Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Whip It Good - Ep 8

Maybe the chefs should just worry about their own dishes.

Hello, my little husky muffstaches. Ew. 

This past week's Last Chance Kitchen episode pitted newly-eliminated Danyele against reigning champ, CJ, in a battle of the sandwiches. If any of you have been watching since Season 1, you'll remember that Tom issued a similar challenge in Episode 7, a challenge Harold Dieterle won. This time, though, it was all about the lunch meat, poking fun at Padma's critique of Danyele's berry challenge-losing terrine, that apparently tasted like balogna. Danyele decides to go the classic route and makes a turkey sandwich, something she eats daily. CJ puts a spin on a classic ham and butter sandwich. Although Tom does like simple food, I don't think Danyele's turkey sandwich is quite it. It's still Top Chef. I think if she had elevated the sandwich a bit, Danyele may have had a better chance. Farewell, Danyele. (I'm a poet, and I didn't even know it.) While she dukes it out with Kuniko in our Save a Chef vote, CJ moves on to compete another week. Go, Big Ceej!

OK, on to this week's episode. Sidenote: if you like Kristen's Top Chef hoodie, you can purchase one right HERE. I want one too!

The chefs wake up early to head to Bow, Washington to harvest their ingredient. What ingredient? They have no idea. They end up at Taylor Shellfish Farm. I hope Top Chef Master Kerry Heffernan is watching because he loves an oyster. Anway, the chefs start picking their oysters, and Josie gets stuck. No one wants to help her. Sadsies. Micah helps and falls on his arse. Life isn't fair. John is in heaven as he grew up in east end of Long Island and knows what he's doing. This reminds me... although it's about clamming and not oyster farming, I recommend the movie Diggers about clamming on Long Island. I have a feeling the lifestyles might be similar. Hey, Paul Rudd and Ken Marino are in it! The chefs have to use their harvested oysters to create either hot or cold dishes for Emeril. I instantly thought to make a po' boy for the New Orleans connection, but John one-upped me making oysters in the style of Drago's. Drago's is sooo good. They charbroil their oysters. He also mentions Brennan's, home of Bananas Foster. The chefs come up with some pretty varied preparations. Stefan smokes his oyster, which is legal now in the state of Washington. Lizzie highlights red currants. P.S. Josh called his shucking a "wrestling match for sure." I love that Josh compares everything to wrestling. We're going to need to come up with a name for him. His last name is Valentine, so the possibilites are endless. There was Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, so I vote for calling Josh "The Hammer" from now on, but it's up to you guys! Leave your sugestions in the comments below!

Ultimately, Bart, Josie, and John fall to the bottom. Lizzie, Micah, and Brooke end up on top. And Micah wins! He knew to bring the heat. He reveals that he's a single father with two daughters, and that he was just happy to cook for Emeril, whom he refers to as G-d to his Moses. Okaaaaay.

On to the Elimiation Challenge! The chefs are going to cook for one of Seattle's hottest sports teams -- the Rat City Rollergirls! I instantly thought of a very underrated film, Whip It. Watching the movie has pretty much ben my only exposure to roller derby, so bear with me. The chefs team up. John and Brooke. Bart and Josie. Micah and Lizzie. Joshua and Sheldon. Stefan and his wife, Kristen, who wink at each other. Each team must create a dish inspired by their rollergirl's name.

That evening, the chefs head to the derby to see what all the fuss is about. Although iti's relaxi-time, no one is relaxing. Josie is cheering, loudly, and everyone's getting annoyed. Not only does Josie's voice hurt "The Hammer's" soul, but he now says it's like nails on a chalkboard. When the chefs get home, Josie and Micah get into it. Josie tells the chefs not to bark up her tree. She says something about Micah getting out of the closet. Although this seemed like she was insinuating that Micah's gay, I didn't get that impression. What else would it have meant? I don't know. Either way, it did not go over well.

On a happier note, the judges enjoy coming up with fun roller derby names for each other. Or rather Hugh enjoys giving his fellow judges names. Emeril reveals that his is "Bam Bam," which rivals his porn name, Toughie Baker. Don't know what I'm talking about? You're going to want to watch THIS.

Padma gets "Padma Smacks me." Yikes!

Let's get to the food. John says that Brooke reminds him of his daughter, which is sweet and sad. Their food is received really well. 

Bart and Josie have some issues and end up on the bottom. Their dish actually reminded me a lot of a dish I just ate at Five Leaves in Greenpoint with beautiful forbidden rice with beets, sans any teriyaki. That dish was a winner, though. This one, unfortunately, was "interesting." Interesting crappy, in this case.

Stefan and Kristen had an, um, interesting, concept: an "inside-out" chicken, much like Paul Qui's dish for Charlize Theron last season, but the judges were missing the chicken. 

Lizzie and Micah receive kudos for their fried pepper, while Josh and Sheldon's fried offering, tempura, is lacking.

John, Brooke, Micah, and Lizzie make up the top group, with John and Brooke taking home the win.

Josh, Sheldon, Josie, and Bart fight for their right to stay in the competiion. Josh pulls a CJ, but admits he's doing it, and asks how Micah and Lizzie's pepper ended up on top. Worry about yourselves, chefs!

Luckily for Josh, the judges thought Bart and Josie's dish was worse than his and Sheldon's. In fact, it was "teriyaki terrible." Good one, Tom. Bart goes home for the dish -- he apparently needs to season his food more. The adorable Bart goes home graciously but notb efore mtioning that too much salt is bad for you. Touche, Bart. Touche.

Bart moves on to face another Amazon, CJ, in Last Chance Kitchen. Watch now!

See you in 2013! 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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