Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Keep it Moving - Ep 1

Pride hurts some chefs competing for the chance to compete in Seattle.

Welcome back, my little Belgian knights! It's been a little over a month since I"ve had the pleasure of recapping for you (Masters), and much longer than that since Top Chef 9. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself! My name is Monica, and I'm Senior Editor here at Bravotv.com. I'm also a huge Top Chef fan and a total foodie (for lack of a better term.) I'll be recapping this season of Top Chef: Seattle.

I'm so excited about this new season of Top Chef, and I kinda loved this premiere. Last season, we aired casting, which we've done again, but switched up the process a bit. This time, the contenders faced four of our judges in challenges created by the chefs. As a viewer, I loved seeing Tom, Wolfgang, Emeril, and Hugh in their natural habitats, and seeing the chefs put in a real kitchen right away.

First, we find Tom at Craft in Los Angeles, where his chefs had perhaps the toughest challenge of them all -- to perform in the kitchen during a real service. We've got tortellini, butchering, sweating! We learn quickly to never "nick a breast." Heed these words carefully, men!

We meet John, who is apparently the most hated chef in Dallas. He's been in the industry for quite some time, and at the age of 54, has a reputation for being hothead. He does not look 54. 

We meet Micah Fields, chef at The Standard Grill. I love The Standard. Not only is the food great, but the ambiance and servers are awesome. I actually enjoyed a lovely Autumn Bramble the other night in my attempt to patronize downtown restaurants in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and met a lovely group from Denmark in town for work and the marathon. They asked me about my cocktail (brambles are one of my favorites), and we bonded. It was a true New York moment, and I'll just thank Micah for that, even though he had nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, although Micah might be bringing people together on the East Coast, he's tearing fish apart in Tom's West Coast kitchen. In fact, Tom has to instruct Micah on how to filet a fish more efficiently (effishently?) Then there's Anthony who's fileting duck with a paring knife -- a choice Tom quickly questions. Jorel is butchering chickens, but doesn't ask Tom how'd like them and cuts the meat off the bone -- something Tom didn't want. Whoops!

Next, we head to one of Emeril's Vegas restaurants, Table 10 at the Palazzo. First thing I notice is that we already have two chefs with handlebar moustaches. In case you weren't counting. Emeril's challenge? To cook soup, saying, "It's a true test to see if you're a great chef." If this doesn't show what a student of Escoffier Emeril is, I just don't know what does. Auguste Escoffier is quoted as saying, "Of all the items on the menu, soup is that which exacts the most delicate perfection and the strictest attention." Try to think back to some of your most memorable amuses or dishes, and they very well may have been soups,. I'm thinking of one right now -- John Besh's cucumber soup at August in New Orleans. One of the best things I've ever consumed.Anyway! Tina goes for a "layered" soup with seafood, chorizo. Although I'm all for anything with chorizo, her soup sends her home. We learn that Kristen and Stephanie are really close -- they live in the same apartment building and have matching tattoos, but they make sure to tell us they're not lesbians. Kristen reminds me of Jenny Shimizu. Is it just me? We also learn about boob sweat -- apparently a real issue for female chefs. We also learn that if he makes it to Seattle, Josh may miss the birth of his daughter. Wow. We meet the adorable Jeffrey Jew whose chilled soup first gives Emeril pause. "You got a chiller in your pocket?" To which Emeril laughs at his own joke, and I subsequently laugh at Emeril. Emeril is a sweetheart, so him laughing at his own comments just cracks me up. But, Jeffrey pulls it off, and gets ta ticket to Seattle. The girls are separated. Kristen stays. Stephanie and Tina go home. 

We head back to Tom's kitchen. I just want to give a real kudos to Tom's regular staff for really teaching the Top Chefs what to do and not getting annoyed with them -- signs of true chefs. John gets a coat!

We head to Wolfgang's kitchen where he asks his chefs to make omelets. Two things about omelets: 1) everything I know about making one is from Jacques Pepin on PBS. Always use a whisk rather than a beater. 2) I still remember the best omelet I"ve ever had, and it was on Cape Cod years ago, sooo omelets aren't only harder than they look, but they can really stay with a diner.

We meet firecracker Carla, who was married to the owner of Rao's. She has a sort of early Janice Dickinson look going on, and she's loud, sooo predict she will probably ruffle some feathers in the kitchen. We meet Tyler Wiard whose omelet goes brown pretty quickly. Wolfgang assures the chefs that he's "an easy guy as long as you do it exactly the way [he wants.] Ha! And, "The stove is like a woman. It never does what it's supposed to." HIlarious, Wolfgang. Ahem. Tyler isn't the only one who has problems with his eggs. Daniel who has already told us how well his Washington-based restaurant is doing has a layer of grease on his. "Accept, adapt, move forward," he says. Perhaps instead of moving forward he should remake his dish. Carla doesn't like the look of hers so she covers with garnish. Wolfgang tells Eliza to add red meat, she does, and she moves forward. In fact, everyone moves forward except for Daniel, and he is not happy about it. I almost forgot Kuniko, who was a banker in Japan before coming to America to pursue her culinary career. I'm fascinated by her already.

After they earn their coats, the chefs are treated to an omelet tutorial by Wolfgang -- a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

Next we head to Hugh's kitchen at Empire State South in Atlanta, Georgia. Hugh tasks the chefs with making salads, something Hugh apparently lives on -- look at him! We meet Bart, a Belgian knight. As we saw in ther previews, Hugh asks him if he wears a suit of armor in the kitchen. No? That's good. Belly laughs. Bart's a looker. Gina describes herself as a "ferocious tiger." We'll leave that alone for now. Danyele is flaring her tomato and Gina the Ferocious Tiger thinks she should know better, that it's "ridiculously amateurish." The Belgian is making a mess with the blender and Hugh calls them out on their messiness. As Hugh offers his final critiques, Gina says "You'll make me cry -- stop it." Hugh retorts "Well, no, we could make you cry." Then tells her her salad looks nice." Ouch. Hugh is feeling saucy. Aaand Gina goes home. She goes to the Land of Overly-Proud Chefs with Daniel. Gina, of course, insists tha Hugh has made a mistake. She's not a chef. She's a movement. Wellll, then she won't mind moving on out of the kitchen. Oh! Maybe I'm feeling saucy too.

We're back with Tom where he makes his final decisions. Lizzie impresses from the start with her tortellini-making skills, and makes it through. Micah moves forward because he entered that kitchen like a boss. Everyone else goes home.

And so, we have our 15 chefs moving on to Seattle.

The preview of the rest of the season looks great. We've got Chris Pratt and Anna Faris making hilarious jokes, we've got the gorgeous Curtis Stone in a flattering sweater, we've got Kristen getting a foot rub from an anonymous chef. It's going to be a good season.

Who are your early favorites?! Let me know in the comments below! Until next week, Have a Nosh!

 

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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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