Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

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

Best of the Best

Francis Lam: What's on the Menu?

Curtis Stone's Lemon Creams with Poached Cherries

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?

James Oseland Fights for Franklin

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.

Francis Lam: What's on the Menu?

The critic focuses on the first part of the cooking process.

When I talked with Chris Cosentino about cooking last season's Top Chef Masters finale dinner, he said one part of it was easy --the menu planning. The challenge then was to cook four courses, with a theme of letters: a love letter, an apology, a thank you note, and a letter to his future self. Chris' menu came together quickly because, he said, "I know who I am." The wording of the challenge was provocative, but it was really just a way of asking the chefs to tell a story about themselves through their food. It left lots of room for personal interpretation. 

This year, the finale challenge also asked the chefs to dig into their personal lives but with more specific instruction. Asking Jen, Bryan, and Douglas to make dishes that represented their past selves, their current lives, something from a mentor, and something from a protégé was asking them to encapsulate their careers in four courses. (Only giving them a day and a half to do it meant that no one could lie on a therapist's couch to unpack their memories, which is probably a good thing.) 

I loved this challenge, and I was happy to not actually be there as a judge, but rather as a diner, as an observer, and as a fan. Without having to worry about who did “better” than the rest, I could just focus on the food and, even more, on the insight into each chef’s culinary life. Who these great chefs thought they were.   

I loved the way Douglas’s first thoughts were to his formative cooking experience, the first dish he remembers making in a restaurant, and how it became his mussel billi bi soup. I once had a version of that soup at his restaurant Cyrus in 2007. It had so much mussel flavor I can still taste it. To taste it at finale was, for me, like the past come back to life. And for him, someone now so inspired by the lightness of Japan, to reach back to the glories of a wallop of cream and brine… it felt like he was starting the meal by going back to his roots. 

I loved the way Bryan went in another direction, going to the first dish he ever cooked for his wife. I thought his dish was fantastic: the sweet subtlety of crab hovered over the grains and the egg yolk, but honestly, I also could’ve eaten the OG version of a sautéed chicken breast with crab and cream sauce. I kind of miss food with names like Chicken Chesapeake. Who will be the brave soul to bring back ye olde cruise liner food in their restaurant? But anyway, Bryan’s cooking impressed me through the whole season with its creativity and intelligence—I was shocked to realize he hadn’t actually won a challenge until the end—but it was so great to see, in the end, how grounded he feels in his emotional side as a person and as a chef. The dish was light; it felt full of possibility. You could tell his was cooking with the memory of being at the start of something, the excitement of it. 


And I loved it when Jen took the “something borrowed” part of the dinner as a chance to nod to her old mentor Wolfgang Puck, from when he was borrowing from Chinese cuisine at Chinois on Main. Her “Chinese duck with shiitake broth, eggplant, daikon, grilled bok choy, and duck wonton” was too busy, too over the top, too 1992… and just freaking awesome. Just like L.A., really. (I used to think that L.A. is stuck in the '80s and '90s, until I realized that, no, it’s just that in the '80s and '90s, the rest of the country was just trying to be like L.A.) I hadn’t had the pleasure of eating her food before Top Chef Masters, but I could see a direct line between what she was “borrowing” and her own food: it pulls flavors from a global palette—pulls them mightily, puts her back into it—to come up with thoroughly American dishes. Her cooking is so muscular, so full of umami and depth and, when she wants to use them, pungent spices. 

There were many other dishes that day: thrilling ones (Bryan’s white-on-white dessert), masterful ones (I mean, you try to wrap a piece of fish in individual noodle strands like Douglas did!), just bang-up delicious ones (Jen’s paella gnocchi. That is all.) But I most loved seeing into these chefs’ past and how they went from there to who they are today. I haven’t had a chance to talk with them yet, but I wonder which of them will say that writing the menu was easy. All three of these chefs were so good, their cooking so assured, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that from all of them.