The Finale Countdown

Hugh Acheson assesses the finale dynamic between chefs and sous. 

The have jumped from planes. The have listened to Sang go crazy. They have wrestled with food and each other. They have hung with Yo Gabba Gabba! They have done this all and more. 

Curtis is standing in his new restaurant, Iglesia de Stone. He is going to cook for the trio of Douglas, Jen, and Bryan. I think they could fit in a couple of more tables in the restaurant. Spot prawns a la Curtis look pretty good. Bryan is still sore about his brother winning back in the day. Chicken liver and then dessert. It’s a fast meal. It comes out that the space is actually now owned by Neal. Grace indeed. 

First dish needs to be something old, the second something new, the third something borrowed, and the fourth something sous. Bryan is happy because Graeme won with the lavender dessert frozen dome thing. Doug doesn’t have help in today’s day of prep. Sous chefs enter the sphere, and menu planning happens and then they go shopping. Douglas is smart and is phoning this one in. 

They shop around at various artisanal shops and Jen is already bossing Jorel around. This should be a long day for Jorel. Jenis a cacophonous soundtrack to life in the kitchen. She is a force, though, and will forge through despite the distraction of her own monologue. 

Douglas is in the Zen kitchen. Shibumi? How about Wabi Sabi? Google that. Jen and Jorel come in, and Jen tries to bowl Douglas over with the weapon of small talk. Douglas has his game face on, though, and he is clinging to his Zen focus. Bryan just called out how much direction Jen is having to give Jorel. This is a chef “burn.” Ouchie. 

“This is not Jorel world; this is Jen world.” Evidently, Jen world is like Waterworld where you have to fight everyday just stay alive. Or like Wallyworld which is never open. Or like Elmo’s World where voices annoy you. 

Bryan fashion photos through the ages include the pleated pants we all once wore on formal occasions. To honor this past, he is making pleated Chesapeake Chicken. 

Douglas is sweating dashi as he makes mussels. Not having Paul is a hurdle, but he seems to be in pretty good shape. 

Jen is making paella gnocchi and also ostracizing Jorel AT THE SAME TIME. Prep and pack gets accomplished. Bryan feels confident, while Douglas is tired and grumpy. Jorel seems a little beat up as well. Foreshadowing to mistakes by Graeme. 

Here we go! Jen feels like she is being underappreciated and lets everyone know. The diners arrive. It is a veritable who’s who of culinary critics. There are a lot of opinionated opinions in this room. Curtis has stolen my hairdo, and Gail looks fantastic. They eat this:

Something Old:

Bryan: Groat Salad with Dungeness Crab, Asparagus, Hen Egg Custard, and Chicken Skin

Douglas: Soup Billi Bi with White Wine, Saffron, Fennel Puree, and Uni

Jennifer: Potato-Sunchoke Galette with Salmon, Caviar, Pickled Apple, and Creme Fraiche

They seem to like them all. Not much to really whine about. Francis says "oceanic." 

Something New:

Bryan: Black Cod with Onion Dashi, Date, and Parsnip Puree, and Green Apple

Douglas: Soba Wrapped Ocean Trout, Ginger Dashi, and Groats

Jennifer: Paella Gnocchi with Chicken Meatballs, Mussels, and Shrimp

Hadley and Alan love Bryan’s dish. Douglas’ is loved as well, but Oseland says it may have been dried out. Jennifer’s gnocchi is third place except Oseland thinks it’s extraordinary. 

Something Borrowed:

Bryan: Braised Beef Cheek and New York Strip with Seaweed Potatoes and Maitake Mushrooms

Douglas: Duck Breast with Sake Roasted Daikon, Tamarind, Golden Pea Sprouts, and Dates

Jennifer: Chinese Duck with Shiitake Broth, Eggplant Daikon, Grilled Bok Choy, and Duck Wonton

Duck, duck, cow. Bryan does Charlie. Douglas does Gray. Jenn does Wolfgang. They all are a little flawed. Though it’s 1992, Jen’s is really adored. 

Something Sous:

Bryan: Coconut, Lavender, and Vanilla

Douglas: Black Sesame Panna Cotta, Shattered miso Custard, and Green Tea Matcha

Jennifer: Smoked Macadamia with Chocolate Bavarian Napoleon, Tapioca, and Milk Caramel

Douglas has been reading Fifty Shades of Gray. Brian needs a drink. They have plated the last plates for this season. Bryan feels good about his chances. Douglas is winning this dessert course. Nothing they can change now. The judges had a great meal overall. They are a bit bitchy here and there, but most was utter success. 

Won’t beat around the bush on this: Douglas Keane wins. Great season and great fun with the sous chefs. They all rocked. Congrats to Dougie. He’s the bomb. 

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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.   




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