Restaurant Wars' Controlled Chaos

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

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

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

Restaurant Wars' Controlled Chaos

Hugh Acheson comments on the mayhem that is creating a restaurant in a day.

The whole bringin’ your ninja repartee between Jason and Neal last week has had me thinking a lot about ninjas. I am not sure I would want my sous chef to be a ninja. It’s a hard job to begin with, what with inventory, working the line, keeping your kitchen crew making great food, and then you add sharpening throwing stars, and talking slightly out of sync with the motion of your mouth. I am just looking for a talented chef who does inventory really well and understands that they need to nurture a crew to be better everyday. And what do you pay a ninja? Do they have checking accounts? Really opens up a lot of questions. 

But all this ninja talk made me order a Ninja Kitchen System Blender, the Ginzu knife of Smoothie town, and I will stick with my VitaMix, thank you. Then there’s ninja cinematography. I have the classic Azumi on hold at the video store, cause Netflix brings up Au Pair Girls (1972) when I search Azumi. I will find time to watch Au Pair Girls, but it seems a little off topic.

So the maestros arrive and soon find out that four of them will be without sous chefs while four will have the assistance of their fine employees. This hurdle was decided in the previous Battle of the Sous Chefs where Ted, Drew, Nick, and Chris lost in the food package challenge. No Quickfire today, and we will get right into the action. It is RESTAURANT WARS.

Restaurant Wars is the most feared episode of the season because, without a doubt, one of the chefs, usually one playing maître d’, will have some major issues. They will express complete dissatisfaction, as their team plates their food for them back in the kitchen. They will hobble through niceties at the host stand, and leave customers hanging as they coddle the judge's table. Trust me. I have seen it too many times. Set your watch to it, cause this time it’s Jennifer who succumbs to the front-of-house blues. 

Team Bluecoats/72 & Sunny: Sue, Douglas, Sang, and David

Team Redcoats/Artisan Restaurant: Jennifer, Bryan, Neal, and Lynn.

Busy Philipps is pregnant and hungry for a diverse L.A. experiential restaurant, kind of like a potpourri of Wolfgang Puck Express, the Viper Room, the Brown Derby, Pinks, a donut place and In ‘n’ Out Burger. I am "busy" these days and had to Google who Busy was. She seems very nice. My lack of TV knowledge is abhorrent. 

Luckily, the two remaining L.A. chefs have balanced out each team, so we don’t have too much provincial favoritism. The Cobb salad expertise is even. This is making me hungry, and I do love a good Cobb salad. 

David is yearning to do pourover coffee for the guests. I am with Burke on this one. Sang is not. You can woo people with great coffee after a great meal. I call it the bookends of cocktails and coffee, and I like them paid attention to. But, perhaps Sang is on to something because Restaurant Wars is harried mayhem and concentrating on the core food is probably smart…. Let’s be honest, it’s not a real restaurant. Real restaurants are mayhem for much longer than a day. Lynn wants to keep this simple, while Bryan wants to make banana crème anglaise domes, and put Lynn in the dome where she will have fight a three-legged moose wearing armor (the moose will wear the armor; Lynn will wear a chef coat). 

Jennifer likes to talk on the phone. A lot. I abhor talking on the phone. I also abhor texting. Emails. I like emails. 

The winners from Battle of the Sous Chefs come in to help Team Red. This should be a huge advantage. Or not. Who knows. Actually, I know.  

Busy and Leisure Suit Curtis come to the kitchen to check on the chefs. Things happen, and then the waiters arrive to check in and get this restaurant all set up. 

Sang: “I don’t like any sentence that begins with, “I think…” This does bring up the importance of communication in a restaurant: keep it short and to the point. At my places, I hate it when people start a question off with, “Can I ask you a question?” MY JOB IS TO ANSWER QUESTIONS. If I tally up that wasted time in my life, I should have an extra night of sleep at the end of my existence. And I want that sleep. That said, Sang is going rogue Alpha dog and is getting really bitchy with everyone. Please don’t fire the fake waiters, Sang. 

