Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Real Housewives of Seattle

How do you solve a problem like John Tesar?

Hello, my little fried onions! Before, I get into this week's episode, I want to make sure you have all watched Last Chance Kitchen, or promise to immediately following reading my recap. Not only is the, ahem, Emmy-nominated, ahem, series back, but there's an added twist this season called Save a Chef, where you can, y'know, save a chef. Come back to Bravotv.com for more details on Thursday!

We start this week's episode back where we ended last week's -- in the Stew Room. Josh and CJ vs. John. They throw around their insults -- Josh refers to John as a redneck, and we kinda start to see where John may have picked up that reputation he talked about. As is my custom to defend the more controversial cheftestants each season (Hi, Marcel!), I find that the best thing to do is usually ignore them if they bother you. John's initial argument about Kuniko's elimination wasn't anything that needed to escalate to the point it reached, but, hey, i haven't been up for hours cooking Thanksgiving dinner, so my state of mind is a little bit different. A reference to "The Real Housewives of Seattle" is made. Let's hope dinner tables don't get thrown!

Cut to the cheftestant house, where we finally see who gave Kristen the foot rub we sneaked a peek of in this season's trailer -- and it's Stefan. I don't know why this surprised me. It shouldn't have. At all. I hate feet, so this whole scene grossed me out like you wouldn't believe.

Sooo, let's pretend it never happened and moved on to the Quickfire Challenge. We see a familiar face -- Top Chef Master Naomi Pomeroy, chef and owner of the highly-acclaimed Beast in Portland. She has brought two beasts of her own in the form of giant beef slabs. The challenge? To butcher a cut of the beef and create a dish in one hour. Again, love the challenge -- it not only tests the chefs butchering skills, but also gives them a pretty wide-open arena to make anything they want. A few things happen in the first few minutes

1. Josie/Carla can't get their cut off the hook -- my heart sinks for them, but they're taking it in stride.

2. CJ eats the beef off the bone to test it for his dish. I'm minorly grossed out again, but I shouldn't be. We also get a little more insight into how confident he is this time around. And he has reason to be. If you'll remember, when he first competed he was working as a personal chef, most likely working in personal kitchens, but he is obviously much more comfortable in a proessional kitchen now.3. Kristen cuts her self, but don't worry she's fine! And it wasn't her beautiful face!

4. Lizzie reveals that she learned to use a pressure cooker before she came to compete. Smart cookie.

Padma and Naomi start tasting the beef, and we discover that Naomi likes her beef a bit more done. This actually shocks me. Woud've presumed she was a medium-rare lover. None of the dishes are looking very done, but at least that puts them on somewhat of an even playing field.

John wins the Quickfire in a close race with CJ and Josh. Victory is the best revenge.

Tyler, with a failed dish, utters the words "I can't do anything right," and my heart breaks. But I'm lightened by the fact that I can now successfully cast the role of Eeyore in the Off, Off Broadway production of Winnie the Pooh I'm putting on.

On to the Elimination Challenge! We meet Brian and Mark Canlis, the namesakes of the iconic Canlis restaurant in Seattle. The challenge is to recreate the restaurants' original menu from 1950. Although in past seasons we've asked chefs to upate classics, this time we're asking them to recreate the original classics. Although many of the dishes are no longer served in modern restaurants, the skills needed to create them are still pretty essential. Each chef gets one dish -- including side dishes -- and John opts to expedite since he has immunity.

Some fun things happenin' the kitchen: Josh teaches us what calf fries are. I obviously missed that episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. Eliza makes up a "supreme" song, and I kinda fall in love with her. John tells us what a foodie his dad was in the '50s. I wonder if anyone knew what a foodie was in the '50s!

The chefs present their dishes, and the judges look almost tickled to be served such retro dishes. I have a flashback to Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain talking about serving classic dishes at the Rainbow Room. The chefs cook with mixed results. Stefan's calf liver is killer, and the judges are happy to see Stefan not turn the liver into ravioli. LIzzie makes herring with saltines! The judges love it. I"ve never had herring because i know my body will reject it. Just can't do it. Joshua's onion soup is just wrong. He had gotten mad at John earlier for telling him how important the chesse is, and you know what? He should've listened ot him. In fact, Noami wanted to "have a problem eating it." She didn't. John gives Josh a compliment (sorta) later saying it looked good. Actually he said that it looked like onion soup. That's not a real compliment. If you ever hear that, be offended. Brooke knows Josh's soup is salty -- I instantly respect her palate.Sheldon's mahi mahi is good, but Tom gets a bloodline. Josie makes a Flintstone-sized baked potato. It's aight.

But, honestly, who cares what anyone made cause Tom is digging those fried onions from Kristen. Every time the camera panned to him, he was putting more in his mouth. It as hilarious. In fact, they were so good they got Kristen the win, along with very well-executed mushrooms. She took her two "easy" side dishes as seriously as any of the chefs took their "more complicated" dishes, so kudos to Kristen. The desserts are all OK if not melted. You know it's the 1950s when you refer to something as "sherbet" instead of "sorbet." Amirite?! (I'm actually not right -- they're two different things.)

On the dark side of Judges' Table, Joshua reveals that John expedited like a "monkey." It didn't look like the judges were too keen on that assessment. CJ is on the bottom for his odd sous-vide kebab, but he gets to stay. Carla and Chrissy aren't so lucky. Carla's squab was just wrong -- undercooked for the diners, overcooked for the judges. She didn't pay attention to what the guys were doing in the grill room. Although I felt bad for Carla, I'm sure many of the chefs were happy to see her go. Her loud style wasn't received well -- Stefan couldn't even hear John's orders because she was talking so much!

Chrissy goes home for overdressed salad. But not just any salad -- the Canlis Salad. She had a difficult task, creating the only dish on the menu still there from 1950, but you could tell the minute we saw her tossing the lettuce in her bowl how overdressed and wilted it was.

But never fear, ladies -- you get a second chance in Last Chance Kitchen. (Did i mention that you should watch it now?)

I won't reveal who wins #LCK, but we'll discuss it in next week's recap, so stay tuned.

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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