Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Ain't No Thing But a Chicken Wing

Just how fatal was Brooke's poultry flaw?

Hello for the last time this season, my little burnt pig ears. Well, we now have a new Top Chef, and I for one am exhausted. For this final episode, we changed up the format a bit, putting finalists Brooke and Kristen head to head with their previously selected sous-chefs. Watching the episode gave me a serious hankering to re-watch this year's Bocuse d'Or and Hugh Acheson's hilariously sleep-deprived live-tweeting of this year's event. i could have used a dose of Thomas Keller and some angry Frenchmen...

Both chefs were tased with creating five dishes and the only requirements were to use scallop for the second course, snapper for the fourth. Otherwise, they had all the freedom they could ever ask for, which should be a good thing. Ultimately, though, this may have been to Brooke's detriment. To win, one chef has to win three out of five courses.

"Are you ready to share your tiara?" Gail asks Stephanie Izard. Oh, she's ready. It remained to be seen if Brooke and Kristen were ready. I think Brooke was pretty nervous, which was made painfully clear when she couldn't remember all her ingredients. And, seriously, who wouldn't be? Let's dive into the dishes.For the first course, Kristen offered a perfect chicken liver mousse. Gail didn't care for the presentation, but that was the only real complaint. Brooke went for a pig ear salad -- a dish viewers were probably expecting after last week's visit to Brooke's restaurant where she made a smilar dish -- if not the same exact dish -- as a special. There were a few problems with the dish, but the pig ears themselves seemed to be the biggest problem. CJ's cooking of them was inconsistent and Emeril and Tom's were burnt. Course goes to Kristen.

The second course, where both chefs had to use scallop, said a lot about the two women as chefs. Kristen kept it simple with cured scallop, while Brooke seared hers, but added a very surprising and welcome element -- salted cod. Like Emeril, I Iove salted cod, so I would have been pretty happy to receive this dish. And while Kristen's simplicity was apprecited, Brooke's romanesco seals the deal for the judges. Course goes to Brooke.

The third course was crucial, and ultimately, probably the greatest cause of Brooke's downfall. She made chicken wings. Granted, they were apparently delicious, and even traitor Stefan (just kidding, Stefan!) looks like he might finish all of them before they hit the judges' plates, but they were chicken wings. Although I think elevating a chicken wing is something to be commended, and many of the past winners deemed it "ballsy," this is the Top Chef finale. As Tom said, "I get why you're doing it. Although i'm still not sure why you're doing it." This made perfect sense, and Brooke knew it. She even called the wings a "crucial mistake." Kristen takes the course.And so, the fourth course comes. If Kristen wins, she's the new Top Chef, and she does. I really thought this could have gone either way as both chefs seemed to know their dishes and felt confident in their ability to prepare them. Unfortunately for Brooke, Kristen's was just better. Oh, and it had uni. I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- uni always wins!

So, mazel tov, Kristen! And congratulations to you, Brooke -- you have so much to be proud of. I had the pleasure of meeting both the ladies this week, and I know they both have big things ahead of them. 

Before I close I just wanted to point out a few things that made me smile this episode.:

1. Sheldon saying "Yes, Chef" when Kristen tasked him to do something. It showed how much respect he had for his leader that day, but ultimately, I just love Sheldon, so he could pretty much do anything and I would smile.

2. Brooke's son, Hudson, passing out was the cutest thing ever!

3. It was so great to see all the past winners there, but Ilan takes the cake for funniest moment when he broke the light on the table!

OK, yeah, nothing tops Ilan.

Until next season, Have a Nosh! And let me know in the Comments below if you're happy with the verdict.

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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