Disco Dust

Krista Simmons shares even more details of Art Smith's cake.


I'll come right out with it: wedding shows are my weakness. I'm not quite sure why, since I'm as single as they come, but I could zone out on those programs for hours, living vicariously through the bride-to-be and the trials and tribulations she overcomes on the road to a “perfect” wedding. It's not the fairytale that fascinates me; it's the attention to detail -- from the floral arrangements and the stationary to the menu and the music, down to the last note. So when I found out Top Chef Masters would be throwing a Vegas wedding, I was tickled pink. Of course, the main source of my excitement, as it usually is, was the food.

Normally, the culinary offerings at weddings are lackluster at best. (Well, unless you have Tom Colicchio doing your catering, like Kerry did for his wedding. Lucky guy.) But with a team of top notch chefs on the case, I knew the other judges and I were in for a real treat. 

The poor Masters, on the other hand, had to jump through some hoops. They were given just a few moments to consult with Christine and Jay, the bride and groom, before sorting out the minutiae of their wedding day. The chefs even had to pick color schemes for their chargers and napkins! With just four hours of prep time the day before the wedding, and two hours before service, the Masters muscled through, creating a Filipino-inspired menu to suit the couple. 

It was pretty incredible what they pulled off. Even David Tutera has more time to strategize, prep, and execute than they did -- and with far more hands on deck. And Tutera isn't working in Vegas in the dead of summer. 

That's one thing I should emphasize. It was hot. I mean really hot. (And not just because I was sitting next to Curtis.) I honestly don't know how these chefs function in full whites, darting around from room to room, slaving over a hot stove in 114 degree weather. I remember those grueling days in culinary school, and I admire their work. Do I want to do it myself? Heck no. And especially not for a party of 200 with only a day's notice. 

But these chefs handled it like champs. Some, like Patricia, really played to the weather and the environment. She created the perfect passed plate for the occasion -- a cold, Southeast Asian-style salad made with pickled mackerel, fresh coconut, and chilies. It reminded me of Thai som tam with its bright, fresh flavors. It was the perfect balance of sweet, savory, and spicy all in one small bite, and using sustainable seafood no less. Bonus points for that! Another bold move was Theirry's blood soup. It takes a lot of guts to go up against grandma's recipes, but he did so with conviction, and succeeded. Even though it wasn't piping hot when it arrived, it was a real crowd pleaser. And that's no minor feat considering our table. One thing that didn't really come through in the editing was what tough critics the guests were. They make me look tame! 

We may have had dissenting views on some of the dishes, but we all felt for Art when he wheeled out that wedding cake, which he literally had to hold up for the couple, tears welling up in his eyes. All of the guests' hearts went out to him at that moment. Art is just a teddy bear with the kindest heart, and all he wanted was to add that special Smith sparkle to their special day. (And I do mean sparkle. We were still finding disco dust from the cake on our faces days later!)

Watching the episode, it was special to see the back story: Despite Chris and Art's bickering in this episode and throughout prep time, Chris and Patricia sprung into action when Art's pineapple (literally) upside-down cake went lost its balance. 

Was the cake lacking the deep caramelized richness that James spoke about? Yes. But did that mean it suffered in flavor? No. It was a perfectly moist, springy cake with a luscious rum vanilla sauce. I give Art props for taking a risk in creating a wedding cake in such a short period of time. I have a feeling that the frosting didn't set quite as planned because of said heat. (Seriously, we were living in the underworld for a full month. Thank god for air conditioners!)

The bottom line here is this: Was it a bummer the cake didn't stand on it's own? Sure. Did it ruin the wedding? Absolutely not. The couple had a fabulous time, and they got their wedding catered by some of the best chefs in the country. They drank, they danced, they laughed, and we got to be there sharing it with their closest friends and family. 

There's no such thing as a perfect wedding, just like there's no such thing as the perfect relationship. It's those very flaws that we find endearing. They build character, and make us smile -- just like Art's disco dust did for days to come.


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!



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


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 



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.