The Generation Gap

Despite their similar age, Ruth sees radical differences in what Kerry and Chris believe a restaurant owes its patrons.

If we’d scripted this, we couldn’t have come up with a better finale. This isn’t just two chefs battling it out, this is two world views, two entirely different notions of what it means to be a chef. And despite the relative closeness in their ages, as you watch this you sense that you are watching two entirely different generations debating the question of what a restaurant owes its patrons.

The lines are drawn right from the beginning. Kerry, classically trained and French-focused, hones in on technique, sacrificing the quality of ingredients for the time to transform them. Chris, on the other hand, is a twenty-first century chef who believes the quality of ingredients trumps everything. As we watch Chris running from shop to shop, gathering great ingredients, Kerry’s already in the kitchen, meticulously taking them apart.

The contrast becomes even more pronounced as they begin preparing their dishes. Kerry goes for luxurious richness, for amiable food that will seduce and comfort his patrons. Meanwhile Chris is pouring out buckets of blood, intent on challenging his diners with dishes designed to jolt them right out of their comfort zones. The love letters the chefs created as a first course were both wonderful, but it’s worth noting that Kerry’s jjigae is toned down, muted, as if he’s afraid of offending his diners with true Korean heat, while Chris takes the opposite tack. Love me or leave me. Here’s my heart on a plate; it’s topped with puffed tendon. Now eat it raw!

The one moment when the chefs pursue a parallel path is when they are apologizing. They’re both mature enough to know that an apology is all about the other person, and their dishes show certain similarity. Each offers us something soft, sumptuous, luxurious and delicate -- and it works. Serve me either one of these dishes? I’ll forgive you almost anything.

Then we get to the thank you, and we’re right back to differing world visions. Kerry’s bronzino is unsurprising, technically adept, familiarly delicious. Chris’ tripe is something else. This is tripe so soft and sensuous it would make a tripe-lover out of the most fanatic offal-phobe. It is, hands down the best tripe I’ve ever eaten, and I know this: Wherever she is, Grandma Rosalie is smiling.

Finally we come to the letter to themselves, and we’re almost back to the beginning: the difference between these two could not be more pronounced. Kerry’s out to please his patrons, sending out easy bliss. This is the least challenging food you could possibly offer an American audience. It’s the dish every chef puts on the menu for the salesman from the midwest, the man who cringes at eating adventures. Then along comes Chris, offering us his heart on a plate in a slightly different form. Most Americans recoil at the notion of eating sausages made of blood, but pow! bam! that’s what we’ve got here. Chris plops that big brown sucker onto the plate next to a naked pile of pork-poached oysters. It’s not pretty, but it’s a joy to eat and an extremely bold move.

Given another set of judges, it could easily have gone the other way. But we rewarded sheer audacious deliciousness. We want our Master Chefs to have the courage of their convictions, and I’m proud that this year’s Top Chef Master is someone who pushed the envelope all season long. Chris is a chef who’s looking straight into the future, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

And can we please hear it for Francis Lam, and what might be the most wonderful description of a dish ever recorded on tape? Only he could describe pork-poached oysters like this: “It’s like you took a swim in the ocean, you’re doing the backstroke, the sun is hitting you, you’re feeling good. And all of a sudden a pig comes along and gives you a backrub.” Wow.

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.