This is it. The end of Top Chef Masters means summer’s officially over, so we whipped up a pumpkin spice latte and settled in for the finale. The opening montage reminded us of chefs gone by — oh how we’ve missed you and your Canadianness, Lynn — and geared us up for the one big challenge to rule them all, sans quickfire. Read on — but not if you don’t want to find out who was named the winner of Top Chef Masters!
To start the journey to the end, the chefs gathered in a gorgeous space — a former church, which we learned belongs to Neal (for what purpose was not made clear. I’ll assume a restaurant, but really who knows with that guy?) — and were served mimosas and lunch by none other than the Take Home Chef, Curtis Stone. This meal looked way better than anything he used to make with the suburban housewives, though. To start, a spot prawn, followed by ravioli with chicken liver mousse and truffles, and finished off with a lemon cream dessert. Okay, so Curtis can cook.
FINAL CHALLENGE: CREATE THE FOUR COURSES OF YOUR CAREER
Get it? Sous? Ha. At least there was not going to be any blue soup. So we learned that in the last Battle of the Sous Chefs they each had to create a dessert, then in this challenge the Masters would refine it and make it their last course of the finale. Graeme, Bryan’s sous, won the challenge and Paul, Doug’s sous chef, lost, leaving Doug prepping solo on day one of the two-day finale.
I loved hearing the conversations about each dish — it even made me think about what I would make if I were in their shoes (something old: Top Ramen from college). It also made clear how accomplished all of these chefs are and what sets them apart from other Masters and from each other.
Too cute for words: Bryan talking about making Chicken Chesapeake for his wife when they were 18 (18??!!); Jenn’s obvious mentor-crush on Wolfgang Puck, and Doug’s bromance with sous chef Paul (“you sh-t the bed with the panna cotta!”).
OFF TO WHOLE FOODS A.K.A. DOUG’S CORNER CARRYOUT PLACE
Doug pulled a Doug and, since he was working without a sous chef, called in his duck order ahead of time to the butcher counter at Whole Foods. Smart thinking! Not so necessary from Doug: the blatant Lexus ad as he’s putting his groceries in the trunk. We get it.
Not all the chefs went to Whole Foods — L.A. native Jenn and her sous Jorel swung by the Bangkok Market for Asian necessities and Bryan went over to Lindy & Grundy, a gourmet butcher shop whose owners were clearly star-struck by the chef. Bryan and Graeme may have had some choice cuts of beef, but they did not have choice shortcuts to get home — L.A. traffic slowed down their pace, but they got it together once they were in the kitchen.
BACK IN THE TOP CHEF KITCHEN
After a day of prep, the battle was on. A few highlights from the cooking-under-pressure portion of the evening:
–Jenn treating Jerrell like a child. Honestly, I think this may have cost her points at Judges’ Table. Her food was phenomenal, but taking away credit from your biggest asset? Not cool.
–The flashbacks to Bryan losing to his brother Michael in the Top Chef season 6 finale. It still hurts to watch this! Plus, I miss Padma’s bangs.
— Doug’s excellent use of the Japanese word shibumi. Just pretentious enough!
Bring on the groats!
Bryan’s four courses: Groat salad with Dungeness crab, asparagus, hen egg custard, and chicken skin; Black cod with onion dashi, date and parsnip puree and green apple; Braised beef cheek and NY strip steak with seaweed mashed potatoes and maitake mushrooms; Coconut, lavender, and vanilla dessert.
Jenn’s four courses: Potato sunchoke gallette with salmon, caviar, picked apple, and crème fraiche. Saffron paella gnocchi with chicken meatballs, mussels, and shrimp; Chinese duck with shitake broth, eggplant daikon, grilled bok choy, and duck wonton; and Smoked macadamia with chocolate bavarian napoleon, tapioca and milk caramel (or something like that).
Doug’s four courses: Soup Billi Bi with white wine, saffron, fennel puree, and uni; Soba-wrapped ocean trout, ginger dashi and groats; Duck breast with sake roasted onion, tamarind, golden pea sprouts and dates; Black sesame panna cotta, shattered miso custard, green tea macha.
The judges, expanded to all of our favorites (phew, James Oseland is here), had an innuendo-filled meal. Can someone please make a supercut of Oseland’s O-face and the number of times he says “best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life”? Lesley’s comment on Doug’s trout was classic, calling it “50 shades of seatrout” and Curtis made everything more literal when he declared “I think I just orgasmed” after Francis described Doug’s soup as “oceanic.” Whoa there, killer.
FINAL JUDGES’ TABLE
So who ultimately made the judges’ tastebuds shine in the end? The dogs have it.
WINNER: DOUGLAS KEANE, who gets $100,000 for his charity, Green Dog Rescue Project
This really surprised me initially, but he is the most refined, most practiced at the type of cooking that Top Chef consistently rewards, so I am not that surprised after thinking about it a little. That said, I was rooting for a Maryland win for forward-thinking Bryan (plus the revenge of Voltaggio the elder!) or a girl-power tribute to Jenn. Nice touch on the skydiving, though!
Fortunately, Top Chef returns with its regular season next Wednesday — so we’re only a week away from starting the whole thing all over again.