Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Wedding Bells

Gail: Mei's Menu Was Almost Flawless

Make Top Chef Mei Lin's Winning Dessert!

Richard: "Gregory Had the Better Ideas"

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Hugh: Mei's a Chef's Chef

Richard: "Winning Is Overrated"

Make Mei's Sushi Style Guac!

Gail: I Wasn't Surprised Doug Stayed on Top

Get Doug's Masterpiece Brisket Recipe

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Make Melissa's Seared Duck Breast Dish

Make Melissa's Mom's Egg Custard

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Make Mei's Inspired Duck a l'Orange

Gail Has No Problem With Blood

Make George's Cravable Breakfast Sausage

Gail Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

Make Doug's Winning Mussels

Tom Colicchio Answers Your Restaurant Wars Qs

Gail: It Wasn't Keriann's Day

Make Doug's Winning Braised Pork!

Gail: We Had a Tough Job This Week

Make Katsuji's Authentically Delicious Stuffing

Hugh: The Demise of Cornwallis and Aaron

Make Gregory's Winning Dumplings

Richard: Chefs Please Follow Instructions

Richard Tries Money Ball Soup

Make a Home Run-Worthy Popcorn Crème Brule

Hugh: Where There's a Will There's a Fenway

Gail: Keriann and Aaron Were Being ---holes

Make the Winning Surf and Turf

Gail: We're Taking No Prisoners

Richard Goes From Player to Announcer

Tom Talks Boston

Gail: There Was No Season 11 Underdog

Hugh Wants Nick to Be Kind to Himself

Gail: It Was Difficult to Let Go of Shirley

Big Easy to Ocean Breezy

Gail: The Final Four Are Like Our Children

Emeril Is Proud to Serve Shirley's Dish

Hugh: Enough With the Mexican Food Hate

Wedding Bells

Gail Simmons talks catering, weddings, and Stephen Aspirinio's ego.

Catering a large wedding is an entirely different challenge than cooking in a restaurant. As any couple's wedding day is likely to be the single most important and memorable of their lives, the entire experience of planning its details can be incredibly emotional. Expectations are always higher and clients are sure to be pickier than at any other event. Brides and/or grooms are looking to have their dreams fulfilled more than ever before and the job of a wedding caterer is to translate those dreams into edible reality. In order to do so, they must consider very carefully what their own limitations and capabilities will be. Furthermore, they must pay particular attention to timing, location, and mass appeal. Managing a client's expectations and making reasonable promises is vital to delivery of the final product.

Our remaining chefs presented "The Scotts" with five very different interpretations of a Pan-Asian wedding meal. Stephen, as usual, went high concept, complete with a menu requiring its own translator. Tiffani chose to present a simpler idea, featuring her signature clean flavors and an endearing twist on the traditional wedding cake. Humble Harold stuck to what he knew best with dishes based on his South East Asian travels, while Dave stayed true to his passion for flavorful, functional food. Lee Anne, on the other hand, went for the wow factor! She dazzled the Scotts with origami lovebirds and pretty painted sketches -- I would have been dazzled too!

Sitting down to eat, my first tip off that there may be cause for concern was that the menu did not contain a single cold course. Besides, Dave's last minute crab hors d'oeuvres and the single oyster in Lee Anne's trio of amuse bouche, every dish served needed to come out of that kitchen hot and fresh. Not an easy task with one hundred rowdy wedding guests, a different wine pairing per course and multiple, spontaneous speeches with which to contend. A beautiful salad or creative chilled soup could have made the whole ordeal much easier for the kitchen and the wait staff. The Top Chef team barely pulled it off and there were definitely a few hitches along the way. The shrimp toasts were greasy, the salmon was cold and bland, the seafood Lover's Nest was over sauced and under seasoned, there were eggshells in the cake -- made from a mix, no less! If memory serves, aren't eggs practically the only ingredient besides water that is added to a store bought cake mix? The fact that they could not get that right amazed us all! I specifically remember one wedding guest being so hungry and disappointed with her meal that she actually ran across the street for take-out between courses. There was no question in my mind that if Lee Anne had thought her menu through more carefully in the first place she could have avoided several of these problems.

Despite this lack of foresight, once in the Hotel Monaco kitchen, Lee Anne did manage to stay calm and organized. According to most of her fellow contestants, she was a strong manager and a pleasure to work for under the circumstances. The Scotts, although underwhelmed, left on their honeymoon happy and grateful for all her hard work in contributing to their special day. She clearly put her heart into this challenge and no one can find fault in that.

And then there was our beloved sommelier.

Last week Tom could not have been more serious when he warned that in the next challenge Stephen had better show up in his chef whites. And again (although dressed appropriately) he disappointed us by barely contributing to the workload while his fellow contestants scrambled to get it all done. Knowing that at several times throughout their prep he abandoned the others so he could direct wine service infuriated me.