Artisan is not getting a Michelin star from the Michelin inspector, who has just blown his cover. Meanwhile Bryan has this nervous laugh that is hilarious whenever he has to deal with Jennifer. David Burke is a flirtatious winner on the floor. Killin’ it.

Here’s the food, with comments:

Team Red

Jennifer: Cauliflower-Tahini Soup. Deemed too thick and too tahini-y. Something about hair or pear. No love. 

Jennifer: Citrus Salad with Avocado, Chevre, Endive, Radicchio, and Orange Vinaigrette. Good but busy. 

Bryan: Cobb Salad Inspired Salmon with Dehydrated Bacon and Horseradish Snow. A thing of utter beauty. 

Neal: New York Strip Steak with Cavolo Nero and Twice Baked Fingerling Potatoes. Ho-hum. 

Lynn: Chocolate Brownie Sundae with Roasted Banana Ice Cream and Peanut Caramel Sauce. Joltingly sweet. 

Neal: California Olive Oil Cake with Mascarpone Ice Cream. Ho-hum de dum. 


Team Blue

Douglas: Barely Cooked Salmon with Ginger Shiso, Dashi Gelee, and Salmon Caviar. Brilliant. 

Sue: Quinoa, Arugula, and Feta Salad with Radishes, Mint, and Lemon Vinaigrette. Though Dana proclaims 2013 Year of the Quinoa, this rendition fails to wow. It’s more woe than wow. 

David and Douglas: Snapper with Sweet Corn Puree, Garlic Chorizo, and Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette. Doug & Dave co-production that is pretty great, but Gail wants to be nuzzled by green onion. She’s pregnant now, though, and has just eaten 10 pounds of black licorice with a side of bananas and anchovies. 

Sang: Strip Loin with Broccoli Two Ways, Puffed Tendon, and Black Been Ghee. The sauce is wicked good. Sang, through all his madness, has succeeded. 

David: Tangerine and Spiced Honey Panna Cotta with Strawberry Champagne Gelee. They love. Everyone loves it, except Curtis, the Oracle of Gastronomy, says that things are not good when you get sick of them. Duh. 

Sue: Chocolate Malt Semifreddo with Fudge, Marshmallow, and Graham Crackers. Loved by Busy. Stay away from quinoa, Sue, and stick with the classic sweets. Blue Team gets called first, and they are tops. David excelled in the front, and the team delivered a good product, despite the chaos that Sang was trying to create in the back of the house. Burke’s panna cotta, though a touch heavy on the spices, was still loved. The salmon by Keane was revered, and it exemplified L.A. well. Sue’s salad had an AOC feel and brought that California cuisine thing. Sang’s beef and broccoli may be the only dish ever that was made better by his service bitterness…. Usually, you can taste that in the food. Go big blue. Sang wins the money, too. $10,000 for the Worldwide Orphan Foundation.

Team Red, maybe Orange -- I can’t tell -- is the team in Loserville and having to explain themselves. They had sous chefs and everything. Jennifer’s soup was too thick with the tahini being too omnipresent, and the salad was busy blend. Jennifer is taking the criticism well, though, and nodding a lot. Neal is accused of having made a NY steak in an L.A. challenge, and not really bringing much pizzazz to the plate. Lynn’s brownie is judged to be too decadent. Bryan’s salmon is judged to be a winner, and Bryan has no idea why he’s saddled with these chefs. Can’t we just have a challenge of Bryan v. World? He’d probably win. 

So, Neal, has immunity, and Bryan ain’t going home so it’s between Jennifer and Lynn. Team Red-Orange is buffering themselves with wine for the impending firing squad. They talk about David Burke’s shoes to change the topic. 

Lynn goes back to her Ontario. She waves them farewell. 

Watch Battle of the Sous Chefs on, and also follow me on Twitter (@hughacheson) where I talk about my bunions and onions. 

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.