Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Top Chef Masters Season 4 Season Finale Recap

The fourth season of Top Chef Masters on Bravo has sadly come to an end. The season started with 12 talented chefs from around the country, including Patricia Yeo, Art Smith, Takashi Yagihashi and Lorena Garcia. This season was shot in Las Vegas with celebrity chef Curtis Stone as the host. The judges include James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine, Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet magainze, travel journalist Krista Simmons and Francis Lam, features editor of Gilt Taste. 

The finale came down between Chefs Kerry Heffernan (left) from New York and Chris Cosentino (right) from San Francisco. Heffernan is classically trained and known for modern American cuisine while Cosentino is known for offal dishes (using organ meats of a variety of animals) at his restaurant Incanto. The chefs were competing for a $100,000 prize towards the charity of their choice. Heffernan was competing for City Harvest, a foundation that helps the hungry in New York City while Cosentino was cooking for the Michael J. Fox foundation, a charity close to his heart since his uncle died of Parkinson's disease last year.

Usually, each episode begins with a "Quick Fire Challenge" where the chefs have a limited amount of time to create a dish that meets the challenges requirements. Since it was the finale and there were only two chefs left, host Stone skipped right to the elimination challenge: create a four course meal based on four written letters; a love letter, an apology letter, a thank you note and a letter to themselves. To help their visions come alive, they were given a helping hand. Cosentino's chef de cuisine from Incanto rushed in as well as Heffernan's long-time, trusted friend.

The chefs were given a $600 budget and six hours to prep. They carefully planned out their meals in the car on the way to the grocery store, discussing concepts and their reasoning behind their decisions. They ran around the grocery store quickly grabbing whatever ingredients they needed before heading back to the Top Chef Masters kitchen at the Cosmopolitan to start cooking.

When the first day is over, the two chefs are treated to a home cooked meal by Stone in his pent house suite overlooking all of Las Vegas. It was nice to see the chefs in a relaxed environment having normal conversation, enjoying good food prepared by a great colleague.

The next day, the chefs were given three hours to finish their dishes before serving them head to head to the judges, a table filled with ten of the most well-respected food critics in the industry. Some of the guests include Alan Sytsma, Senior Editor at Grub Street, and Alan Richman, a food correspondant for GQ magazine. Critics think about and analyze food in a different way than the average diner. It is their job to eat food...doesn't sound too bad to me! But the level at which they pick a part every aspect of a dish is in another realm of expertise.

Heffernan's love letter was a letter to his wife and he recreated the dish he made for her on their very first date. It was a traditional Korean jigae, a prawn and scallop stew. His thank you letter was a letter to his family, thanking them for teaching him so much. He translated this letter into a beautiful branzino dish with a clam ragout and mustard greens. His third dish represented a letter he wrote to himself- a dry aged Cote de boeuf served with short ribs, swiss chard, and fennel gratin. I am not a huge meat eater but this dish made my mouth water! The last course was an apology letter that he wrote to his family. He presented a luscious flan of snap peas with morels, chervil and prosciutto. Mmmm!

Kerry Heffernan
Heffernan's thank you letter to his family- branzino with clam ragout and mustard greens.

Cosentino started his meal with a love letter to his wife which he interpreted to a beef heart tartare, foi gras and puffed beef tenderloin. His second course was a thank you note to his grandmother for inspiring him to cook. He made a trippa napolitana, a traditional Italian dish using tripe, the stomach lining of cattle...yes he prepared stomach lining and the judges LOVED it. The letter he wrote to himself translated into what he described as his "last supper," a sunny side up egg, poached oyster and blood sausage. It is pretty gutsy (no pun intended) to serve an egg, something so basic and simple, to a table of food critics. For his grand finale, he wrote an apology letter to his wife for working so much. He created a dish including all of her favorite things- a scallop, pancetta piania and sea urchin.

    Chris Cosentino

Cosentino's letter to himself- sunny side up egg, poached oyster and blood sausage.

Each dish was served head to head and the judges discussed the pros and cons of each (very eloquently I might add). Overall, I thought Cosentino's meal was a bit more daring. He took more risks with the dishes he served and in my opinion, that is what being a top chef is all about. Heffernan's food looked beautiful on the plate and used classic flavor combinations to tantilize the judges' palettes. I believe he stayed true to who he was as a classically trained modern American chef. But in the end it was Cosentino's daring dishes that won over the judges, who crowned him Top Chef Master.

Top Chef Master Chris Cosentino in his new chef coat!

For all you Top Chef fans out there have no fear...Bravo is bringing you a new show called Life After Top Chef. The show follows four Top Chef alumni, Fabio Viviani, Jenn Carroll, Spike Mendelsohn and Richard Blais, and where they are now. The show premieres on October 3rd, click here to watch a preview!

Also, Top Chef is returning for a tenth season on November 7th! The season was filmed in Seattle and Wolfgang Puck is the newest addition to judges table.

Do you think Chef Cosentino deserved to win? Will you tune in for Life After Top Chef and Top Chef Seattle? I want to hear what you have to say!

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