I recognize how earnestly Stephen wants to share his knowledge. I appreciate his belief that he can "elevate" the industry and I applaud his lofty ideals, as without this type of ambition restaurants would not be challenged to move forward. But with each episode, his ego has clouded his focus. Time and again he has demonstrated that he is far more concerned with the location of Rioja, the acid balance of Rose, and the correct temperature of Pinot Gris than with getting his hands dirty in the kitchen. The irony of it is that he speaks about wine to diners twice his age as if they are children, when the kid has only been drinking legally for three years! I trust that one day Stephen will be the great chef, sommelier or even the award-winning restaurateur to which he aspires. He has the drive and the education. But until he learns that good service is less about hearing the sound of your own voice and more about tuning into the voices and concerns of your customers, he is going to have a very hard time finding anyone to listen.

Richard: "Gregory Had the Better Ideas"

Richard Blais explains why Mei Lin won, and why we'll definitely be hearing from Gregory Gourdet soon.

The finale of Top Chef is the one absolute every season. Make the best meal of your life, in a multi-course tasting format for a room of the "who's who" in the culinary industry.

If you get to the finals, it's the type of thing you can prepare for. Every finalist should have a few four to five course menus floating around their heads, including a dessert, and all complete with options and Plan B's transcribed to their moleskins. And although the knowledge of what's coming is helpful, the format does not play to every chef's strengths.

There aren't too many restaurants committed to such meal services. Which means less chefs experienced with how to "write" and execute them. A progressive meal has to have a certain flow about it. And even the stereotypical versions of the "menu degustation" could force a contestant into cooking a dish that's not in their wheelhouse, for instance a straight forward fish course because "it belongs there."

Tonight, Mei Lin has a slight advantage. She cooks in a restaurant every day that showcases a tasting menu. Her food has been the epitome of a modern tasting menu all season. Many previous times, to a fault. Mei's food is small and precise. Beautiful to look at, and intellectually stimulating to discuss. Cold sometimes, every once in a while a shaved radish plated with tweezers heavy. It's not for everyone. It's not for everyday. But it's the type of food that when done well, can win Top Chef. Win James Beard Award noms. Win Best New Chef honors. Win Michelin stars.

Her future could indeed be bright.

What struck me most about Mei's food tonight however, wasn't technique. Technique and presentation often can get in the way of flavor. But tonight Mei delivered a few courses that were deeply satisfying. Soulful, delicious food that also was presented at a high level and cooked with surgeon's precision. That congee though...combined with a simple dessert that took yogurt and granola to another planet, won her the day. Her other two courses were fine, but suffered from the strains of modernity. Overly plated (the duck) and technically overwrought (the fried octopus).

Gregory on the other hand, it's just not his finest work. You can hear it in his voice as he's explaining his food. He's cooking improv, an ode to Mexico. The problem is, this isn't a jam session at a local cantina. This is a studio session where the chefs should be cooking practiced and refined pieces.

His octopus was a highlight and featured the unusual combination of passion fruit and avocado. It was an explosive start. The following two courses unraveled a bit, with the soup being good, but way too unrefined for the moment and technically problematic (the crispy shrimp heads), and the fish course bordering on dessert with the sugary carrot purée.

The mole was authentic and delicious, the rib cooked perfectly, but the dish felt a little incomplete. I believe Gregory had the better ideas, but just needed to think them through a bit more.

His sadness after the fact, I can attest, is profound. Tearful. Absolute emptiness. Close to the feeling of the sudden loss of a loved one. This may shock some of you, because it is indeed just a game. The mere thought of feeling that way over such silliness is well, silly. But not for us. This isn't the Super Bowl where an athlete loses and they can shake it off. Jump in their Bentley and start thinking about next season. There is no next season. There is no guaranteed pay day for the runner-up. The ten wins you had before don't matter. It just ends. Suddenly. And it's rather sad.

The good thing is, this is certainly, 100%, not the last time you will hear from Gregory. I waxed last week about Doug's professionalism, all of which is very true. But Gregory... Gregory is a special talent. His food (and I can say HIS type of food, because it's unique to him), is a study in refined, exotic comfort. What the man can do with a one-pot meal of braised anything, some chilies, sugar, vinegar, herbs, and spices is beyond impressive. Rarely do I taste food that makes me jealous as a cook. Rarely do I taste food that makes me start thinking about a new restaurant concept. The word inspiring in cooking competitions is sort of like the word "love," when it gets used too much, it loses it luster. Gregory's food however. I love it. It is inspiring.

Congrats to Mei and Gregory! Tom was right, I can't wait to one day say I saw you two way back when, in Mexico, in a little kitchen, before the bright lights, fancy kitchens, and big stages that lay ahead for both of you.

See you next season. I hope!

Richard Blais
@RichardBlais - Twitter and Instagram

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