Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Sears Home Delivery - Ep 9

John Tesar will be missed... by one person at least.


Hello, my little Kramer knives. (I actually use a Global chef's knife, so i feel like a poseur, but I'll get over it.) In this past week's episode of Last Chance Kitchen, reigning champ CJ competed against fellow tall drink of water, Bart, in a game of chicken. They had to make something pretty bland -- a chicken breast -- and make it bold… and beautiful. Bart was obviously fretting over his seasoning, which Tom said improved. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to get him the win. And so, CJ moves on to live another week! I think it's time to start calling him Chef Hot Ginge a la Prince Hot Ginge (Harry). I'm getting over bronchitis -- please allow me this one moniker.

Back in the Top Chef Kitchen, Padma introduces Bob Kramer of Kramer Knives to the chefs. We just watched Sheldon sharpen his knives in the chefs' quarters earlier, so methinks he might do well in this challenge. We also saw Stefan use wrinkle cream, though, so I'm not sure what to think about anything. A sharp knife is a chef's most important tool. When I moved to Manhattan, I invested in a good chef's knife, and it was one of my best purchases. I don't know if I could swing a Kramer knife, but I'll add it to my list. Bob demonstrates how his knives cut through rope! If we had shown him cutting through a soda can, I would've lost it. You know, if you call in to Top Chef in the next 30 seconds, you get not one, but two inches of Kramer knife! But that's not all!…

The chefs engage in a knife skills relay race. Since the mise-en-place relay race is my seasonal favorite, I'm happy to see another spin on it! The remaining chefs break up into three groups of three. First, the chefs have to turn their dull knives into razor sharp blades that can cut paper. In a weird power play, John declares his team ready even though Kristen isn't. And in another weird turn of events, Kristen's knife easily cuts throughout the paper, and John's doesn't! It's OK  because they still beat the Green Team of Stefan, Brooke, and Lizzie. Round Two is to tourne 50 potatoes. I don't think I"ve ever eaten a potato that shape in my life. Maybe at a bat mitzvah? Anyway, Josie cuts herself, so she's disqualified, leaving John and Kristen to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, they lose to Micah, Sheldon, and Josh by two potatoes! For the final round the chefs have to break down two rabbits. Josh says it's ilke breaking down a cat. I'm leaving that one alone because I honestly don't want to know how he knows that. Micah wins and gets immunity. Nice work, Micah! Let your talent speak for you!On to the Healthy Choice Elimination Challenge! We've been celebrating our tenth season of Top Chef on Bravotv.comand what better way to do so on the show than to look back at the season's most controversial dishes? This time, though, the chefs have to improve upon them, make them healthier. We learn a lot of things in the kitchen. John Tesar is Jimmy Sears (we know this already, but it still blows my mind every time I hear it.) John isn't the only Top Chef Bourdain has written about, by the way. Read Medium Raw for Season 4's Erik Hopfinger. We learn that Brooke was bigger at one point. Josh is going to make pork again. Lizzie's scallops smell a little rank. And finally that Sheldon could yell out "yahtzee!" at any moment. I forgot about that game. 

The chefs will be judged by Padma, Tom, Wolfgang, and joining chefs Jonathan Waxman, Wylie Dufresne, and most recently-crowned Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino.

For the most part, the chefs do a decent job, but, for better or for worse, three dishes stand out. First up is Kristen's, which wins. You could just tell she nailed it. I think, more than any of the other chefs, Kristen figured out a way to take an unhealthy meal like a chicken pot pie, and capture its flavors in a healthy way. Way to go, Kristen. As Alicia Keys might scream, "This girl is on fiiiiiiire!"

The other two dishes worth discussing are John's and Lizize's -- the bottom two. Well, we know what went wrong with Lizzie's. She had bad ingredient. It could be argued that John's was doomed from the beginning too. He cooked risotto in a non-flat pan, so his grains cooked unevenly. He knew his pan wasn't right, but didn't do anything to change it. At Juges' Table, he obviously mentioned the pan's shortcomings, as, I think, any of the other chefs would. But, Josh chimed in. I have to give credit to John for keeping his cool, but was Josh right? I honestly have no idea. I will give John the benefit of the doubt that an ideal pan wasn't available, but as a chef, you need to figure these things out. Even if the rice had been cooked correctly, I still don't know if the judges would've been happy with John's flavors.

Luckily (I think), LIzzie and John were able to make a second dish to decide who would stay and who would go. The dish they had to recreate was CJ and Tyler's doomed pork burger from the Pike Place challenge. I wonder if you guys think that's been the moment of the season so far? If not, let me know which moment you would have selected in the Comments section below.

John decides to go with a mediterranean theme and makes a lamb burger. I just had my favorite lamb burger, the Breslin burger, only a couple days ago, so I was psyched for the idea. Lizzie makes a chicken burger. I actually thought making a chicken burger was rather risky because it can dry out very quickly. Tom seemed to like both of them, but ultimately Lizzie won, and John goes home. But! John gets to compete against CJ in Last Chance Kitchen, which you can watch HERE. It's a good showdown, and we'll discuss it next week.While I was disappointed in his absurd pickle predicament in his final moments on the show, I'm bummed to see John go, honestly. I know that some of the chefs (and viewers) had their differences with him, but he's extremely talented, and i think he kept everyone on their toes. With one of this season's most divisive characters gone, I wonder who they'll all turn on next!

I also can't wait to see who made the matzoh balls that have Gail so riled up in the preview for next week's episode! 

Until then, 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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