Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

Executive Producer Shauna Minoprio gives you the insider scoop.

Considering the nature of this week's episode, I'm going to try and anticipate some questions viewers might have...

1. We allowed the chefs to have a camera because one of them had asked for one because it was their last night and they wanted to mess around and have some fun. I think we all expected them to film themselves doing impressions of Tom and Padma and some of the producers (that's what usually happens and it makes for fun extra content for the Bravo website).

2. The chefs know that there is someone on the production team sleeping in a room nearby and that they can go to them at any time if they have a problem. Marcel could have done this but did not. We do not have producers sleeping actually in their rooms -- it has never been necessary to police grown adults and industry professionals like that.

3. The next morning, I got a call from a field producer who had arrived at the loft to find Elia and Ilan without any hair. I was furious with them as I felt it was kind of a juvenile prank to pull which undermined the dignity of the show (little did I know there was much worse to come).
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4. Marcel did not come to the production team at any point the next morning to make a complaint about what had happened so it took a little while for us to find out. He was in an interview and towards the end he mentioned it rather casually to the producer who was interviewing him. The producer then asked him for the full details and notified me.

5. Once we saw the tape, we had absolutely no choice but to ask Cliff to leave. I was very sorry to have to do so, as it was clear it was supposed to be a prank but it clearly went too far.

6. From the moment Tom told him he had to go, Cliff handled himself like a total gentleman. afpblog_tom211_320x240.jpg

7. I think Marcel was genuinely sorry that Cliff had to leave like that. (I think I would have been a lot less forgiving -- it must have been pretty unpleasant to be woken up to that). afpblog_cliffm211_320x240.jpg
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8. It was a little embarrassing in front of Chef Eric Ripert. We were so proud to have him on the show and he had been impressed by the meal in Santa Barbara. It was all going so well, dignified and all about great food. Then all of a sudden we were at judges table with one chef missing and two chefs missing their hair. It was like we had been hit by a crazy-bomb.

9. It was a strange irony that the judges felt that they most likely would have eliminated Cliff anyway. They could still have decided to eliminate another chef but chose not to. I think it was the right call, as it would have felt unfair to eliminate a chef for being the second worst in the challenge -- especially with the stakes being so high. I've been producing television for about 12 years now and nothing quite like this has happened to me before -- it was a strange and uncomfortable situation for everybody. Of course it does make for a very compelling episode and for a producer 'compelling' stories are the holy grail. But this is one story I would prefer not to be telling.
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In my next blog I am going to try and answer some of your questions -- I know I have been very bad at responding to these which must be very annoying. Although I won't be responding to questions like, "How did a talentless hack like you get this job?" Those questions will be answered in my forthcoming autobiography, "Sleeping your way to the top, my life in television." Until then...

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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