Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Tom's Back!

Gail: Mei's Menu Was Almost Flawless

Make Top Chef Mei Lin's Winning Dessert!

Richard: "Gregory Had the Better Ideas"

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Hugh: Mei's a Chef's Chef

Richard: "Winning Is Overrated"

Make Mei's Sushi Style Guac!

Gail: I Wasn't Surprised Doug Stayed on Top

Get Doug's Masterpiece Brisket Recipe

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Make Melissa's Seared Duck Breast Dish

Make Melissa's Mom's Egg Custard

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Make Mei's Inspired Duck a l'Orange

Gail Has No Problem With Blood

Make George's Cravable Breakfast Sausage

Gail Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

Make Doug's Winning Mussels

Tom Colicchio Answers Your Restaurant Wars Qs

Gail: It Wasn't Keriann's Day

Make Doug's Winning Braised Pork!

Gail: We Had a Tough Job This Week

Make Katsuji's Authentically Delicious Stuffing

Hugh: The Demise of Cornwallis and Aaron

Make Gregory's Winning Dumplings

Richard: Chefs Please Follow Instructions

Richard Tries Money Ball Soup

Make a Home Run-Worthy Popcorn Crème Brule

Hugh: Where There's a Will There's a Fenway

Gail: Keriann and Aaron Were Being ---holes

Make the Winning Surf and Turf

Gail: We're Taking No Prisoners

Richard Goes From Player to Announcer

Tom Talks Boston

Gail: There Was No Season 11 Underdog

Hugh Wants Nick to Be Kind to Himself

Gail: It Was Difficult to Let Go of Shirley

Big Easy to Ocean Breezy

Gail: The Final Four Are Like Our Children

Emeril Is Proud to Serve Shirley's Dish

Hugh: Enough With the Mexican Food Hate

Tom's Back!

Tom on restaurant wars, and why Tre's exit could be controversial.

Editor's Note: We know you missed Head Judge Tom Colicchio's blog as much as we did, so we couldn't be happier to say "He's back!" Chef Tom sat down with our very own Andy Cohen and answered the questions we've been dying to ask. Also, watch what happened when Andy sat down with Tom and Rocco DiSpirito here!

WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? WE MISSED YOU!

I was out in LA opening a restaurant, doing my day job! Like most restaurant openings, it was a tremendous amount of work, and effort, and focus, so I had to bail on the blog until it was up and running. I was really happy to see Anthony Bourdain and Rocco blogging! They're doing such a great job and it's so interesting to read their opinions from both the inside and outside. They're giving an overview from both what they know of production and also from what they're seeing as viewers.

DO YOU HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THEIR BLOG WAR THAT'S GOING ON?

It seems like they've buried the hatchet. Anthony fired the first shot, but I don't think it's very serious. They both respect each other and I think they're having fun.

YOU ACTUALLY READ A LOT OF THE COMMENTS ON YOUR BLOG AND RESPOND TO THEM, RIGHT?

I read ALL the comments under my blog, and I try to read Padma's, Gail's and Ted's. In some of my blogs, I answer stuff that people have posted. The viewer does need to understand that this season was shot in April, and no matter what the suggestions are we can't change anything at this point. I read them because if there's a theme I need to address them. Since I wasn't blogging a few weeks ago, let me just tell you and everybody who wrote in saying how unfair it was that the women were working in high heels that they were given shoes, as were the men! Someone also wrote that they saw Casey in sneakers -- you saw right...

LET'S TALK ABOUT TONIGHT'S EPISODE.

Starting with the Quickfire, I thought it was great. Casey took so long to cut the onions because her knives were really dull. At the end of the night they would have been sharpened. She got caught with her pants down there.

SO WAS THAT HER KNIFE? WAS THAT HER RESPONSIBILITY?

Of course -- a chef should always have a sharp knife, and hers was not up to the task.

SO YOU LIKED THE QUICKFIRE?

I thought it was great. Part of being a chef is being quick. Whoever was fastest with the knife got their props. You try to outwork someone and see how fast you can do jobs. This is stuff that happens in the kitchen all the time. It was really appropriate for the challenge. Brian was definitely faster and had a real method for shucking the oysters. You saw how quickly Hung could break down chicken. He's fast at everything he does. Sara did a great job with the onions -- she's fast. Howie put them behind, but they came roaring right back. Sara just plowed through it and it showed something for that team. I'm glad they got the benefit of some rewards, though I don't know if Stephen was a positive or a hindrance for that team.

WHY WERE YOU IN THE KITCHEN DURING SERVICE AND WHAT DID YOU SEE?

