Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Why All The Hate?

Why does everyone hate Marcel? Why did Betty cook a trio of soups? Harold Dieterle's asking these questions.

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First off, it's amazing to see how many chefs have vision issues. It was cool to watch Cliff, who is colorblind, adapt to the challenge. When I was just starting to cook, I always had a difficult time recognizing the center of the plate. This was very early on, when I was about 17 or 18. I went through a couple of chefs that would watch me plate food and it turned out that all of my presentations were off-centered until I finally had a chef that was patient enough to walk me through it. He helped me to kick the problem. But it's pretty interesting. A lot of chefs wear glasses or contact lenses. There are a lot of chefs with really interesting vision issues. Big Mike comes out with a victory. A Quickfire based around color is pretty interesting. And I've said it a lot, I think Mikey has talent. At this point, I think he's starting to shut up all the people that don't have any props for him. The kid's going in there, and he doesn't need to talk a lot of shit about other people, he just goes in, puts his head down and goes. I love that he has a chip on his shoulder. He's totally the dark horse and I am always pulling for the underdog. I think this performance really shut everyone up. I was really happy to see that.
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It really amazes me the amount of hatred directed at Marcel. Nobody can even keep their mouth shut. Everybody just gets into it with him. It's really amazing. I mean, you're around these people all the time, and look, there were times when there were people that I didn't want to be around, but my decision was to go and lock myself in the bathroom. That was my quiet time. You make that call when somebody is driving you crazy. Either lock yourself away for a while, or you get into a position where you're going to end up in a throw down. And it's everybody! Nobody likes Marcel! And I'm not really seeing him warrant it all. I don't know the guy -- I've not spent any real amount of time with him -- but I don't really get it. I don't think he's that bad of a guy. He's got a very specific style. It's not one that I'm into, but that's his style, and it seems like there's a lot of hating on him. And right from the first episode on. Yes, he's high on himself, he's cocky and he's obnoxious. Sure. I don't know, I'm not there. It's a little much.

Let's talk about the eliminations. I thought this was a fantastic challenge. In fact, I'll go as far to say that this was the first challenge that the contestants had that had a very very small amount of limitations. They were allowed to shop for food on their own, and they knew where they were going to be cooking. They knew their course. It was free reign, and they were allowed to cook a signature dish. And if you don't have a go-to dish that you can feel comfortable for, for one of the seven deadly sins, then you've got problems.

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I think two desserts was a mistake. I mean, seriously. Marcel does need to get laid. Where are the raw oysters? Where is the aphrodisiac? Where's the course for "lust" that's going to get you all horned up for later? It's not going to be cherries. That would most certainly not get the job done for me. I want raw fish, I want caviar, I want oysters. Something briney.


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And Betty. Wow. Sloth makes me think of barbeque. Last week, on vacation with my lady, I stopped of at this place in Atlanta called Poole's. Seriously incredible ribs. And that's the thing. Slow cooked. Northern Georgia. Braised. Cooked a really long time. Big and fatty. Betty did a trio of soups? What? The judges have been saying all along that they would prefer one thing that's really good rather than a bunch of mediocre things. And so, yeah, I thought she was the right decision to go. Combined with that odd green Quickfire mess. That was a visual disaster. Again, Ted Allen is not wrong -- it did look like lawn clippings.


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I was so happy to see another win for Big Mike. I'm not sure if he's going all the way, but I think he has a few more tricks up his sleeve. Maybe it's true -- maybe he does need to pop some pills to keep it real. Some chefs cook better when they're a little inebriated. I'm not one of those guys, but sometimes when my adrenaline gets a little out of control, I like a shot of gin. But maybe he's good with the vicodin. Everyone's got their poison after all. More cooking. Less drama. I can't wait for next week.

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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