Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Restaurant WarGames

Josie and Kristen's relationship in the kitchen was a complicated one.

Hello, my little communal tables. (I would have bought them for you, Sheldon!) We all know this recap is going to get pretty bleak pretty quickly. I know you all feel lost, confused. You're so cold. You're so cold. But, we'll get to that shortly. Let's pretend for a moment that we don't know how this episode ends, k?

It's time for Restaurant Wars! (For real this time.) As a result of Micah's elimination last week, the men's team is down a chef. They do, however, have Stefan, a chef whose been through this challenge before, and Kristen admits that she's never led a kitchen with this much output. So, maybe it all comes out in the wash?

The chefs head to the Georgetown Ballroom where they discover that their kitchens aren't set up. Oof. They each select their spaces -- men are inside, ladies are outside -- and go shopping for decor and ingredients. Josie and Brooke debate napkin color, and Brooke questions Josie's level of class. Eek, Brooke. Eek. We learn that -- according to Stefan -- Europeans like flowers, pebbles, and little vases. Um, sure? We also learn that dried mung beans are in aisle 6. G-d, I wish every grocery store employee was as competent as that guy. I had a very hard time finding my natural hand soap this weekend due to poor advice from a grocery store employee. I want that mung bean guy everywhere! Yes, this is the type of stuff that stands out to me while watching an episode. Moving on...

Sheldon might have a tough time reining in Stefan when Stefan quickly puts the kabash on Sheldon's desire for communal tables. I'm not saying Stefan isn't right -- he has opened quite a few successful restaurants. But, presumably, Sheldon wanted a certain vibe in his space, so shutting him down completely was a little harsh. But, seems like Sheldon will lay his claim to Urbano where the food is concerned since neither Josh nor Stefan have cooked Filipino cuisine before.

And the painful prep begins...

Kristen explains that she wants to touch every dish that goes out. Mmm...

Josie says she's off to go roast her bones for her bouillabaisse stock. Sheldon actually goes off to roast his chicken wings for his dish.

A bit later -- honestly not sure how much later -- Kristen asks Josie, "Have you started roasting?" Josie responds, in a very soft voice, that she's about to, as if Kristen had just interupted her, um, looking into nothingness? This is when I realized that Josie was kind of checked out. There just seemed like there was a wall, that Josie lost interest, that she wasn't paying attention anymore. What happened in the time between Josie leaving the main room to go roast the bones and Kristen having to ask her if she started doing it? As we watch the ladies prep, it comes to light that Josie still hasn't started her bones, and now there's no time. She'll do it the next day and she's confident that she can get it done. Some people say if you believe something you can achieve it. I'm not sure sure Josie actually believes she can achieve it anymore. "That's how I cook -- I don't rush things." Oh man. Kristen, visibily red in the face, walks out of the kitchen. I would've screamed my head off, which isn't the correct response either, but neither is giving up.

Back at the house, we see adorable artwork from Brooke's daughter, but we also see less-than-adorable complaining from Josie to her competitors! She explains to Josh and Stefan that she doesn't agree that all the dishes should be created a la minute, but she's a soldier. She's just a soldier. Well, Josie, even if you don't help your chef by saying why cooking everything a la minute might be detrimental to the team, being a soldier is doing things when your chef wants them done. And you didn't do that. (You can tell when I start addressings chefs directly that I'm annoyed.) Josh says, "If they cook the fish to order, they are gonna go down." Oh, how right he ends up being."It's Game Day!" Thanks, Sheldon. The men's team is looking good -- like a group? gaggle? of menehune. The ladies' team not so much. The bouillabaisse stock still isn't done and won't be for quite some time. "Patience," Josie says. Grrr. Time is running out on the stock and the gelatin hasn't been added yet, so Kristen makes a last-minute call to skip the gelatin and add cream and soy instead. Kristen would prefer one of the dishwashers in place of Josie. To which the dishwashers yell back, "Hey! I'm pulling my weight!" Just kidding. That didn't happen. But it sure would've been funny. Stefan and Brooke prepare their front-of-house staffs, while Lizzie warns Kristen that she's going to get inundated with having to look at everything. 

The judges arrive at Atelier Kwan first. Danny Meyer comments on the menu graphics. First up is Lizzie's charcuterie and the judges love it. Then they wait for their next dish. And wait. Out comes the bouillabaisse and they see something's wrong -- broth is missing. Well, that's because the foamer wasn't tested early enough and isn't working correctly. Josie's sensing "just a little bit of attitude" from Kristen. Well, if she could see me she'd be sensing a lot. I'm boiling over at this point. Besides the sauce, the protein isn't cooked consistently. On to Kristen's Beef Bourguignon. Not enough sauce. Brooke's cheese course is OK, unoffensive... unlike Kristen's play on a macaron/macaroon which Gail found very offensive. Not to the entire Jewish people. Just to herself this week. Ha!

The ladies are done... for now. The real action is coming at Judges' Table shortly.

I won't go through every course at Urbano, but will say that Sheldon led a team, and kept his cool while giving constructive criticism. His servers were fudging things up a bit, but he didn't yell. I wonder, though, what would have happened had Stefan had told him how annoyed the judges were with the hospitality bit. Although Stefan said he cared more about the judges' table than the other customers, he seemed to be way more hospitable to the diners -- who wouldn't leave -- than he was to the judges. And while it might be true that diners return to restaurants for service, not food, this is Top Chef. The food matters, and Stefan's dish was good. It was obvious that the men's meal was better. Every dish got a good review. So, we head to Judges' Table. The men's team wins! Sheldon wins a car! "We won Restaurant Wars witha Filipino concept -- that's aweomse." Sheldon's pride is infectious. 

And on to the women, where the judges really try to figure out what the chef happened. The dynamic between Josie and Kristen in that moment was an interesting one. Yes, Josie threw Kristen under the bus. When asked about her bouillabaisse and why there wasn't enough sauce she said, exasperated, that Kristen plated the judges' dishes. All she had to say was that she was sorry they didn't get more, since Gail had already complimented the flavor.

But Kristen does fall on her sword, and takes responsiblity for everything, alluding to a lot of changes that would have been made in "hindsight," that crazy bitch. I will say that while Kristen taking responsibility was commendable, I also got the sense that she was waiting for either Josie or the judges to save her from herself.

Also, and I think this is worth noting, the judges had issues with both of Kristen's dishes. I think -- and this is pure speculation -- that if both of her dishes had been flawless, or near-flawless, more information about what really happened with the bouillabaisse specifially would have emerged because it would have been the only dish that truly fell short.So, the judges are left with the hardest decision so far this season. And Padma and Gail get into it! Back in the Stew Room Josie moans that she's an easy target. Oh brother. 

As the ladies stand before the judges, Tom says "Padma?" as he usually does, waiting for the host to read the verdict, but this week he sounds a little somber. And Padma tells Josie she's safe, that Kristen is going home. Sigh.

We'll see if Stefan says "Kristen who?" next week as he has done after every elmination. Doubtful he'll forget Wifey that quickly.

I'm assuming many of you are quite frustred with this week's decision but hopefully reading Tom and Gail's blogs will shed a little more light on the decision than I'm able to. And remember, ther's still Last Chance Kitchen, so make sure you watch and root Kristen on!

Until next week, Have a Nosh! Also, look at these fun photos of Hugh eating wings in Koreatown -- they're sure to make you feel a little bit better.

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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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