Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Boo! to Boo-Hoo for Boo Boo

Don't mess with Nina.

Hello, my little arancini! I know, I know -- enough with the arancini already! 

As we regroup with the chefs in the Stew Room after Janine's elimination, we find Sara crying. She feels responsible for Janine's elimination. Not only is she not responsible but Janine kicked some arse in her first go at Last Chance Kitchen, so don't worry about her! 

Travis is also melancholy and reveals that his father doesn't know he's gay, so he'll have to tell him before Top Chef airs. Wow. We asked Travis about what happened when he finally come out to his dad and you can read that HERE.

Time for the Quickfire! I have to admit I was pretty excited to hear about this week's Quickfire Challenge with Gail and Padma's mothers in the kitchen. The chefs arrive in the kitchen to find every item wrapped in aluminum foil. It's moments like these when I have to applaud our Magical Elves for doing that and be thankful I wasn't the one who had to wrap that stuff! The chefs are split up into Team Simmons and Team Lakshmi, and each team will have to create three dishes using every item obtained by Mrs. Simmons and Lakshmi as they run around the kitchen blindly selecting items for their team. I honesty can't tell which mom shopped better because at the end of the day, it was really about how the chefs used the items they got. All of the dishes seemed pretty solid except for maybe Bene, Brian, and Nina's soup. They threw everything but the kitchen sink in there. Ultimately, though, they made a delicious kitchen sink, and Team Lakshmi was victorious. The group splits 10K. If ever there was time to acknowledge Gail's fairness as judge, it's now. She voted against her own team!

The moms leave the kitchen, and in comes Glee's Lea Michele. Stephanie is very excited, saying, "We can hang out. It won't be creepy at all." It actually probably wouldn't because the thing is Lea is a huge Top Chef fan, so she's probably more starstruck than the chefs are! Lea issues the Elimination Challenge: the chefs have to cater a spooky Halloween party for Lea. 

"Dressed up as a pregnant nun once. Got laid."

Uhhh, thanks for that interjection Michael.

The chefs are split up into teams of two. Of note are Michael and Nina. Michael is pumped. While Nina is all like, "I'm stuck with Michael. I don't like him." And before you start thinking this is the beginning of a great Katherine Heigl rom-com, think again. Nina genuinely doesn't like Michael. 

Lea imparts her culinary likes and dislikes to the chefs. She's vegan but sometimes vegetarian. Loves cheese and spice. Hates beets. She likes fried things. Italian. She ready for a "party in your mouth." Most of the chefs hear fried, cheese, and Italian, and we end up with three arancini.

We also start off with two gnocchi -- Nick and Nina's -- but Nick is smart. He hears Nina is making gnocchi and changes course. Some may see this as a sign of weakness but guess what? If you're competing against the Chef de Cuisine of Scarpetta and she says she's making her/Scott Conant's gnocchi, you change your dish. 

While cooking, a couple red flags immediately emerge:

1. Michael and Nina are not getting along. He keeps calling her his usual brand of "terms of endearment" and saying she's his "ace in the hole," and she's saying a five-year-old could make his arancini. Yikes.

2. Travis is using liquid nitrogen, so that just makes me nervous for some reason. He's also kinda starts laughing while Carlos talks to camera about the meaning of Dia de Los Muertos. To each his own.

3. Patty and Nick aren't going spooky; they're going for a fall theme. Patty says she trusts Nick. Let's hope she has reason to.

4. Justin is using beets, one of the items Lea specifically said she doesn't like. I'm starting to wonder if she reacts to beets like Noel Crane on Felicity. If you don't know what i'm talking about, watch this.

5. Bene and Brian are ready to tell -- excuse me, sing -- to diners "Come massage your palate with our spooky spa cuisine." Oy oy oy.

"Spa cuisine at a Halloween party? That's a little outrageous." Carrie needs to get out more!

After a day of prep, the crew go back to the house, and some of the chefs head to a haunted nursing home. This genuinely scared me.

It's time for the party! And it's at Mardi Gras World! Some of you may remember Mardi Gras World from the Season 5 finale. If you want to see how our fabulous production team built the challenge, watch this. The chefs set up. Shirley admires Louis' calmness, says he gives her a twinkle. I think Carlos and Travis kinda give each other a twinkle too because they work so well together! Also, Travis admits he was Slutty Santa for Halloween, and who wouldn't that give a little twinkle to?

In come the judges in costume. I honestly am happy I wasn't the one to have the conversation with the judges about what they'd be wearing. I'm just happy it happened. Hey, Andy Cohen's there! 

Lea dines with Tom and has a lot to say about what they ate. Everyone's pretty much in agreement that there were too many arancini, but the award for best arancini goes to... Patty! Yay, Patty! She and Nick actually make a great team too. Patty felt confident because she trusted Nick. We'll see if she can come into her own as a leader as the season progresses. And they had nothing to worry about their concept because Tom made a point of saying that their colors were quite Halloween-y, if not spooky.

Oh, it's also deemed that "spooky spa cuisine" isn't a thing.Ultimately, while Nick and Patty find themselves on top, Carlos and Travis win.

Bene and Brian, and Michael and Nina aren't so lucky. Nina and Michael continue to argue until Judges' Table with Michael saying that Nina "needed him in the beginning." Not quite sure what he's talking about, but if he's referring to his tour in Episode 1 so she would know how to get around New Orleans, I'm going to assume she would have rather gotten lost. Nonetheless, Nina gets a little taking-to at Judges' Tale for not being a team player, not tasting Michael's food. Was it just me or did Nina have that look on her face at Judges' Table that says, "I know i'm going home." It was an all-knowing smirk.

"I don't want to do this part," says Lea, referring to sending a chef home. Well, I can think of quite a few cheftestants and some viewers who would be happy to take your place in this instance because Michael "Boo Boo" Sichel goes home.

Or does he?

You'll have to watch him compete against reigning champ, Janine, in Last Chance Kitchen to find out, which you can do RIGHT HERE.

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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