I thought it was important for me to be there. We heard grumbles that some of the chefs weren't working right in the kitchen, and I wanted to see how each chef directed the other chefs and teammates and how they interacted with the front of house people. I don't think I made them nervous being there -- I just watched them. I got to eat everything cooked in the kitchen, and it was great watching them work and seeing who took responsibility and stepped up. I found Sara really in command of her teammates. She had them make stuff over when it wasn't right. The other team was too lax in letting stuff go out that wasn't right.

WAS THAT TRE?

Tre was the chef. The buck stops with him. He should've pushed CJ. I don't think he tried the lobster -- he dumped it on CJ and said it was his deal.

I THINK HIS DISMISSAL IS BOUND TO BE CONTROVERSIAL.

I think so too. If I were writing a blog I would've titled it "Sometimes the Best Chef Doesn't Win" or something. We judge based on the performance in that episode. We all thought Tre was someone who should've been in the finale. I have been to his restaurant Abacus in Dallas; Tre does a great job, and he also was a total class act all the way through. He stayed focused and in shape and didn't get sidetracked by drinking or any distractions. Even when he left he was a class act. Even though he believes in his heart that he is a superior chef, I think he knows that this mistake took him out of the competition. He's a real class act.

SO THEN WHY EXACTLY DID HE GO HOME AND NOT CJ?

One of the things we looked at were all the dishes he was responsible for. So we felt the salmon dish was not great universally -- conceptually it was a bad dish. I thought the scallop was good, not great. That beef dish that we'd commented on the day before and said we didn't care for it? He didn't change it! Crusting a filet mignon, as Anthony Bourdain pointed out, is very 80s and not very inventive. He did the same dish exactly the second time around. He was running the kitchen with no intensity, it was very lackadaisical. I never got a sense that they were really pushing it, and they weren't cooking as if their chance of staying in the competition depended on it. I think Tre was responsible for setting that tone.

HE SEEMED TO UNDERSTAND THAT AT THE END.

The beef dish to me is what really did it. It just capped it and made the decision.

ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THE RESULTS OF LETTING THIS CHALLENGE GO OVER TWO EPISODES?

I liked that. If you open a restaurant you do a few nights of previews and then you open it. We gave them a chance to get their act together and do it again. Usually in our challenges there's no opportunity for growth. I've been on the other end of some bad reviews -- you read them, look at them, and make changes. This gave the chefs that opportunity to make changes. The team that made changes is the team that won, and the team that made no changes lost. I think it was something that happens normally when you open a restaurant. I thought it was a great thing to do and gave each team another day to reflect and make it better, and we do that every day in our restaurants. Our goal is to make our restaurants better every day, so this challenge was about as real as it could get in opening a restaurant and working through those changes.

ANY FINAL WORDS?

Our restaurant in LA opened to great fanfare and I want thank the "Top Chef" fans in LA for coming out and visiting us. I also just want to reiterate how hard it was for the judges to see Tre go -- he's such a class act, a crowd favorite, and a lot of fans and judges and contestants thought he'd be in the finale. This is one of those things where it's about who does well that night, in that challenge. This was a two-hour conversation at Judges' Table, and in the end in was unanimous that he was the cause of that team's loss. I think Tre also knows that when a restaurant goes down it's the chef's responsibility in the kitchen, and that's one of the reasons he was such a gentleman when he left. He wasn't the chef that we all know him to be. Whether the fans think it's a fair way to judge, it's the way we judge, and we have be consistent.

Hugh: Mei's a Chef's Chef

Hugh Acheson weighs in on the finale showdown between Mei Lin and Gregory Gourdet.

There is always a Top Chef winner but obviously some seasons have a less experienced assemblage of chefs, while others have veritable US Olympic-caliber culinary practitioners. (Congrats to Team USA in the Bocuse d’Or competition by the way! Silver! Silver!)

This particular season of Top Chef could have been a contest of mediocrity, but it bloomed into something very skilled and mature, which is good for judging, but makes writing a blog with poop jokes and rap humor very difficult. I have to say, I was a little worried at the beginning that the whole chef squadron was a little shaky. But early retreats by chefs with bigger egos than culinary skillsets allowed the true talent to rise without being malevolent fools. And that talent really was there. By mid season we were eating their visions on the plate, while watching them battle it out over the food and just the food.

The two most successful chefs of the season made it to the end, and they are ready to rumble in the most respective way they know how. One will plate most of their food on the side of the plate, incorporating Korean flavors and modern technique into the vittles, while the other will weave a more classic story and put food more in the center of the plate like regular people. Should be a good show no matter what, because at the end of the day, it’s just hard not to be really enamored with both of them. They are good people.

