Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

We've Got a Screamer

Krista Simmons comments on Chris Cosentino's behavior towards Art Smith.

Talk about a polar episode of Masters. The day was more varied than Ramona Singer's mood swings! The scene started out with a cold, stove-free Quickfire, then the pendulum swayed all the way over to a heated teppanyaki battle, where the chefs were meant to master a theatrical Japanese style of flat top cooking that takes months, if not years, to learn. 

The Masters were metaphorically hog tied by the challenge, which eliminated crucial details they have control over in their own kitchens: steady heat sources, the ability to taste and season, and a level of anonymity lent by the shroud of a single swinging silver door.  

Not only were the Masters expected to cook in front of their diners, but there was an added anxiety of showmanship and style points. And quite frankly, it seemed like some cracked under pressure. 

Just watching Chris' outburst over Art moving his mandolin made me uncomfortable. There is nothing more awkward than dining in a restaurant with an open kitchen that's run by a chef that's a “screamer,” as they're called in the industry. Customers don't want to see your beef unless it's medium rare and served with a side of mashed potatoes. We all deal with enough of that drama in our daily lives, and there's no need to put it on display in such closed quarters like Chris did. Dining out is supposed to be an indulgent, relaxing experience. And trust me, being on the receiving end of a chef's rant is no fun. I've been there. So whenever I'm in a restaurant with one of these “screamer” chefs that tee off on their line, my instinct is to run over and  give them all a big hug.

I was so impressed by Art, who showed the utmost grace under fire. Even while his grit cakes fell apart under the flame and he was being barked at by Chris, he stayed cool as a julep. And he managed to bring that Southern belle flare to the teppan, which was just plain fun to watch. I wish I could have been on this episode to see and taste it in real time, and without actually trying the dishes it's impossible to comment on the flavors. What I can say is this: seasoning is everything. You could have the most fabulous dish on the planet, but without salt to coax out the subtle flavors, it could simply fall flat. Conversely, if something is grossly over seasoned, all you can taste is a mouthful of seawater. The only way to definitively balance between those two is to taste. Always taste. It's one of the fundamentals really, and one of the first things you learn in culinary training. 

Now, as a modern etiquette columnist for New York mag, I agree with Kerry. The chefs  shouldn't have just shoved a bunch of food in their mouth in front of the guests. That would indeed be indelicate. But in a competition like this, they could have easily dished up a small portion, turned away from their diners -- heck, even used each other as a block in a discreet way -- and taken a taste for seasoning. 

Would that have saved Mark? I can't say. Again, I wasn't there. But from what the judges said, it seemed the real issue was that the simplicity of the dish fell flat. There's a trend in the culinary world right now to get really heady with food, deconstructing dishes, waving a magic wand, and turning them into a billowing cloud of wizard smoke, but the fact of the matter is that the simplest of dishes are the easiest to screw up. A Neapolitan pizza or a carne asada taco are so deceivingly straight forward, but if just one element is askew or a singular ingredient isn't perfect, you're done-zo. Sadly that's where Mark screwed up. But he was honest to himself as chef throughout the whole process, and I'm sure he will be Clark's number one fan moving on. I can't wait to get out to Arrows to see what the dynamic duo does on their home turf.

 

Bryan Voltaggio: "I Thought I Won. I Know I Won."

Bryan compares his Top Chef Masters finale to his Top Chef Season 6 finale.

Bravotv.com: How are you feeling going into the finale? Tired? Reinvigorated?
Bryan Voltaggio: Certainly not tired. This is something we do every day, day in and day out, cooking. Going into the finale, I am feeling excited and nervous -- I want to do a great job and win.

Bravotv.com: What went through your mind when you found out Graeme won the last Battle of the Sous Chefs?
BV: I was very excited for Graeme because he finally had an opportunity to shine and he brought it all to the table. I felt a great sense of redemption for him because he got to win a challenge when it counted the most. I strongly believe that Graeme helped us get all the way tothe end-- he clinched it to get us to the finale.

Bravotv.com: Can you elaborate on your menu planning? How did you decide which dish will go for which course?
BV: When it comes to the menu, and what I learned the first go round on Top Chef, you need to cook what you know. There are time limitations, surprises (planned and unplanned), so you need to do what you can to troubleshoot and get good results on the plate. You can't bring anything to the challenge that you've never done before. I go back to dishes we've created at VOLT, things that Graeme and I both know, things that I don't even have to speak to Graeme about.

Bravotv.com: You had a little over 20 minutes less than you thought you would have to prep because of traffic. How nervous were you that you wouldn't get it done?
BV: Traffic was a big factor, but I knew the food, I knew the menu, and I knew I could get it all done. It was worth going to get the extra ingredients (the proteins), and it was worth it in the end.

Bravotv.com: How do you feel each dish turned out? Was there anything you would have done differently?
BV: I was very proud of every plate I put forward. I thought that every dish was done flawlessly, and I achieved every goal I set out for.

Bravotv.com: What made you include an element from Michael's repertoire in your dish (the seaweed mashed potatoes)?
BV: I wanted to put out some sort of element that represented Michael because he's not only family, but I also respect him very much as a chef.

Bravotv.com: As the judges critiqued your food at Critics' Table, what did you think?
BV: I thought that I had nothing but positive comments -- there wasn't anything glaring that made me feel like I misstepped. I felt really good after Critics' Table.Bravotv.com: After the heavy comment about your beef dish? Did you think you won?
BV: Yes, I thought I won. I know I won.

Bravotv.com: What went through your mind once the critics told Doug he won? How did it differ from when Michael won?
BV: I thought for sure they were going to call my name because I felt confident about my food. Maybe they saw something in Doug's dishes that put it over the top. Compared to when Michael won, it wasn't a proud moment for me because I wasn't playing and rooting for both myself and my brother. I really wanted to win the money for my charity and it was an opportunity for redemption. If anything, I owed it to Michael to win because I wanted to compete again and go for the win.

Bravotv.com: You are on a roll in our Viewers' Choice. Anything you'd like to say to your fans?
BV: I appreciate all the support, and the fans need to know that their efforts will go to feed many hungry children across the country. I encourage everyone to continue to reach out and support Share Our Strength.

Bravotv.com: How's your relationship now with the other contestants?
BV: My relationship with everyone is great. We all got along, and I felt respected amongst the group. At first, they were nervous when I came in because I had competed before. That just goes to show that it was a tough competition, and we're all good at what we do. I still communicate with everyone from the group -- mostly David Burke.

Bravotv.com: What was your favorite overall challenge?
BV: Favorite challenge was the last one. It is always best to cook the food you want to cook- that's where I've always put my best food forward.

Bravotv.com: What was the hardest part of the competition for you?
BV: Being away. There are always two sides to it -- one of the greatest things when you are in a competition, all your focus is on that and not on outside influences. It's a break from the day-to-day restaurant life, but the other reality is that you want to be back home with your family and at your restaurant.

Bravotv.com: Did anything funny happen behind the scenes that you can share?
BV: I had a lot of fun with the Face Juggler app behind the scenes. We were acting like children a lot of the times behind the scenes which kept the grueling schedule and challenges bearable.

Bravotv.com: Anything else you'd like to add?
BV: I want to thank Graeme for everything and helping me along this journey. He is a big player in how we got all the way to the end, and I appreciate all his hard work day in and day out at VOLT.