Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

An Offal Mess

Gail: Mei's Menu Was Almost Flawless

Make Top Chef Mei Lin's Winning Dessert!

Richard: "Gregory Had the Better Ideas"

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Hugh: Mei's a Chef's Chef

Richard: "Winning Is Overrated"

Make Mei's Sushi Style Guac!

Gail: I Wasn't Surprised Doug Stayed on Top

Get Doug's Masterpiece Brisket Recipe

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Make Melissa's Seared Duck Breast Dish

Make Melissa's Mom's Egg Custard

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Make Mei's Inspired Duck a l'Orange

Gail Has No Problem With Blood

Make George's Cravable Breakfast Sausage

Gail Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

Make Doug's Winning Mussels

Tom Colicchio Answers Your Restaurant Wars Qs

Gail: It Wasn't Keriann's Day

Make Doug's Winning Braised Pork!

Gail: We Had a Tough Job This Week

Make Katsuji's Authentically Delicious Stuffing

Hugh: The Demise of Cornwallis and Aaron

Make Gregory's Winning Dumplings

Richard: Chefs Please Follow Instructions

Richard Tries Money Ball Soup

Make a Home Run-Worthy Popcorn Crème Brule

Hugh: Where There's a Will There's a Fenway

Gail: Keriann and Aaron Were Being ---holes

Make the Winning Surf and Turf

Gail: We're Taking No Prisoners

Richard Goes From Player to Announcer

Tom Talks Boston

Gail: There Was No Season 11 Underdog

Hugh Wants Nick to Be Kind to Himself

Gail: It Was Difficult to Let Go of Shirley

Big Easy to Ocean Breezy

Gail: The Final Four Are Like Our Children

Emeril Is Proud to Serve Shirley's Dish

Hugh: Enough With the Mexican Food Hate

An Offal Mess

Lee Anne Wong on the the difficulties of cooking for 60. Oh, and why you must try pig's leg.

This round is all about "leftovers." Now I debate calling the Quickfire this, because while unusual and not often eaten by the average American, these parts of the animal are consumed in many countries as a delicacy and mostly because other cultures are less wasteful and use the entire animal.

I myself will try anything three times, and have done so with most of these parts. I have come to love many of them, with the exception of chicken's feet (weird crunchy cartilage...my fellow Chinese cooks at Jean George's 66 used to get a good haha eating them in front of me and watching me squirm). Two hours is not a lot of cooking time, so to choose something like the veal tails to braise is not the wisest choice, especially if you are not using a pressure cooker. Veal tails, a smaller version of oxtails, are absolutely sublime if cooked long enough. The meat is tender and flavorful, and should fall off the bone. Same with pig trotters. Love 'em, but they need quite a long time to cook.

If you ever get a chance to consume what is known as a zampone, I would not pass it up. It is a full pig's leg stuffed with ground meat. You roast and braise it whole, and you traditionally serve it with lentils. Mmmmm, delicious swinerrific treat. Okay, back to the show. (By the way, I am back from Hawaii this week, and I must say, this dreary weather in NY is just not doing it for me.)

Watching everyone's recovery from the cheating incident, I find Betty's "poor me" attitude to be a little thin, especially when she can't help but take a dig at Marcel in interview. Both her and Frank's dishes are a little bizarre to me, as they opted to use two different varieties of offal, fish and meat. The pastry chef manages to pull off a little Greek Bolognese (probably the best dish she's done in competition so far). Miss Elia decided to brave kidneys, which usually need a little bit of soaking time to rid themselves of that uric acid taste, especially if they are veal kidneys.


When she actually argues about Chef Bernstein's decision to call her out in the bottom three, I was incredulous. First of all, Michelle Bernstein knows what she's talking about. It's ridiculous that any contestant should second-guess a professional who's been cooking twice as long as you. Secondly, most kidney dishes need a little sauce to make them palatable. Traditional sauces involve maybe some caramelized onions, or some sort of vinegar, with the acid and sweetness to cut through the richness of the kidneys. The rest of them seem to make most their dishes quite well. I think one of the solutions to the meats that required longer cooking time was cutting them off the bone into smaller pieces.

