Richard Blais

Richard Blais breaks down the first part of the finale in New Orleans.

on Feb 20, 20090

As a former contestant, there are many times when I watch the show now and know exactly what a chef is thinking. Not by their words or video interviews, but by the slightest of body language. Earlier in the season, I mentioned this to my wife when I witnessed one of the chefs get called out in a Quickfire. The chef was Stefan, and he showed us then, and again tonight, what I refer to as the “gulp” moment. That exact moment when one of us (and I feel like I can say us) gets criticism that actually hurts. I mean, the type of moment that incites a physical reaction. The slow, uncomfortable swallow that you can plainly see is full of grief. The type of thing you may see in sports, when a basketball player misses a free throw and then has to make the next to tie the game.

With as many cameras, more actually, than we have cooks at this point in the game, it’s easier to pick up. And with the pressure mounting, the last few episodes should give us plenty of these moments. As the chefs stood at Judges' Table tonight I was reminded of that gut-wrenching feeling. It’s not life or death. But for a guy like Stefan, it feels like it.

I was happy to see the last three eliminated chefs come back to play into the finale. This season for sure, and I say this as a viewer, has had the most intricate challenges. The format has been jiggled just enough to keep everyone, viewer and contestant, guessing.

But as a contestant, you imagine every possible scenario. Every twist that could be thrown at you. And you do this a thousand times in a few minutes. I believe Jamie when she says she sort of had an idea something was going on. She’s smart. She probably had this thought out on the plane ride to NOLA. Even during casting, I was thinking about challenges. I remember sitting in my hotel room, thinking I was on a secret camera. Scoping out the room for sconces to plate on, if necessary. Figuring out, if indeed, the iron in the closet could act as a griddle. Not eating the mini bar snacks, because I might need them. Shaving my entire body to be more streamline (OK, that's a hotel thing I do, not a chef thing).

With Jeff now back in, due to the twist , the challenge turns to inspiration. And although this isn’t this group’s strong point; they do some really nice work. Hosea obviously has done some research on the region and is really pouring it into his roux. Roux BTW, is seldom used in the modern kitchen. It’s as ancient as it gets. It’s a cassette tape. Atari. Useful, but totally prehistoric.

10 comments
Cornelia Cooks
Cornelia Cooks

Richard, I was an ardent fan of yours last season, and it's wonderful to have you around as such a sound observer of the competition this year. Thanks for sharing your views and insights!

pattyh
pattyh

So what do you think for the finale? I hope self-righteous Hosea didn't win. He is a crashing bore.

Richard Blais
Richard Blais

Roux for gumbo.

This is the only application I can see for it, as it's role is developing flavor.

any application where roux is used as a thickener is outdated.

And, honestly. The approach, that there is "no way around something" is why sometimes we do not see progress.

There's always a way around it !

Marcy
Marcy

Nice writing! I'm impressed.

Ravenvelvet
Ravenvelvet

Have had a good time watching Carla throughout the show. She's a real-life gal with her own style, which is not driven by show business, but is serious and has enough flair to keep us interested. She's an honest, strong female presence of a type typically discounted by people looking for shallow stuff. We all probably have real people like her in our lives every day but she may also be the stuff of scorn by the jerks. Notice that she ends up playing mama, interloculator, and translator for the others and for us. Is functioning on many levels.

Must also say that the bigname chefs La Gasse and Pepin were gentle, sweet people. Same with the Swedish chef. Their comments were unabrasive, welcoming, and made me feel as though I could try the recipes myself. Anyone can dis the food on a plate--have any kids at your table?--but helpful commentary requires more thought, more perception, more humanity. Thanks for yours also.

richard face
richard face

For the application in which josea used roux (a true louisiana dark roux gumbo) there is absolutely no substitution. Traditional, yes but there is no way around it when making gumbo.

Patricia Sternon-Heroufosse
Patricia Sternon-Heroufosse

Brilliant take on this week episode. You just demonstrate how your vision can be gracefully applied to the writing world. Stefan is lacking something there but he is efficient and I can appreciate driving a BMW. Catch you later.

Viewer
Viewer

Thanks for the great blog. Except that you are completely wrong about roux not having a place in a modern kitchen. Clearly, you have not ever made Cajun food before or you would know that the roux is the magical ingredient.

christi
christi

From the start of the season I thought Jamie and Jeff would be in the Finale as I thought they seemed to be the most creative and talented. Carla grew on me as the season progressed and then to find out she is classically trained just adds to my impression of her.

While I'm glad that Carla won this challenge, I was disappointed that Jeff didn't win as I wanted him in the Final challenge. I thought his dishes displayed the most creativity.

As for Stephan... he has skated through the last few challenges (even I don't overcook salmon!). To keep taking smoking breaks and not even make his own sausage is not Top Chef material. I recall a chef from a few seasons ago that got the boot for not making their own sausage early in that season.

Fabio has run hot and cold all season. After reading your blog I have a better appreciation for the dishes he prepared. He is fun to watch and his incredible charm probably carried him farther than he should have gone this season. However, I suspect we will see him on a TV show soon.

Glad to see New Orleans showcased for the Finale! A great city with a great culinary history.

FanFare
FanFare

Wow, Richard - This is another fine commentary laced with humor. You really know how to choose your words to their best effect. Stefan's uberconfidence overtook his skills. Carla's cuddliness overshadowed her resolve. Fabio's pride masked his clever idea. (The man baked bread, for goodness sake!) Hosea's roux displayed his earnestness. btw: why do you declare that roux is passe? I thought it was the base of many great sauces and/or stews? At least that is what my cookbooks call for.