Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

Food Porn

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?

Food Porn

Krista Simmons explores the similarities between cooking and burlesque.

Sometimes Vegas deals you a crummy hand. While I was busy galavanting around town on my day off, the cast was getting to experience in two of my guiltiest pleasures -- Dita Von Teese and Thai food. As you might have gathered from my comment bubbles on the interactive episode, I have a massive girl crush on the queen of burlesque. In fact, I am so inspired by Dita that I ended up taking burlesque lessons here in L.A. a few years back. And I found it fascinating how much the art form really does apply in the kitchen. 

Not in the obvious way, of course. Let me tell you, feather boas and frying pans are a dangerous combination. (I'll keep it G-rated and spare you the details on that one.) It's more the spirit of burlesque that applies to cooking. The art of the tease, the importance of timing, and exhibiting the right amount of restraint make for showstoppers in both art forms.

There really is a playful dance that the chefs have do in the kitchen, knowing how to tease the palate, and exactly when to execute that one explosive moment that wows the crowd. In the quickfire, the Masters did just that; even the dishes that Dita was least fond of seemed pretty darn sexy. 

Though most of the dishes looked divine, to me, Chris' dish was serious food porn. What can I say? Some girls like love poems and long walks on the beach, but for me, foie gras and figs and roses are the epitome of sexy. Perhaps this is why I'm still single.  

But I digress. Back to burlesque. Another element of the dance that applies in the kitchen is timing. Just as a dancer slowly coaxes off her glove to the baseline in “Fever,” the kitchen brigade has to stay coordinated with the firing of their dishes. A good expediter will make it seem effortless. I've worked in kitchens were it sometimes seems that the staff is reading each other's minds, and the only voices you'll hear is an occasional “oui, chef” after the expediter calls an order. But that can all quickly turn to chaos. And in the elimination challenge, we saw how critically that impacts everyone.

It was unfortunate to see Kerry and Patricia, who are both such pros, come to blows, but those sorts of communication meltdowns are classic on a first night of service. That's why critics wait at least a few weeks, if not months, to review a restaurant. The Masters didn't have that luxury. 

Some of them, however, gracefully executed dishes akin to Saipin's at the Lotus of Siam. Her Northern Thai dishes toy around with sour, salty, sweet, and spicy flavors. Like a great burlesque tease, they are never one note, and always leaves you curious, yearning for more. Having lived and farmed around Thailand, I would have loved to have been there to sample Kerry's winning dish, or Lorena's pisco-spiked tom ka gai. But considering how much I admire Saipin, I might have ended up tongue-tied like Curtis at the judges' table.

Sadly the Masters interpretations of her cooking weren't all winners. Art played it too safe. If you were to liken his chicken dish to a strip tease, his seemed downright Victorian, barely showing the slightest bit of wrist. But look, it's a tough challenge to cook regional cuisine with a minute's notice. Saipin has been working on that craft for a lifetime. 

All in all, I think the Masters did a good job presenting their talents to two very well respected women at the top of their game. It was undoubtedly an experience to remember, or in my case, envy.

 

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.