Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

In The Weeds

Sam Talbot outlines the issues he takes with this episode.

First off, let me give the proverbial shout out--I was just in St. John. The plan was to spend a few days working on a project, but due to accommodations, flight and weather problems (hope Hurricane Dean does as little damage as possible), the project is postponed. So the shout out goes to Billy and Blake, and everyone else I met there--thanks, and hope to see you guys soon. Coldstone Creamery. Don't tell anyone, 'cause I'm not suppose to eat it, but I had it once. It's good. Real good. And I figured when in Rome mix in as many mix-ins as humanly possible. carlos_307_01_320x240

And the winner of the most inappropriate use of foam during a TC challenge goes to... It's not hard to pick this winner, so I'll move on to the Elimination Challenge.

Remember, guys? Remember your first TC experience? Remember how you thought you were at a party? Then suddenly you had to compete? And it caught you off guard? Remember that time? Seeing their shocked faces when they realize they had to cook instead of party reminds me of how babies play peek-a-boo--no matter how many times you do it, they're authentically surprised each time. I kind of felt bad for them--I know what a night on the town would have done for their spirits. But a few of them couldn't get over the issues it caused: bourdain_307_04_320x240.jpg

Issue One: CJ described it as their "goofy happiness", which (I think) was a euphemism for "We're kinda-already-drunk-if-not-completely-hammered." For any respectable chef this should be a non-issue.

Issue Two: Wardrobe. As far as the whole attire/gender complaint, all chefs--man, woman, or Hung's monkey--deserve to be protected in the kitchen. The producers should have made their clogs available. Didn't they learn anything from Hubert Keller telling Cynthia to leave the kitchen because her shoes weren't safe in Season One? As far as shirts, Tre didn't seem to be using his--someone could have borrowed it. They also apparently had aprons available (as well as bad hats).

Issue Three: And I quote, "Everything is F*&@d." In the kitchen, when things are f'ed, you have about five seconds to be "demoralized" before you need to get over it (and yourself). I've found myself literally knee deep in, well, what you don't want to be knee-deep in. I've cooked in a kitchen with a broken fan and vomited every night from smoke inhalation. I've climbed on roof mid-dinner service to repair (or further break) the aforementioned fan. Things get f'ed on a daily basis. A chef kind of has to like that aspect of the job (just a little bit) because at the end of the night, you will know you were victorious. I guess Sara didn't read "Kitchen Confidential". But I can totally understand having a bad day--I had my share--but CJ's pep rally would have been all I needed.

Issue Four: Team Challenge and Howie. How to deal/work with Howie? I don't know. Maybe it's some pack leader-Dog Whisperer technique? Whatever it is, I'm sure I would have handled it in the worst possible way. There are a few patient leaders (Tre, Brian) so maybe they'll figure it out before all is said and done. But until then, it seems like Howie won't rest until he fulfills his own prophecy. Why Issue Four Is An Issue Ever notice that the judges like to put the blame on the other chefs for not correcting a fellow chef's behavior? So far the in this Judges' Table, they've blamed both Sara and CJ for not stopping Howie's Howieness.

Issue Five: Cooking for your customers and your judges. On one hand, you have blasted clubgoers. On the other, you have, well, you know who you have. The trick is (and don't take my word for this) you have to kill two birds with one perfectly-executed stone. Your first goal is to nail the challenge as it was explained. The second is to figure out a way to hit it out of the park. Tre's dish was a perfect example of this. Nicely done, man.

Side Bar: During the commercial break, the Bravo announcer told us that a Bombay Sapphire cocktail pairs perfectly with Dale's ice cream recipes. Please, pretty please, will someone out there try this, umm, interesting pairing and let me know how it goes? CJ, thanks again for hilarious commentary. You're the guy in the confessional interviews I wished I could have been.

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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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