Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

Hangin' with Mr. Cosentino

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?

Hangin' with Mr. Cosentino

James Oseland describes what it was like to be partnered with Chris Cosentino.

The thought of eating Chris Cosentino’s food is, for me, an endlessly thrilling prospect. The thought of making that food, on the other hand — and working alongside him — was more nerve-wracking than I can articulate. I’m intensely perfectionistic. And while Ruth, Francis, and I didn’t know which chef we’d be paired with ahead of time, what we did know was that we’d be cooking on camera, and that our own successes and failures would be those of our to-be-determined chef partner. I’ll be honest: I didn’'t sleep the night before. At about 4:30 a.m. I sat up and made a promise to myself. Come what may, I thought, I was going to win.

I found out about three seconds before walking onto the set that I’d be paired with Chris, and as soon as I took my position at our station, the rest of the world fell away. I spent the minute or two before the starting bell familiarizing myself with the space -- checking out what knives were located where, figuring out how the heating element worked. So when the challenge began, I felt ready to face whatever Chris was going to throw at me. 

Something about the construction of the space made it almost impossible for anyone to hear anything else, which made a tough situation even tougher. (It wasn't entirely helped by the Southern accent I adopted that Chris couldn’t place — at the producers' request, we disguised our voices, and I chose to pay homage to the rural Oklahoma town where I lived for two years as a kid.) Still, I felt throughout the challenge that I was in entirely safe hands. Chris is a natural teacher — a great gift, and one that I was not a little surprised to find in him. He has a calm, deliberate, very thoughtful way of conveying his ideas, with an amazing degree of insight to what it is that the student needs to hear in order to get the job done. At each step along the way, he made sure I right there with him: “Do you see the celery? Do you have the celery? Is it actually in your hands?” His patience paid off.  Our final plates looked pretty great, if I do say so myself, and Chris won the challenge.When I watched this episode, I realized that the patience and clarity from which I benefitted during the Quickfire was on display times ten during the elimination challenge. While Chris’s team’s final plate of food wasn’t my favorite — I found the pork to be slightly overcooked, the hazelnuts not integrated enough into the flavors, and that poor, prematurely-plated salad was a shadow of its former self by the time it finally landed in front of me — it was evident that the students with whom he worked learned a tremendous amount at his side. During filming, the only interaction we had with these folks was during the moments when they presented their dish, and Chris’s team looked exhausted but exhilarated, bright-eyed with a renewed enthusiasm for cooking that was palpable all the way to the Critics' Table.

Kerry and Lorena took their own very different tactics with their student chefs. Kerry treated his as if they already had jobs at his restaurant: he expected perfection, and he expected it quickly. To my great admiration, these high school kids rose to the challenge, producing an elegant plate of food that included quite honestly the best creamed spinach I have ever had, bright and aromatic without the cloying heaviness that the dish so often has. It was the clear winning plate of food, further proof of Kerry’s role on the show as the king of quietly refined cuisine. 

Lorena was Kerry’s diametric opposite. Where he pushed his team hard, she was perhaps too hands-off. The lasagna and salad she and her team created was extraordinary, without a doubt — it was my favorite dish of the three by a long shot, with an exhilarating complexity of flavor that was perfectly balanced by the bright arugula salad — but Lorena’s reluctance to reconceptualize her team’s original dish wound up hurting her. The challenge, after all, was to take the students’ creations and lift them up. Her lasagna was a thing of beauty, but both Kerry and Chris took more creative approaches, and as a result led their teams to areas of slightly higher elevation.And so here we are facing the final episode, and it feels so, so right: Kerry and Chris, two chefs who are so different in their style, so different in their approach to food and cooking and the world. And yet there’s a fundamental similarity to their core, a synchronicity in their commitment to the kitchen and to the diner. I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to a final showdown quite as much as I have this one. I can’t wait.

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.