Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Plane And Simple

Harold Dieterle shares his predictions.

So, Padma wakes everyone up at six to make her breakfast? When I saw that, I thought, "that would've made me cranky".

I also wondered if maybe the chefs had heard some rustling in the kitchen, so they knew it was coming. If you hear all that stuff moving around, you know something's going on. That being said, at the end of the day, being on set, you're so tired that there's a good chance that they were just sleeping like a dead person, and they didn't hear anything. I'm just not a morning person, and I know that before I have my coffee, I don't want to speak to anybody. You have to know what the challenge is, and, that said, you have to know who the sponsor is, too. And this week, you were going to have to do something in a blender. I'm not so sure everyone did use a blender. I know some of them made crepes, and this and that, but with all that fruit up there to use, you better make something for Padma to drink, and you better make something for her to eat. I think the only two people who did that were Hung and Brian. And monster blackberry seeds just aren't going to mix up well.
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From a technical standpoint, I just enjoy watching Hung cook. It was cool to see him win because I was always torn between who I thought was going to go all the way. I thought it was going to be him and Tre. And since Tre got knocked out, it was cool to see Hung working it. I like watching him at his cutting board. How he runs around like a whirlwind in the kitchen is completely unacceptable, but I've never really wanted to get involved in the whole "how is everybody getting along?" thing. I'm just talking about putting food together, watching him in front of that cutting board. I mean getting along with people matters, especially when you're working in a professional kitchen. I don't want to say that I don't care how people act, behave, this, that and the other... it does matter, I'm not saying it doesn't. That shit's not cool. I know for sure that in his kitchen, where he's Executive Sous-Chef at Guy Savoy, that shit's not going down. You've got to practice what you preach. But I don't want to get into that -- that's a whole other story.
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Geez. Welcome to New Jersey. The thing about this challenge is that it wasn't a heck of a lot different than our microwave challenge in Season One. It was almost the same thing. The only difference is, I felt like they had it a hell of a lot easier than we did, because not only did we have to heat our stuff up in microwaves -- granted, we probably have more experience using microwaves than they had using those heating contraptions on airplanes.

I don't know what I would do. You have to put your dish in there for ten minutes, and you don't know what kind of heat it's going to be throwing out. I was watching Tom and Bourdain, and they were just breathing fire on people, and I was like, "C'mon, guys. You ever heated food up in an airplane?" Obviously, there's some common sense stuff, like, "Stay away from the salmon", which I've been saying from day one. Stay away from the salmon. I hate to preach to the choir, but...stay away from the salmon.

I thought, when I saw Hung working with the sea bass: Tiffany did the same approach in the microwave, and she wound up winning the challenge. Those types of fishes have really high fat content, and they're great. They can take a beating, from a heat standpoint, and they keep their moisture really well. If I could've stayed away from fish, I definitely would've gone for a meat. Some pork or something, and gone in that direction. It's hard to say. Casey's veal dish was a ballsy move. Going with a meat that doesn't have a high fat content? And with cauliflower? That took balls. I was impressed. Here's someone-- especially in the last few competitions, people are saying, "I don't want to lose"-- and here's this girl, she's throwing it all out on the table, which I appreciate. Her dish: her presentation, and what she put with it, made me think, "yeah, I'd like to eat that". And that's coming out of an airplane oven.
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As an entertaining guy, as someone I'd like to hang out and drink with, to cook with, I was sorry to see CJ go. I don't think he made very much in the competition that made me hungry. But I think he's a cool guy, a nice guy, and I think he's really genuine. I kind of thought it was his time to take his bow.

In the culinary world, you take a private chef job because you want a safe lifestyle. And that doesn't mean you can't do amazing food, it means that you don't want to deal with a lot of the hazards of being a chef in a restaurant. You don't have to manage people, you deal with a family, you know what their quirks are, and you have to deal with that. But, I don't have anything against it. I still crave the adrenaline rush of dinner service every night, and some people don't have that craving. It's just like everything else, it's just different strokes for different folks.

I'm not really pulling for anybody, because I'm just looking at it from a talent perspective. If I had to choose, I like watching Dale. He's just going for it every time out. And he's not holding anything back. I really respect that. We'll see who can rock it out in New York, and who'll make it to Colorado.

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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