Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Three Stages

Carlos reminds eliminated Tre that no chef is Superman.

rocco_309_10_320x240.jpg

Queen of Denial I

enjoyed watching the chefs relaxing around the fabulous penthouse when the reviews came in. The reactions to the critical comments were what I would expect -- chefs are very sensitive. As the negative reviews were read, I noticed three distinct stages. First, there was anger: "That reviewer was so wrong. She just didn't understand what we were trying to do." The second stage was denial: "Those oysters were perfect!" And then finally came the acceptance. (Sara and Hung seemed to really get this.) Regardless of how they felt about the criticism, their answer was "Let's review what the judges said and fix the problems."
rocco_309_01_320x240.jpg

Quickfire Challenge

Poor, poor Casey. When I saw her grab the knuckle buster knife I yelled, "Nooo!" She needed a chef's knife, one that will cut through the onion without your knuckles hitting the table with each downward chop. I know from experience that in the heat of the moment it can be difficult to think straight, but I don't know why none of her teammates didn't point that out to her. I know it would have helped her speed as well. It almost seemed as though she was holding back. Maybe she just forgot that this wasn't about accuracy, but speed. However, watching Sara go to town, I knew Casey wouldn't have a chance. And let's face it, we all knew that Hung was going to be Speedy Gonzales -- and he didn't let me down! After Dale informed us that he has no knife skills and cannot shuck oysters, I'm thinking "As if you weren't destined to whip those whites into stiff peaks -- this is so perfect for you!" And he didn't disappoint. I was happy for the newly named Quatre team. They needed the ego boost and as we saw later, it obviously paid off.

Elimination Challenge

After much speculation, it is finally revealed that the identity of Hung's monkey is none other than Christopher Ciccone -- Madonna's brother no less! While this was an interesting twist getting him to help with each team's decor, the judges never mentioned it again. Not that it mattered, but they had made such a big deal about it the last episode. Very cute having Stephen from Season One make a cameo as the sommelier for the Quatre team. I loved that Dale actually brought him down to earth a bit.

rocco_309_06_320x240.jpg

I was very impressed with Sara. She really came into her own on this episode. She had a terrific grip on the kitchen and when push came to shove, she pushed. This obviously upset Howie when she had him cook the lamb chops more, but did he have to take it out on the GE oven?! Sara was also able to focus Hung's energies to a positive effect for the entire team. When informed that there was a VIP table, Sara insisted that each table was equally important. This moved her up many notches in my book -- I am constantly telling my kitchen staff to take pride in every plate they put out and telling my servers to treat every table as if they were the most important people in the room. That's how you run a successful restaurant! Sara deserved this win. Congrats!
rocco_309_07_320x240.jpg

Tre, Tre, Tre. I'm sorry to see you go. You are obviously very talented. It seems as though you just took on too much and didn't delegate enough. No chef is Superman, and it is important to have others taste your food and get feedback. No one's palate is perfect. You did go for it and that is impressive Just remember, it isn't how the show ended, it's how you move forward now. I know you will do well. This week's Miami Spice recipe is Fire & Ice. It's hot, hot, hot, and you are gonna love it! As always, stay tuned and Break an Egg!

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

Read more about: