Doug and Sang: Bad Romance?

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

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

Doug and Sang: Bad Romance?

The newly-crowned Top Chef Master catches us up on his bromance, his next venture, and skydiving! How are you feeling going into the finale?
Douglas Keane: I am extremely exhausted both physically and mentally. It was a lot tougher than I thought. This whole process that is Top Chef Masters forced me to do some soul searching that I definitely didn't expect. Couple that with a pretty brutal schedule of taping, I am about wiped out.

Now, with that being said, being this close to $100,000 for Green Dog definitely is a little reinvigorating. I was planning on lasting only a couple shows at best as this was so far out of my comfort zone that being in the finale definitely amped up my energy. You find out that you won't have Paul's help prepping. What's your reaction to that?
DK: My first reaction is basically nothing. Its just matter of fact. Its how I deal with things in general. I try not to let anything faze me, no matter how severe -- from brain tumor to business issues. That way, I can buy time to figure out how to deal with what comes up without wasting time and energy with panic. Projecting a sense of calm enables me to get my thoughts together and usually pays off with a good concise plan.

But it definitely hit me smack in the face while I was shopping. I started to realize that I needed to be back in the kitchen ASAP. And a good amount of adrenaline started to take over, which I've realized isn't necessarily a good thing for me. I used to feed off the adrenaline, but now I know I deliver much better product when I'm calm and can keep a sense of humor. Can you elaborate on your menu planning? How do you decide which dish will go for which course?
DK: The first and last course were easiest.

Steamed mussels were the very first thing I learned how to make professionally. So, the Billi Bi was a natural. It's my favorite soup and is so impressive when done right. I was pretty sure I could hit it perfectly as long as I had enough mussels.

The second course was a version of one of my favorite dishes that I made towards the end of Cyrus. It basically symbolized where my food style currently lives. It had slipped my mind, so I was thankful that Paul reminded me of it. So "something new" was the epitome of this dish. It was a thesis basically on all of my travels to Japan.

The third course was tougher. Something borrowed. I've worked for so many amazing chefs that it was tough to pick. I could have picked a bunch of dishes from Traci Des Jardins as she is definitely a mentor and friend who greatly affected my career in many ways. But when I thought about the chef who influenced my cooking the most, it was easy to reflect on my time with Chef Kunz, and see how much his ability to draw out flavors and balance tastes seeps into my food everyday. His tamarind glaze is something I've stolen for many years and is so versatile-- I'm even using it at my new restaurant, DK Wings, that opens in November, as a glaze for one of my chicken wings.

The fourth course was a panna cotta, which is great because it gave me a blank canvas to work You seem slightly annoyed once Jen comes in to the kitchen after you have some time to yourself in there. Did it slow you down at all, etc?
DK: I love Jen. I think I was reacting to the fact that I had this kitchen all to myself and was making great progress, and now I have to share it. So it threw me off.... I was in a zone and didnt want anybody else in my sandbox. One of the biggest things that happened to me on TCM5 was to get over myself. Be a little more flexible and realize I can't be in control of everything all the time.

Jen has a great style and heart, and we just deal with stress differently. I think she's a rock star. You are behind the other chefs after Day 1 without Paul's help. How do you make up the time? Was there any difficult in getting Paul re-acclamated to the dishes you were preparing?
DK: Yeah, it was tough to catch Paul up to speed, but he's so strong that it didn't take too long. I really only had the wrapping of the fish slated for him to prep, and everything else was a bonus if he got them done. I was surprised with how much I got accomplished on Day One. Also, Paul and Drew were both much faster cooks than me, so they doubled my output every time I worked with them. How do you feel each dish turned out? Was there anything you would have done differently?
I was really happy with the dishes. If I could change anything, I would have done chicken instead of duck. I love cooking chicken, and I love surprising people with how great it can be. Crispy, juicy, umami!!! But I second-guessed that it was the finale and duck was more appropriate than chicken. And I would say that was my only flaw of the meal. How did you reimagine Paul's losing panna cotta?
DK: He was so down on what he made that I just scrapped it and kept the panna cotta as the theme. I made it in my style -- sweet and bordering on savory but with surprising flavors. And pulled it altogether with the white miso custard. As the judges critiqued your food at Critics' Table, did you feel like you won?
DK: No. They are great at keeping it suspenseful. I think they like the torture aspect.... I know I would! What went through your mind once the critics told you you won. You were very Zen about it.
DK: The first thing I felt was bad for Bryan and Jen. I wanted to tell them how much I admired them, and I know how hard they worked. I am a little uncomfortable with the spotlight right on me, so I try to deflect, but it was a little tough at that point. Plus, Paul's reaction took it to a whole new level.

It goes back to how I deal with anything dramatic -- I just take it in and then figure out how to process.

But I was really flattered. It was one of the hardest things I've done professionally and was surprised I won. How's your relationship with Sang? The other contestants?
DK: Sang and I are recovering from a little spat. We took a romantic trip to Portland to visit Jenn Louis but we ran into issues when we went to get a soft serve ice cream. They only had enough sprinkles for one person so Sang pouted the rest of the trip when I took the one with sprinkles. We are working though our current fight and planning a trip to Big Sky Montana to star gaze in December.

Hopefully we will be back together by the end of that trip.

I have had the best time getting to know all of the chefs. It was a great group of smart, inappropriate. and talented people. So much fun. We've kept in great touch, and the string of texts every Wednesday between some of us should never be seen! How was was skydiving?!

As I reflected on winning Top Chef Masters, I realized the biggest reason I won was because I was able to get over myself -- my ego, my fears, my hang-ups.  All of this related back to the sky diving challenge. To me, it was important to be able to conquer that fear as well. It completed the journey. I felt like I cheated myself and the other chefs by not jumping, even though it was one of my biggest fears. I wanted to feel like I belonged with the incredible group of chefs that I got to work with


. What was your favorite overall challenge?
DK: By far and away, cooking for the teachers. There aren't many real heroes anymore. These four people were heroes. It was perfect timing for me because it focused me on cooking to make people happy instead of trying to win or get a star. What was the hardest part of the competition for you?
DK: Coming up with ideas that quickly. It's not what I do at all. I am so planned in my cooking, but it was a great thing for me personally. It pushed me out of the comfort zone. Did anything funny happen behind-the-scenes that you can share?
DK: There should be cameras and microphones on us at all times. There was some funny stuff. Mostly inappropriate and at each other's expenses but all in good nature.

One thing I can share is at the Asian Night Market after we were pretty much done, Sang came over to try my dessert. Instead of making it for him the regular way I offered to spray the foamer straight into his mouth. Well, it wasn't shaken up quite right and Sang ended up with white whipped cream all over his face. We laughed as hard as we could for almost an hour. Anout five or six of us in tears we were laughing so hard. The producers were so pissed off that there wasn't a camera on us. Anything else you'd like to add?
I miss hanging out with the chefs a lot. It was hard but a really special time. 


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.