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It’s come to this: In one corner, Kerry Hefernan, the soft-spoken New Englander with a passion for serving up comforting delights. And in the other, Chris Cosentino, the temperamental Rhode Islander who turns guts into gourmet at his San Francisco eatery. Only one will emerge wearing the Top Chef Masters executive chef’s jacket and carrying a comically oversized $100,000 check made out to the charity of his choosing.
It truly is a clash of the culinary titans.
Since we’re down to the final challenge, there is no time for Quickfires. Instead, impossibly white-toothed host Curtis Stone proposes the challenge rules: The chefs will need to prepare four dishes, each a “letter” to someone they know. First course is a love letter. Second is an apology. Third is a thank-you note. And the final course is a letter written to themselves. It’s a fantastically open-ended and creative challenge — that nevertheless freaks Kerry out, whose epistolary expertise he admits is lacking. (“Does texting count?” he asks.)
Curtis then introduces a surprise element in the form of two men we have never seen before. But from Chris and Kerry’s reaction, we immediately see that they share a warm history with them. First Manfred, Chris’ chef de cuisine at his restaurant Incanto, emerges, and then Kerry’s old surfing pal and chef buddy Nick struts out. They will serve as their sous chefs. Bromances abound.
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Kerry and Nick hightail it to Whole Foods, where they collect ingredients for his four courses. He’s a little undecided, but knows that the love letter will recreate a dish he made for his wife on their first date — a Korean kimchi soup he hopes will feature lobster meat. Whole Foods has no lobster, however, so Kerry uses spot prawns and scallops instead.
The other team hits the town, checking out several stores — including a butcher shop for some tasty beef heart, which Chris will serve to the judges (block your ears, vegans) raw — before getting caught in traffic on their way to Whole Foods. Luckily, nothing prevented him from picking up some delicious cow stomach lining, in a dish that will be a “thank-you” to his great-grandma, who showed him how to turn the grosser parts of animals into something delish. There’s also a great deal of blood in his shopping cart, that he’ll turn into sausages and soups and various other vampiric delights.
Prepping done, they retire to Curtis’ high-roller suite at the Cosmopolitan to ooh and aah over the host’s general baller-status, and then get served a delicious meal, kitchen-side. They say they love everything he serves, but possibly could have been lying. It looked pretty good.
Next day: Judges’ table is filled with 12 food critics, which terrifies both finalists. Despite several close-calls with Chris, who keeps telling us that it all is for nothing if he can’t plate in time, the food comes out, quickly and plentifully. Kerry offers up his Korean love letter dish, Chris offers his beef tartare with foie gras and puffed beef tenderloin. It’s his heart on a plate! Get it?
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Kerry’s apology course comes in the form of a sugar snap pea flan with prosciutto, morels and chevril. It’s comfort food that he offers up like a “warm embrace” to his family, who he owes an apology to, apparently. Looks delish. Chris chokes up at the table as he presents his scallop, pancetta piana and sea urchin dish. It’s his apology to his family, for working chef’s hours and not being around as much as he’d like. (Consider this a warning to anyone currently falling for a chef: they become scarce after the “I do’s.”)
So far, so good, according to the critics. Thank-you note course is then a trippa Napolitana from Chris and a branzino with clam ragout and pureed mustard greens from Kerry. Both look delicious.
The “letter to yourself” course brings dry aged cote de boeuf, short ribs and swiss chard with a fennel gratin from Kerry. Chris tries something riskier: a last supper featuring the blood sausage (which oozes out of the casing in the pan in a way we won’t describe here, but Manfred nails it), oysters poached in pork broth and a fried egg. It looks like a British breakfast, and divides the critics. One gives it a “D” grade and calls it “embarrassingly bad,” but breakout critic Francis, who last week likened a dish to doing the backstroke while getting a massage from a pig, declared it “the best thing I have eaten in maybe the last 30 years of my life.”
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The meal overall was a huge success with the critics. In the end, it comes down to a choice between comforting and appetizing, or cutting-edge and passionate.
Both men return from the stew room, and Curtis declares Chris the winner. Chris nearly passes out when he hears his name, but holds it together. Kerry loses with dignity, and gives it up for Chris.
The total tally of winnings for Chris after taking the title of Top Chef Master: $141,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation — a Parkinsons research fund. He explains that his uncle died of the disease 35 years earlier, and that the money will “help a lot of people.”
So another Master is crowned. Tune back in in six weeks for another all-new season of the series that started it all: Top Chef Seattle is right around the corner!
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