Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

I Root For The Bruisers

What is Season 1 winner Harold Dieterle up to?

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First of all, I have to say thanks to everybody for reading last season's blogs, and it's good to have you all back for Season three. Things have been good. I got my restaurant, Perilla, up and running, and everyone has been pretty awesome about it. If you're in Manhattan, you should stop by. We're down on Jones Street between Bleecker and West 4th. And I have to say, we're doing some pretty amazing stuff. It's exceeding even my expectations. Come by and we'll feed you. Watching the first episode is like watching the first day of school. I get nervous. And I get a little jealous. We never had such a nice pad. I had to bunk with Stephen and Miguel in that little room. And Miguel -- that guy snores.
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I have to say, that quick fire challenge - I was really impressed with what Micah pulled out. I remember last year watching to see how Marissa would do in the competition. I think that sometimes a really specialized chef can have problems in a competition like this. And Marissa being a pastry chef, we got to see what her limitations and her strengths were. So I really liked the fact that Micah has a background like she does. She really knows her cheese, and I was really impressed with the dish she put out. I liked what Tre put together because it looked to me like something I would make. Ostrich is actually a great meat to use in cooking, and I like playing around with food in a similar way.
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Clay. You know, I have to say about Clay that I feel for the kid. He looks like he's smart, and I'm sure that a lot of great things will happen for him in his future. It was pretty obvious from the start though, that some people don't have the level of experience to pull off the kind of challenge that this show puts you through. It doesn't mean he's not a good chef. It just means that sometimes these competitions really highlight who's prepared for that pressure cooker environment. It's fun to watch these episodes, but it makes me nervous. I think two hours to prepare the dish is tough. Personally, I think I'd rather not serve a dish at all, than serve something that isn't finished.
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It's still too early to give out predictions, but I was impressed with Casey. I was impressed by Micah, definitely. And I like Mike and Joey - I always root for the bruisers. See you guys next week. They tell me that my blog will be going up every Thursday, just about the time you're getting bored and distracted at work, so keep checking back.

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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