Top Chef Masters has crowned a new winner. The 2011 battle for the master crown was intense with the strongest group of contenders to date. Three finalists consisting of two women and one man cooked a three-course meal for their last challenge.
One dish centered around a favorite childhood memory. A second was to show what inspired each of them to become chefs. The third came from one of the judges. Gael Green chose fried duck in béarnaise sauce for Chef Traci Des Jardins. James Oseland wanted rendang, an Indonesian dish, from Chef Floyd Cordoz. Ruth Reichl was eager to experience another mouth-watering lemon soufflé from Chef Mary Sue Milliken.
The three Top Chef Masters contenders had eight hours to shop for their speciality food items and to prep their dishes. It sounded like enough time in any situation. However, Chef Cardoz spent more time stuck in traffic than shopping and it cost him an hour in prep time. Though pushed to the limit, the chefs put out some brilliant dishes.
Cardoz began his three-course meal with a wild mushroom upma polenta. The dish was his occupational inspiration. Next, he made a rice flaked snapper in a tomato-fennel broth. It was part of a favorite childhood memory with his father. He finished strong with judge Oseland's rendang with ox tail and short rib tapioca pilaf.
Top Chef Masters contestant Mary Sue Milliken started off with Asian steak tartare, a dish from her mother that was a favorite childhood memory. Course two was a shrimp duo -- chervil mousse stuffed shrimp and crab with shrimp salpicon -- dedicated to one of her mentors who had recently passed away. Her last dish was the assigned lemon soufflé, served with rhubarb compote, lemon hazelnut meringue and ice cream.
Chef Traci Des Jardins began with a shrimp creole, a dish from her childhood. She followed with the food that inspired to become a chef. It was a '70s LA inspired roasted quail salad with sweetbreads. She finished with the requested judge dish. However, instead of frying duck, she prepared a duo of crisp duck béarnaise and braised duck leg salad.
The judges had both positive and negative comments for each course of food. The most disappointing dishes were Chef Des Jardins' shrimp creole and duck duo. With her seemingly out of the running, eyes turned to challengers Cardoz and Milliken, the last two standing for the fourth time. Mary Sue bested Floyd on three occasions. Would she do it again?
The judges lavishly praised Milliken for her all of her dishes. She seemed the certain favorite. Cardoz had not won a single quick fire or elimination challenge during the course of the show. However, it was the heart and soul that Cardoz put into his meal that ultimately pushed the decision in his favor. He did not lose the most important challenge. Instead, he took home the title of Top Chef Master and $100,000 for his favorite charity, The Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund.