Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

I'll Take It

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?

I'll Take It

James believes that all the cheftestants' styles were present in Chris and Kerry's final meals.

The most fabulous thing about this season's final episode, and there were many fabulous things about it, was that the pairing of Chris and Kerry was an uncanny distillation of all of the contestants on this season of Top Chef Masters. In their eight dishes, the aesthetics of all the departed cheftestants was present, from Missy to Lorena and everyone in between. I had the sense that in some ineffable way they were all there beside Kerry and Chris as they cooked. For that we can credit a lot of things, including the camaraderie that developed among all the chefs and the subconscious ways in which, by the end, everyone was influencing and referencing everyone else. But chief among them was the way that Chris and Kerry embody the two extreme poles of contemporary fine dining.

It hasn't actually been that long since high-end dining in America has split. On one side is Kerry's sort of food, the variety that's been around (with the occasional modernist leap forward) for quite some time: rarefied, splendid, intensely theatrical on the plate, dogmatically French in technique, and global in spirit. It's fantasy cooking, not food you could cook at home on a weeknight or even a weekend, most likely, unless you had a few years of training, a slew of specialized ingredients, and a lot of patience. For the diner, it's an ivory tower experience, something elevating and rarefied, an exercise for the palate: the texture of a pate so smooth it has the quality of air, a wisp of tarragon passing through a sauce.

On the other side of the equation is what Chris cooks food that is, in truth, only a step or two removed from the sorts of things that Grandma used to make. It'scucina povera, classic in the way that a mother making dinner for her children is classic, but in its elevation to high-end dining it takes on an intellectual nuance, an electric amplification of the flavors, textures, and ingredients that verges on the audacious. It's the crazy torn-up raw herb salad with its intensely vegetal flavor; it's the charred roast that doesn't mask its ferric tang; it burns bright and hard and fast, the absolute opposite of that subtle wisp of tarragon. Plated, Chriss variety of food is raw and naked and casual the opposite of the kind of food that requires tweezers.What a transcendently great thing it was to have both of these styles of cooking represented in this showdown and what a great pleasure that with both sides the dining narrative was so assured and so centered. Both Kerry and Chris went at this challenge with a riveting intensity that they brought all the way to the critics' table, and because of this (and because of their formidable talents), it was, without exception, a joy to eat.

Kerry's food was remarkable. His subtle take on jigae, a classic Korean stew, was vibrant and pure, with a restrained heat that spoke of forceful Korean flavors filtered through French technique. His flan was the essence of who Kerry is as a chef -- you could sense the technical precision in that dish from ten feet away, and it was one of the best plates of food any chef produced all season.

In Chris' dishes, there was none of the subtlety and restraint that Kerry brought to the table: The volume was loud. And yet there was still evidence of the focus and control that Chris has behind the stove. His beef heart tartare wasn't nearly as scary as it sounds, but even before the first bite I knew it would probably be great, simply because I feel safe in Chris' hands. That's one of his truest gifts: his food is wonderful and shocking, often intimidating, but he has a confidence that makes the diner sure he won't deliver anything that's less than phenomenal. His tripe course was fabulous, that angry streak of charcoal on the plate a very delicious charred chile oil that brought a great energetic heat to a soulful, rich trippa napoletana.But it was the final course that won this season for Chris. A plate of blood sausage, poached oysters, herb salad, and a fried egg might seem at first prosaic, even unsophisticated, a nonsensical hodgepodge of elements and ingredients. In Chris' hands, though, it made perfect sense: It was a flawless sausage, an exquisitely fried egg, oysters that were the very essence of oysterness, and a bright green salad that spoke to everything else on the plate and brought it all together. Was it bold, was it a crazy leap of faith, was it a strange and potentially alienating last supper to serve to the critics? Yes, but I'll take it. It was perfect, and it was brave. It was the ideal finale to the finale.

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.