'Top Chef Masters' Reaches Such Great Heights

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

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?

'Top Chef Masters' Reaches Such Great Heights

Ep 1: ...Literally. In the season premiere, the Masters jump out of planes!

I wouldn't have jumped. Ever. I can't think of a sum high enough that would get me to jump. (OK -- maybe if it were for charity, I would consider it.)

But, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. 

Welcome back, my little skydivers! My name is Monica Reyhani. I'm Senior Producer of Bravo Digital, and I'll be your recapper for Top Chef Masters Season 5, as I have been for more seasons than I care to count. I've been saying this all week (to myself, to others), but I'm serious when I say this is the best season of Top Chef Masters ever, and you can tell from the first episode.

First, before the episode even started, the Internets were treated to the biggest change this season -- Battle of the Sous Chefs. Battle of the Sous Chefs is a prequel to each on-air episode, hosted by Hugh Acheson. In it, the Masters' sous chefs will compete to earn their Masters advantages in the next episode, or, unfortunately, disadvantages. These sous chefs are at a very high level, and it shows. Full disclosure: the only sous chef's food I'm aware I've eaten is Vinson Petrillo's -- Franklin Becker's sous -- at Prospect in Brooklyn. It is imaginative and delicious, so I can't wait to see what he and his competitors come up with. 

So, simultaneously, our 13 accomplished Masters enter their kitchen. This is one of my favorite parts of the whole season. Unlike our Top Chefs, these guys know each other, and might be very close friends, so seeing their initial reactions to their competitors is always priceless. When I heard who was competing, I was pretty shocked. I mean, David Burke? The guy's a legend. Douglas Keane? I've heard many a chef wax poetic about Douglas and his former restaurant, Cyrus. Richard Sandoval? I may be biased because I live quite close to one of his NYC restaurants, Maya, but try his Maya Margarita with tamarind, and tell me you aren't rooting for him too. The list of amazing chefs competing goes on and on. But now, in the Top Chef Masters kitchen, they're equals. And Curtis brings them down to earth (well, actually the opposite) with their first challenge: to prepare a family-style meal for the Skyhawks parachute team. But wait, there's more! The chefs will be given two hours to cook... if they jump out of a plane. Only one hour for the wusses. Say what?! And, kind of surprisingly, all of the chefs decide to jump‚ except Douglas Keane. I'm with you, Douglas. Luckily for him, Hugh enters the kitchen with some exciting news: Douglas' sous chef, Drew, has won the first Battle of the Sous Chefs, so Douglas has immunity -- only having one hour to cook now doesn't seem so bad because he can't go home. 

In probably one of the funniest sequences ever shown on Top Chef, we watch our 12 daredevil Masters jump out of a plane. But honestly, all I care about is watching David Burke jump out of a plane. And it seems our lone Canadian Lynn Crawford -- already emerging as our most outspoken chef -- is pretty psyched too. One by one they go. Where they stop, only their tandem riders know. Immediately after landing, they have to cook! Can you imagine?! And now‚ even more twists. All the chefs can only use the ingredients used by their sous chefs. And that's not even a disadvantage? What is the disavantage you ask? The chefs whose sous chefs were on the bottom in Battle of the Sous Chefs don't have basic kitchen utensils. Eeek! Taking away a chef's knife is, well, not recommended. But the chefs rise to the challenge and don't seem too mad at their sous. Honestly, Sang Yoon is the only chef I truly believe would maybe fire his sous chef over a loss. Ha!

The chefs are cooking for a while when Douglas Keane arrives, cool as a cucumber from his leisurely drive over to the grounds. The critics -- including new head critic Gail Simmons! And the lovely Ms. Lesley Suter! -- arrive with their fellow diners, the Skyhawks. Some walk in, some skydive in. This whole skydiving thing is making me very anxious. The first group of chefs -- Franklin, David, Herb, and Lynn present their dishes. David and Lynn created their dishes with no utensils, but it's Herb with the obvious worst dish: he didn't get his oysters in their shells. While I -- and the critics -- commend him for waiting to fry, all the critics were left to judge was a shell of sauce. A delicious sauce by itself is still just sauce. Herb seemed pretty dead in the water at this point, but we still have two more groups!

Next up is Jenn Louis, not to be confused with Jenny Lewis of Troop Beverly hills, Rilo Kiley, and Postal service fame (and the inspiration for this recap title.) But guess what? If there's a dessert challenge and Jenn doesn't start singing "It's cookie time!" I'll be pretty disappointed. There's Sue Zemanick, who has competed before. Did we mention Top Chef is in Sue's city of New Orleans next season? We did? OK. Sang Yoon, who's burger at Father's Office in L.A. is supposed to be awesome. (I'm ashamed to say I've never tried it.) And Mr. Bryan Voltaggio. Now, I'm not going to say Bryan is my favorite cheftestant of all time, because that would be like ranking your children, but I have admitted in this space before that Volt is probably my favorite restaurant. And I may or may not be doing Table 21 (yes, that's 21 courses) at Volt for my birthday in August. I'll share photos here -- don't worry. A few years ago, Bryan told me he wanted to be the first Top Chef to compete on Masters, and well, he did it. It will be interesting to see if his experience competing is an advantage or not, but either way, he's an exciting chef to watch, and an even more entertaining one to listen to laugh, or giggle in this case.

The critics -- especially James -- aren't happy Jenn's clams aren't all open. Sue's escabeche is meh and Sang's pork is undercooked in places. Bryan's dish -- the only vegetarian one in the lot -- is well-received. Bryan is comfortable cooking vegetables -- he actually has an entire "Tasting of Fruits and Vegetables" menu at Volt.Finally, we have our last group of the challenge -- the largest group of Odette, who I realy hope to hear yell in Italian, Jennifer, Douglas, Neal, who looks like someone I just haven't put my finger on yet, and Richard. Although Doug wanted to impress, despite his immunity, his many and varied Japanese ingredients got lost. It was a visually stunning dish. Richard admits his beef isn't cut thinly enough, but that may be the least of the dish's problems. Jennifer's meat causes James and Gail to flail their arms about in, well, um... watch:


Aw, Curtis. Don't be shy. (And Gail and James don't kill me for having this .gif created! It's too good!)

Anywaaay, (seriously, don't kill me Gail and James!), Neal incorporated his many sous chef-provided ingredients well and lands on top. As does Odette with her chilled lamb. 

So, Odette, Bryan, and Neal face the critics... on top! Odette wins $10K for her charity!

It's Herb, Richard, and David's turn to face the critics, and while all the dishes had their faults, Herb was the only one who didn't present a complete dish. He did go out with a lot of class, though, falling on his sword. I spoke with Herb at the premiere party, and he said he'd like to compete again. I echo James' sentiment in saying that I'd love to see what he can do!

It's time to watch the next ep of Battle of the Sous Chefs to see who will get advantages or disadvantages in the next challenge. So, watch HERE.

Next week, Kathy Lee Gifford is guest-judging. And, no, it's not a wine challenge.

See you all then!

Let me know in the Comments below who you're rooting for!

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.