Gregory and Mei start out on a hot air balloon ride, because that’s how I like to start every day in Mexico. The country looks beautiful to me even if you are in a basket hoisted hundreds of feet into the air by hot air. The hotel I stayed in was the Casa di Sierra Nevada, which was AWESOME, so if you are looking for a vacation, go there. It's no party town, but it is plenty fun. Great food scene. And to put safety into perspective, I felt safer wandering around St. Miguel than I do my hometown. Anyway, the balloon ride looks like fun and allows for that finale moment of almost tearful reminiscence and contemplation.

So their balloon ride lands in a vineyard, and Tom and Padma are waiting to put a halt to this sentimentality. The task is put forward and the challenge, this final culinary joust, is to create a meal that is the meal of their lives. They pick their two sous chefs per person; Gregory picks Doug and George, while Mei picks Melissa and Rebecca.

They prep their menus after a good night’s sleep. The prep I will not talk about too much, but suffice it to say that each team seems very pro and super on top of things.

Traci des Jardins, Sean Brock, Michael Cimarusti, Gavin Kaysen, and Donnie Masterton are dining with us, all of them amazing chefs. Like amazing amazing. The kid’s table, at which I am the head, is made up of Sean, Traci, Gavin, and Gail. It is a super table. At the table I decide to hold true to the tourist warning of not drinking the water. I thus only drink wine and the phenomenal beauty of Casa Dragones tequila, a concoction that will make me sleep soundly (but probably by dessert) on the table.

Mei hits us with an octopus that I really, really like. It resounds with flavors of coconut, avocado, and fish sauce. It is deep. The only flaw is that maybe it is a bit over done. The over cooking made it kind of crunchy and she could easily have been cooking it to that point on purpose. Second course from her is a congee, with peanuts, carnitas, egg yolk, and hot sauce. It is so f----ing delicious. Like stylized comfort food that you just want to eat all the time. Comfort food, when perfect, is perhaps the hardest food to cook, because it is by definition food you are very familiar with, resulting in people having a lot of preconceived notions about it. This congee would have silenced all critics on congee. It was that good.

Mei is gliding through this meal. She has palpable confidence, but is still a nicely soft-spoken leader. In my years of watching people lead kitchens, I have always been more taken with the allegiance that soft-spoken leaders cultivate in their staffs. Her third course is a duck course, and like the congee, she has cooked duck at least twice this season, but in entirely different ways. This duck has kimchi, braised lettuce, and huitlacoche on the plate. Huitlacoche is corn smut, a term I just yelled in a coffee shop, making everyone uncomfortable. It is a good plate, but my refrain about duck skin continues. It was a bit chewy. All in all, the dish just was texturally challenged. It needed a crunchy texture. But it was good still. Her last is her version of yogurt dippin’ dots with strawberry-lime curd, milk crumble, and stuff. It was blow-you-away amazing. Very complex, but very successful. Tom says it is the best dessert on Top Chef he has ever had, and I definitely concur, though he has tasted many more than I have. The toasted yogurt base was amazing.

Gregory steps up with a brothy octopus with cashew milk, fresh prickly pear, and also xoconostle, which is the dried version of prickly pear, kind of like a prickly pear fruit roll up. It is a strong dish, and may be the winner in the Octopus Olympiad. His second was a strange soup that was redolent with flavor until you choked with a shrimp head lodged in your gullet. Strange and a little unrefined for me, and pretty much everyone else. It was a wanted textural element, but made a rustic soup weird. The whole dish needs to be compared to the comfort food of Mei’s congee, and in that context it is no contest.

Third course from Gregory is a bass with carrot sauce, tomatillo, vegetables, and pineapple. It is a strange dish. I am worried for Gregory at this point. It is not like the dish was bad, but the dish was just not a winner winner. Well, let’s not rest on that notion, because his next and final course is a stone cold stunner. Simple short ribs in mole with sweet potato. It is purity on the plate and equal to the idea of Mei’s congee in nailing comfort food. Kudos. He’s back on track. This is a close contest.

Judges' Table comes and we deliberate. I am not going to mince words and hold off on this: It is really close, but this season’s winner is definitely Mei. Well deserved. Gregory is the consummate pro in placing second and is going to be a force to be reckoned with in this restaurant world. His win versus addiction and his success in cooking shows one tough person with oodles of talent.

Mei. Mei. You rock. You are a chef’s chef. You make food that excites and makes us ponder. You are a leader and a super cool person. You are the winner and will always be a winner. Onwards.

Until next season. I loved this season. Thanks BOSTON. And thanks San Miguel di Allende. You are awesome places to work.

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