title hails from? Leave your guesses in the comments below!

First, let me start by saying that I watched this episode about 5,000 times. Why?  Because this week we started our 11 p.m. interactive episodes. featuring behind-the-scenes tidbits, fun facts, and more -- so join us, won't you?

OK -- now on to the episode!

First, the Quickfire Challenge, and it's all about salad! I have to say salad is one of the most interesting dishes in the world because, well, you can do a lot of interest things with salad -- and frankly, they can be really unhealthy! Not to get all pretentious on you, but even Escoffier recognized the importance of salad and its dressings, listing five classic dressings and when to use them in his classic Guide Culinaire.

I've had some good salads in my day, but the one that I always come back to was created by former Top Chef Master Jonathan Waxman himself -- it's a farro salad he had on his Barbuto chef's table menu awhile back. Just delicious. But salads in general are a staple in most diets of those of working in Corporate America. Salads are all about the toppings for me -- I will literally eat every piece of lettuce so I can save my favorite toppings for last. Anyone else do that?So, the chefs got to work and came up with some pretty inventive stuff. And they were cooking for Athens Geogia's very own B-52s. Hugh Acheson lives in Athens, but we won't hold that against this legendary group. I love them. I also loved Brad Sherwood's dead-on impression of Fred Schneider on Whose Line is it Anyway? Who remembers that?!

Although the salads were all pretty inventive, a couple stood out. First, Lorena's. Art was worried about Lorena since she decided to grill cauliflower with only eight minutes. It was ballsy, but it worked because she won the challenge! Next, Kerry's. He decided to make a play on Salade Russe and everyone dug it. Finally, Thierry's. They didn't think they liked fruit in their salad, but they enjoyed his. And as I always say, the sign of a great chef -- to me --  is the ability to make people like foods they didn't think they did.

So, with her first Quickfire win under belt, Lorena and her fellow competitors move on to the Elimination Challenge at the Grand Canyon! In a lot of ways this episode reminded me of the Ellis Island episode of Top Chef. Like that challenge, the chefs were traveling to a place with a lot of history, but this time, that land was sacred and this time, they were cooking other people's history, not their own. uUt first, they had to make it to the area settled by the Hualipai tribe! And Takashi was afraid of heights. I love Takashi -- I just start giggling at everything he says because it's all so endearing. This time, I giggled when he forgot he was afraid of heights, but thankfully Chris Cosentino remembered for him! I appreciate that they know these types of things about each other -- they truly are friends.Thankfully, Takashi was OK and they made it to their destination, armed with indigenous ingredients and broken up into teams of two. Some of the teams seemed really organic like Patricia and Chris… Really, everyone but Kerry and Clark, who seemed to get off to a rocky start. As the chefs started cooking, they started getting rained on. Chris MacGyver'd that situation and created fire for his fellow chefs. It was almost a medieval moment.

And so, the chefs presented their humble dishes to their welcoming guests. It seemed that the team with the greatest chance of stumbling was in fact Kerry and Clark, even though they had the most ubiquitous ingredients. Unfortunately, their ingredients -- just like them -- couldn't marry together. And Clark paid the price for it. His elimination is a little bittersweet in that we can all take some sort of solace in the fact that he is going home to rejoin his partner in life and cooking, Mark. It would've been interesting to see what happened if Clark had spoken up, though.

Art and Lorena didn't let their overcooked quail get them down, and thankfully a delectable BBQ sauce may have saved them. No real complaints about Chris and Patricia's rabbit bits dish. But ultimately, Takashi and Thierry pulled out the win with a venison and banana yucca plate -- two ingredients near and dear to their diners' hearts.My favorite moment in this week's episode was one that a couple of the other judges mentioned in their blogs as well, and that was not only hearing the Hualapai talk about their food in a way they probably never thought they would, but also hearing them basically make fun of our judges for how they talk about food. Oh, the plight of the foodie. Tell me: what was your favorite moment?

Next week the chefs throw a pool party for none other than Ms. Holly Madison. I will admit that I was a regular The Girls Next Door viewer, so I'm kinda psyched. Until then, Have a Nosh!

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.