Note to Self

In the spirit of the final challenge, Krista Simmons "pens" her own four letters.

Each week, I try to pull some life lesson from Top Chef Masters, but this week, I was stumped. Looking through my notes, I kept coming back to one thing: Curtis cooking for the two remaining chefs, talking about how difficult it is to have critics judging your food week in and week out, especially since none of them had gone to culinary school. (I'll have you know that I did go to culinary school, but that's not the point.) What he said was true, especially of this episode. Here were these two incredibly talented Masters writing very personal letters and translating them into a tremendous meal, and we had to find some flaw in it all in order to declare a winner. It really is messed up.

So I decided as my last recap, I'd write my own letters, just like the chefs did for their final challenge. For the sake of space and your sanity I'll keep them short but sweet, just like the experience of making this season of Masters was for me. (Can you believe all of that happens in less than a month?!?) Anyhow, here goes:

Love Letter

Dearest Tripe,

When people ask what was the singular dish I connected with this season, I just keep coming back to you. I can say with confidence that you are the one. I'd judged your kind before, Tripe, but you opened me up and made be believe in an oft-forgotten protein. I know now that there's nothing awful about offal, and it's all because of you. I loved you in a way that I never thought possible. (You are a cow's stomach lining, after all.) Your tenderness, spice, and comforting tomato ragu were a warm embrace for a lost soul, and I hope our paths cross again. Perhaps someday we'll meet at Chris' restaurant, Incanto? I've heard you show up there form time to time. 

SWAK (yeah, I just said that),



Dear Kerry,

I am so immensely sorry that we couldn't deem both of you winners of Top Chef Masters. Your cooking has such finesse and soul, and that's reflective of your character. I truly respect your work, and admire the fact that you tried to bring back Alex Reznick's famous pea puree in the form of a flan. Honestly though, I really am looking forward to dining at your restaurant in New York. 

All the best to you and your family,


Thank You Note

To all of the Masters,

I want to sincerely thank you for putting your careers, families, and most importantly your souls on the line to come out and cook not just for me, but for charity. I learned a lot about myself throughout this process -- like why eating poolside with half-naked Playboy bunnies is bad for your self-esteem, or why you shouldn't refer to Sriracha as “cock sauce” when taping for a major network -- and I hope you did too. Keep on cookin'!



Letter to Myself

Dear Self, 

I am so incredibly proud of you for forming a few coherent words during the finale. Seriously, when I think about the talent at that dinner table, I still get heart palpitations. I have to admit that I'm a little upset that you took Chris' beef heart and foie gras tartare for granted, though. A year and a half later, you aren't allowed to eat the stuff in California. Anyways, props to you for not getting gout and not passing out when you first met Curtis. Keep growing, and keep eating. (Just don't do it around the Playboy bunnies.) 




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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.   




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