Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Stifler's Mom Is Saucy

Harold Dieterle on Jennifer Coolidge, cooking leftovers, and why chicken's feet are tops.

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I thought that this was one of the better challenges that I've seen for far. Leftovers is very smart. Except... The one ingredient that I wish hadn't been there for the Quickfire Challenge was the sweetbreads. This is why there were so many quickfire dishes with Sweetbreads. Most of those contestants have worked with them before. If it was among the choices in front of me, I would have chosen it, too. It's a no-brainier.

There were a lot of ingredients up there that require a long cooking time. You can brine, poach, and crisp a sweetbread in under an hour. That table had so many ingredients. I was watching Josie grab these giant oxtails, and I thought "No! Grab the small ones! Those things aren't going to cook in two hours!" I saw Cliff trimming up his oxtails, and I wanted to show Josie, "Look at Cliff! Look! You have to make them smaller!" Two hours to do a huge piece of meat like that is quite a push.

A lot of viewers were probably freaked out by the chicken feet, so let me explain really quickly: Chicken feet are really fantastic for sauces. They're used a lot in Chinese cooking, and especially in wonton soup broth. There is a ton of gelatin in the chicken feet. It's what gives the broth its body. And best of all, it's a serious amount of protein. I thought the selection of ingredients was fun and cool and it was fun watching Marcel mix up the pig's blood and make the emulsion. I don't know how well it tasted, but it was interesting. I thought Elia's kidney and crusted potato salad was kind of a cop-out. You've got two hours, come on, show me something.

As for the Elimination Challenge, here's my take: Going into someone's restaurant and using their leftovers sounds really daunting. But that restaurant -- once you see them standing in there, walking around all these fabulous ingredients, it's not really leftovers at all. When I open my restaurant I hope to have leftovers around like that.

I guess was just looking for some decadent food. You have Stifler's mom up there, she's a saucy chick. Who's bringing it over the top? And I liked seeing Betty trying to get everyone together on what they were making. I thought that conversation should have happened at someone point, instead of pulling a menu out of the air. Particularly for a tasting menu, you don't know if there's going to be a cohesiveness among the menu. You have to coordinate those flavor profiles. They're all good at working as a large team, they just never choose to. They clearly do a nice job helping each other plate every thing and get it out there. You want everyone to work together. But planning a menu? It's silly to not work together as a team for that.


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I was sad to see Josie sent home. I really thought she was going to tear it up at some point, but she never really hit her mark. She has an infectious smile, you were always pulling for her, and it was a bummer to see her go.

As for Marisa, I thought being a pastry chef was a disadvantage, and she never really did anything for me. Even in the pastry competitions. I don't know what those girls were thinking when they put that whole odd citrus plate together. When I see food, I want to see something that's going to make me hungry. And that plate did not do that. At all. Tom is not wrong. He has very cut and dry opinions. He's very clear that he doesn't want all those options. That he wants the contestants to focus on something that's going to be really exceptional. And I didn't see a lot of that, aside from the paella. I have to say, it looked incredible. It looked like something I would have torn into and eaten every bite of. And it was good to see Mikey on the winning side instead of his usual droopiness at the judges table. It's like that guy has to put on a Kevlar vest every time he goes in there. So I thought that was cool.

One of the thing that really pisses me off, having been a part of the show, is watching the guest judges just tear apart the contestants. First of all, these kids are getting thrown in to a new kitchen every single contest. There's no sense of familiarity. They're just getting thrown in. They had two hours to pick a dish and bang it out, and when you're cooking for that many people, to hear a guest judge say: "Oh, I would have done this, I would have done that. ..." That's the challenge I want to see. I would like to see some of those judges have to pull off something like this. I'm convinced that these contestants would give them a run for their money.

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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