I absolutely love sweetbreads, so Sam's, Marcel's, Cliff's, and Ilan's dishes looked scrumptious to me, and I would have ordered them off a restaurant menu any day. Even Mr. Midgely pulled it out for Chef Bernstein. In the end Sam's beignets won. (Sweet, sweet deep-fried immunity.) If any of you ever get the chance to stop by any of Tom Colicchio's restaurants, order the sweetbreads. I think it were the sweetbreads at Gramercy Tavern (when he was the chef there) that first won me over years ago. His preparations are always spot-on. leeannesblog_60_320x240.jpg

Brunch at Social for Jennifer Coolidge and friends. Social is one of Jeffrey Chodorow's many restaurants. The contestants are given the opportunity to raid the walk-ins and pantry of Social to create a lunch for 60. This challenge is so great because Tom asks them to pair up in twos. No knife block, just "who do you want to cook with?" Alarm bells should be going off in their heads right about now to let them know that it'll be a double elimination due to last episode's fiasco. The Betty and Mia bus love is great ("I love you, even though I'm the one who called you out at judges' table last time"). When they do actually draw knives, it's amazing how the teams did not work together at all to create the lunch menu.


What I love about my season, and the people on it, is that while we were competing, we realized there was something much more important than winning...the customer. We came together to create a menu for Ted Allen that would "wow" his guests, and even when we were switched up, most of us helped each other out to ensure that the meal actually tasted good. No such luck with this group. leeannesblog_marcel_320x240.jpgleeannesblog_sam_320x240.jpg

Fun teams, Marcel and Frank (Eddie Munster and Tony S.), Marisa and Josie (because they are the only ones who trust each other, HA!), Sam and Cliff (the calm and collected workhorses), Carlos and Elia (cooking deeessert, not feeeesh), and Ilan and Midgely (also a comically relaxed pair). Many of the dishes make absolutely no sense when put together as a complete menu, with duplication of ingredients and formats (duos and trio run amok). Part of the challenge is figuring out what plates well 60 at a time. I learned that the hard way with the wedding challenge, and I am a much smarter cook since then. Ilan and Midgely do a great job with their risotto (lucky them, with 30 soft shell crabs lying around the walk-in).

The duck napoleon leaves quite a bit to be desired (overcooked, and all that puff pastry). The "awakening" palate cleanser is just plain weird. And the dessert doesn't seem like it would taste very good even as separate courses. So one thing you all may not realize is that if you are 5th or 6th course, that means you get an extra TWO HOURS to get your course ready for plating. Which is a wonder to me why they struggled to make and plate three salad dishes as a trio. (That's five hours cooking time. Ridiculous.)

So bye-bye Josie and Marisa. Again, both strong, accomplished women, and quite charming in person, may I add. I just don't think they were cut out for this competition. In closing, one of the reasons that I am so critical of some of these contestants is because of their astounding egos on camera. To be a chef, of course you need to have a sense of oneself, and a bit of an ego. Common sense will tell you that you need to keep that ego in check, especially if the rest of America is watching and you can't back up all of that bravado with some kick-ass food. Some of the best and most respected chefs in the world are the most humble. It is humility, and the understanding that there is always someone out there better than you, that should keep even the best chef motivated to continue learning until the day they die.

The next episode is where I actually join up with the production and in getting to know some of the remaining contestants. I'll tell you right now, the egos get bigger and the drama, as petulant and immature as it will get sometimes, only increases. Great TV. Until next week, go get your pigs' feet on. And for those of you still thinking about my chocolate and bacon cake, stay tuned. I'll eventually relinquish the recipe once my website is up and running.

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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