I guess we all saw this coming, but as a culinary expert, big fan of the show, and guy who was really getting used to those checks from Grub Street for writing these recaps each week, I am completely devastated that season five of Top Chef Masters has reached its dramatic conclusion. Needless to say, it went out with guns blazing.
Things got off to a crazy start as usual as our (i.e., mine, yours, and America’s) three finalists, Doug, Jennifer, and Bryan, were told to put on some goddamn regular clothes for a change, get in a van, and don’t ask any goddamn questions. If you ask me, Doug took the “casual” thing a little too far by just wearing an undershirt like he was Mario Batali at a summer share or something, even though they were dropped off at an old church for some reason. But whatever. I stopped thinking of that as soon as Curtis Stone strolled into the room. Curtis was wearing a striped apron and so much makeup it looked like he’d joined Fall Out Boy while he announced to Doug, Jennifer, and Bryan that he’d be preparing for them what would effectively be their “last supper” on the show before they had to get back to work, dammit.
At the end of their dinner, which looked delightful, Curtis announced to the three remaining chefs that it was time for their final challenge. This time around, they were asked to cook something “old, new, borrowed, and sous,” which is to say a dish inspired by some old bullshit they learned a long time ago, a dish in which they introduced something they just made up based on their current style, a dish that shamelessly steals from some old bastard who inspired them, and, finally, a delicious dessert.
Bryan’s sous-chef and his Mohawk won the sous-chef battle, but Doug’s sucked, so he had to prep his meal all by himself. Doug asked if he could beat his sous-chef, and I and everyone else had a big laugh over that.
As for the dishes, it all started, as usual, with a big trip to Whole Foods, where everybody scrambled all over the place like the goddamn Keystone Cops or something. Then, with their ingredients in tow, they got down to the business of cooking like the wind.
For the “old” dishes, Doug whipped up soup billi bi with white wine, saffron, fennel purée, and uni; Bryan made groat salad with Dungeness crab, asparagus, hen-egg custard, and chicken skin; and Jennifer made potato-sunchoke galette with salmon, caviar, pickled apple, and crème fraîche.
For the “new” dishes, Doug got nuts with soba-wrapped ocean trout, ginger dashi, and groats. It looked like fish covered in dirty clown hair to me, but whatever. Meanwhile, Bryan whipped up some funky black cod with onion dashi, date, and parsnip purée, and green apple, and Jennifer got loose with paella gnocchi with chicken meatballs, mussels, and shrimp (I know I couldn’t believe it, either).
For the “borrowed” dishes, Doug made duck breast with sake-roasted daikon, tamarind, golden pea sprouts, and dates; Bryan made braised beef cheek and New York strip with seaweed potatoes and maitake mushrooms; and Jennifer took things east with Chinese duck with shiitake broth, eggplant daikon, grilled bok choy, and duck wonton.
For the “sous” desserts, Doug made black-sesame panna cotta, shattered miso custard, and green tea matcha; Jennifer made some crazy-ass shit with smoked macadamia with chocolate Bavarian napoleon, tapioca, and milk caramel; and Bryan made a coconut, lavender, and vanilla dish that looked like he found it on the bathroom floor of a nightclub in Queens (i.e., it looked like cocaine).
What with this being the big finale and all, all the dishes were served to the judges in a fancy dining room. All the judges were dressed up real fancy, too, especially Curtis, whose hair was gelled down instead of just flying all over the place like I imagine it would if he and I ever were to go on a weeklong camping trip together or something, just a couple of straight guys having fun together in the woods where no one can hear our screams.
As for the critiques, it seemed like Lesley Suter wanted to have sex with the food or something. Meanwhile, James Oseland said something about “what very intelligent food” they were having, and I swear I almost climbed right through my TV screen to strangle the guy. Dammit, he gets me worked up! Gail Simmons looked great, and I swear if I were her man I’d treat her like gold.
Despite all of the above, it was still kind of hard to tell which chef was going to win it all, as the judges all seemed to like everything for the most part (aside from kind of being dicks to Bryan).
In the moments leading up the big finish, it seemed like Jennifer was going to have a nervous breakdown or something, so I kind of wanted them to give it to her, but in the end it was Doug, who nearly collapsed at the news. As for Bryan and Jennifer, they handled the whole “not winning” thing with class. Then again, who knows? If they ran around stabbing everyone I bet they would have cut that part out.
Okay, now what are we supposed to do until season six comes out?! I feel alone and scared. Help me, Andy Cohen, help me.