Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Forks and Recreation

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

Forks and Recreation

Ep 6: Eliza goes home? Nooooo!

 

Hello my little, Pratt-Farrises! Before we get into this week's episode, let's discuss last week's Last Chance Kitchen! If you didn't' watch it yet, watch it HERE. After being eliminated for a universally-hated pork burger, CJ and Tyler face Kuniko in the kitchen. Two on one. I think we could go back and forth over whether one person competing against two was a disadvantage, but I'm inclined to think it was an advantage!. CJ and Tyler did get eliminated cooking together after all, didn't they?! This time, the challenge was to not only cook in a team, but to make dessert -- as Tom so appropriately put it, it really was their worst nightmare. Kuniko made a Frozen Banana (hello, Arrested Development fans!) with Fruit Compote and Lemon Curd. CJ and Tyler made Hay Ice Cream with Cherry Fritter, Cherries, and Arugula. If i had to order one, I would've ordered the guys' dish just to try to hay ice cream. Tyler finally got to make a fritter -- something he had wanted to do with the pickles in the chefs' last regular season challenge. Alas, Tom preferred CJ and Tyler's dish and Kuniko goes home. But wait -- not so fast! You can still Save Kuniko! Every week, you get to be the judge and vote for an eliminated chef to return to Last Chance Kitchen for the finale. So, if you think Kuniko got a raw deal, save her! Vote HERE!

OK -- now back to our regularly-scheduled program. We start with a Quickfire judged by the famous (infamous?) Marilyn Hagerty. You will recall that she made headlines back in March when her review of the Olive Garden in Grand Forks, North Dakota went viral -- a word with which Marilyn was unfamiliar. I wish we were all that lucky. Sigh. Padma explains that she has a book in the works with Anthony Bourdain. I have a brook proposal of my own: 'Best of Both Worlds Tour 2012: Restaurant Reviews by Marilyn Hagerty and Pete Wells. Send them both to the same restaurants, say, like Guy's Americain, and see what happens. Anyone in? I'd read the s--- out of that. Anyway! The Quickfire Challenge is for the chefs to create sweet and savory holiday dishes using Truvia Baking Blend with Sugar. They all draw knives, and everyone's say "Off Limits," except Lizzie's! That means that all of the chefs have to share that one knife. As such, most of the chefs try to cut things with other utensils rather than simply trying to make something that doesn't require cutting. Joshua actually grabs the knife first, right out from Lizzie's nose. The chefs make various dishes, but it was Danyele's that I really wanted to try. Bread pudding? Goooood. Ham? Goooood. This challenge actually made me think of that Friends episode where Rachel makes a "traditional English trifle" with a layer of beef and peas  because a page of her cookbook was ripped, so she melded two recipes together. Just me? OK. 

In the end, Brooke's cheddar apple pie wins the day. She had said that it was a little safe, but that she'd take safe over bad. I don't know if her dish was safe or just simple. Her dish probably had the most sensory recognition for Marilyn, so if it was bad, Marilyn would've known, as opposed to the more exotic dishes that Marilyn had never heard of before, let alone tried before. I will say it must've stung for Micah to hear Marilyn call his tamale a taco.. The minute Micah questioned whether Marilyn would know what a tamale was I yelled "For shame!" and "Food snob!" at my T.V. (in theory),  but you know what? She didn't know what it was. Wah waaah. Anyway, kudos, Brooke -- your "homey" dish was delicious!

On to the best Elimination Challenge everrr with Chris Pratt and Ana Farris. I love these two. Not only am I a huge Parks fan (I contemplated writing this whole recap in Tommy-speak), but I was an Everwood fan as well. (Amy and Ephram 4eva!) I also think Anna Farris is a really great physical comedian. In my humble opinion, House Bunny is underrated. Sooo, I was overall very excited to see these two make an appearance in the Top Chef kitchen. The premise is that they are home for the holidays and it's the chefs' jobs to create a winning homecoming party menu for them. Chris and Anna like everything -- seriously they apparently eat things I wouldn't even touch. Anna reveals that Chris and her brother hunt together. Chris makes a joke about eating squirrel, but, um, I have no idea if it was really a joke or not. While they don't give much in the way of restrictions except for HUMMUS! and y'know Anna being pregnant and all (no raw fish, etc.), the chefs are able to go crazy. So, the chefs start formulating their ideas. Josh wants to redeem himself in the pork world. John talks about making a chowder he learned form the great seafood chef Rick Moonen, his former boss. Oh, and also Kristen and Stefan do some cooking of their own as they continue to flirt. In fact, later in the episode, Stefan says to Kristen "I'm going to divorce you." I don't understand this relationship, but whatever. We'll just say they're work man and wife. We've all had those. Mine don't usually rub my feet, but to each her own.On to the party! We meet Chris and Anna's parents who are quite posh, if I may say so. When Anna's father sees the judges he says, "Welcome to Seattle." When Chris sees the judges he says "Uh-oh." Ha! (Sidenote: How cute is Chris with his mother after learning she thought she had broken the glass art?! I rewound that part, as well as him relaying the story to Anna multiple times.) 

At first, it seems the chefs are killing it. Everything the judge and Chris and Anna eat are met with "Mmms" and positive critique. Chris didn't know what real goulash was before he had Stefan's Brooke's lamb-stuffed squid is inspired. It's looking like these chefs are proving, once gain, that our chefs usually cook their best for celebrities. 'member how well our Top Chef: Texas chefs cooked for Charlize? Mmm-hmm.

Just as I'm starting to form that theory, the food starts suffering. Danyele already shares with Josh that she's nervous about her boar chop -- he doesn't care. But she also tells the judges she's nervous "like always." Shut up, Danyele! She needs a dose of Josh or John's confidence for real.  Eliza is also nervous that her elk meat is chewy and tough, so she cuts it thinner so it's easier to chew. Oy. The judges don't seem to mind the texture of her meat, but Tom comments that it's too thin, and her sides suck. Micah is worried about his celery puree. Josh's pork isn't seasoned. In true man-form, Chris responds to this dish by saying "It might not be great, but there's a lot of it," which, to be fair, was one of Chris' requirements. 

When the chefs finally head to Judges' Table, John gets kudos for his dish from Rick Moonen. Sheldon and Kristen are also up there. But ultimately the winner was Brooke… again! Four are on the bottom, and Danyele reveals to the judges that she doesn't know if she's cut out for the competition. Tom gives her some encouraging words, and you know what? She doesn't go home -- Eliza does. 

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I've already made my love for Eliza very clear last week, but then she goes and does the most Eliza thing ever. Since she seems to be getting sick, so instead of shaking the judges' hands "goodbye," she nods to each of them! I mean, this woman is wonderful. I'll miss you, Eliza! Good luck in Last Chance Kitchen against CJ and Tyler, which you can all watch HERE.

Until next week, Have a Nosh! And for those celebrating, Happy Chanukah!

 

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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