Recap: 'Top Chef Masters,' Season 5 Finale

The finale!

Bravo
And so it was down to three.

Well, friends, the day has arrived. The finale of Top Chef Masters is finally upon us, and while seasons of this show aren’t quite as dramatic (in a reality TV sense) as the standard Top Chef, they’re more of an opportunity to see great chefs compete against other great chefs at the top of their game. And while going into this season there weren’t as many "celebrity chefs" as there have been in previous seasons, the level of competition, and talent on display, has been just as high, if not higher, than in previous years.

So we were left with Bryan Voltaggio, Jennifer Jasinski, and Douglas Keane. At stake, $100,000 for the charity of their choice, and, of course, the title of Top Chef Master.

As the episode began, the remaining chefs showed up at a (former) church, where Curtis treated them to a meal cooked by him as they sipped mimosas. After that, he introduced the final Elimination Challenge: translate their career into a meal. First course: something old, symbolic of the beginning of their career. Second course: something new, symbolic of where they’re currently at in their career. Third course: something borrowed, inspired by their biggest influence. Fourth course: something sous, a dessert inspired by what their sous chefs made in their final challenge. They were given the rest of the day to prepare and prep with their sous chefs, except for Doug, who wouldn’t have his sous chef on prep day because he failed the final battle of the sous chefs.

Doug showed up to the kitchen all by his lonesome with four hours to prep, Jen showed up with her sous chef an hour later, and Bryan and his sous showed up about 20 minutes after that. There were varying levels of insanity during prep, and even though Doug was behind everyone else due to not having a sous chef, all the chefs seemed to pack it up for the night confident that they’d be ready to go the following day. And they were.

Here’s what they served to the judges, Alan Richman, Chow.com’s Jane Goldman, Grub Street’s Hadley Tomicki, James Oseland, Gail Simmons, Ruth Reichl, Francis Lam, and Lesley Suter.

Course 1
Bryan:
Buckwheat groat salad with Dungeness crab, asparagus, hen egg custard, and chicken skin
Doug: Soup billi bi with white wine, saffron, fennel purée, and uni|
Jennifer:
Potato-sunchoke galette with salmon, caviar, pickled apple, and crème fraîche

Bryan’s dish blew the judges away, the apple in Jennifer’s dish transformed it into something great while keeping it classic, and Douglas’ dish was "beautiful" and really captured the sea. Round one, and everyone’s dish was nothing short of stellar.

Course 2
Bryan:
Black cod with onion dashi, date and parsnip purée, and green apple
Doug: Soba-wrapped ocean trout, ginger dashi, and groats
Jennifer: Paella gnocchi with chicken meatballs, mussels, and shrimp

Bryan’s parsnip purée would been enough for a great dish, Douglas’ dish was passionate and delicious even though the noodles got a bit dried out, and Jennifer’s gnocchi was crisp and "extraordinary," according to Oseland, but Reichl found it to be "just fine."

Course 3
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

Bryan’s seaweed potatoes got mixed reviews, but it was very much in the style of his inspiration, Charlie Palmer. Douglas’ duck was a little overcooked, and Jennifer’s was delicious even if it looked a bit dated.

Course 4
Bryan:
Coconut, lavender, and vanilla
Douglas: Black sesame panna cotta, shattered miso custard, green tea matcha
Jennifer: Smoked macadamia with chocolate Bavarian Napoleon, tapioca, and milk caramel

Bryan’s dessert was incredibly refined but not as much fun as the dish it was based on. Douglas’ combined foods that the judges didn’t even realize worked well together, and Jennifer’s had a little too much going on, and the smokiness struck some as odd.

Douglas’ first course was amazing, the duck in the third course was a little gray, and even though the dessert was gray, the flavors were lovely and played with temperatures wonderfully. Jennifer’s gnocchi dish blew Oseland away (and Curtis called it the best dish she cooked this season), and her third course would have blown her mentor Wolfgang Puck away, but there were probably too many ingredients on her dessert plate. Bryan’s first course was just about perfect, his black cod was one of the best-cooked fish dishes Oseland has ever had in his life, his third course was a little too weighty and heavy, and his dessert was stunning and unlike any dessert Gail had ever had before. The judges certainly had their work cut out for them trying to figure out the winner.

In the end, Douglas ended up pulling out the win. Throughout the entire competition he’s shined while keeping his head down and working his tail off, and while any of the other contenders could have walked away with the win, Doug’s was the most well-deserved. He took the win, and with it $120,000 for Green Dog Rescue. And in the final shot, Doug, who was the only chef who refused to jump out of the airplane in the premiere, jumped out of an airplane.

So that’s that! We’ll see you back here next Thursday, the morning after Top Chef: New Orleans begins.


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