Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Mikey Loses His Eggs

Padma talks breakfast, and why helping out goes a long way.

I was so tired during Judges' Table on this week's episode that I remembered we shot the show during LA's heat wave and pretty much shot it in real time. So other than a few hours to sleep and bathe, we had little time to do anything else. I woke up early to take the contestants and Chef Lunetta to the Farmers market and then we all woke up even earlier the next day to drive from downtown LA to Malibu to meet the surfers in the morning just after their workout.


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The show has been a very interesting experience for me and I love doing it, but sometimes because we're shooting at events where we can't control the time, what gets cut is sleep and rest. I can tell you that I do have great sympathy for the contestants because none of us is getting very much sleep. The farmer's market gave them a sumptuous selection of beautiful, fresh ingredients with which to meet their Quickfire Challenge.

The corn in Mia's salad was luscious and sweet tasting, but like the guest judge, I too felt that she should have incorporated the heirloom tomato into the salad rather than drown it in a creamy sauce. This, remember, was in the height of summer in California, where both these ingredients are at their peak. Also, while I wasn't neccessarily so impressed by Marcel calling his watermelon a "steak" as our guest chef was, I have to tell you that that watermelon was probably the juiciest, sweetest, most fragrant piece of watermelon I have ever put in my mouth. The cool, velvet crunching sensation it made as it collapsed in my mouth was sheer ambrosia. And given the heat in our Top Chef kitchen, it was a welcome respite to have a raw challenge again.
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I was so tired and my eyes burned from being open too long, but the minute I got out of the production van, all my sleepy irritability was washed away by the gorgeous sight of the roaring Pacific Ocean. It felt great to be there, especially that early when dawn had yet to break, and the air still had a considerable chill to it. After being in hot kitchens, restaurants, and food fairs, that shore was a sight for sore eyes. The sand felt cool and firm, the breeze woke me up and the excitement of seeing all those huge waves perked me and the rest of the gang right up. We couldn't wait for the chefs to arrive and see what awaited them. padmasblog_mike_320x240.jpgpadmasblog_elia_320x240.jpgpadmasblog_elia2_320x240.jpgI love breakfast and I was very curious to see what everyone would come up with. I thought it said a lot about all the contestants that they pitched in and gave Mike some eggs at the beach. That spurt of goodwill was started by Betty. But how can you lose or forget a main component of your dish when so much is on the line? Mike seems to do better when the challenge to is make basic food. I have to say that Elia's dish was the best for me, hands down. It was delicious, sweet, savory, had the right proportions, and textures. It was warm, filling and satisfying, and felt like a guilty treat, not food that was good for you. It was really the best thing she's made thus far. Her mushroom soup from Thanksgiving was tasty, but unlike my co-judges, I didn't think it executed the "cutting edge" factor of the challenge at all. I did say so but that, like many things at Judges Table, didn't make it into the edit. But the three other judges thought it was good enough to win, and indeed it was a tasty mushroom soup.

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I thought Marcel truly took the challenge and ran with with it. If he had poured the gravy on top of the roulade it would have cut down on the dryness, and if the proportion of his cranberry gelatin had been reduced, he probably would have won. All in all, in spite of the fatigue and long hours, this episode was one of my favorites, and as I sit here in cold, windy New York on a December night, I am longing for a bit of that sweltering summer heat.
For those who are interested to read more articles by Padma, please go to the press room on her website padmalakshmi.com, and click on articles by Padma Lakshmi.

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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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