Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Top Chef 3.0

Carlos Fernandez congratulates Hung on his win!

carlos_314_01_320x240.jpg

Step right up folks ...we have a penthouse in Miami, a New York challenge, an Aspen finale, and a live reveal in Chicago. But wait, there's more ... trips to Italy, the French Alps, and round-trip Continental Airline tickets to anywhere in the world! I have always been a Top Chef fan, but this season has been super-sized. Just take a good look around this Bravo Web site to get an idea ... blogs, recipes, and videos ... oh yeah, and Miami Spice featuring ...me! Ha! But I digress ... let me get on to the Season 3 finale.

Final Season 3 Challenge

Eleven thousand feet elevation. Oh ... my ... goodness. I wonder how many of the three remaining chefs did research on cooking in such an elevated climate and the effects it would have on moisture and boiling points? Our intrepid chefs have 35 minutes to put together a three-course menu of their lives. (They may say they have given it no thought, but every chef I know has their dream menu, and it is no secret that is what the chefs are always asked to for the finale of Top Chef.) That having been said, the surprise is always the ingredients they have to work with, and it is quite a challenge to put together a menu in such a short amount of time. I would like to have known the number of guest judges I would be cooking for at the onset as that is an important factor in determining what and how many dishes you will serve. Just in time alone, eight is easier than twenty. And can the chefs deviate from their menus? I would guess that they aren't supposed to as Tom is holding the menus in his hands like a prosecution lawyer!
carlos_314_02_320x240.jpg

I loved Casey's choice of pork belly. Belly always gets my attention. Ha! And Dale has really proven himself the game king. His choice of Colorado lamb was spot on for its "seasonal and regional" appeal. Todd English really hit it on the head when he said this was the way to go. When I saw those celebrity sous-chefs, I found myself picking Rocco. (Don't forget my application to be your sidekick!) However I would have been thrilled to cook with any of these pros. The following day Tom announced the surprise addition of a fourth course, as well as ushering in the return of Howie, CJ, and Sara. Again, I would have chosen Sara for her technical skills as well as her work ethic. Hung really made out with both of his assistants.
carlos_314_03_320x240.jpg

The judges really had it tough. They dissect everything, sometimes seeming merciless. Also the chefs have to stand there as their creations are disemboweled. (I know that sounds harsh, but when you are the one on the chopping block, that is what it feels like.) For example, the judges say they would have liked a little more acid in Hung's dish. All he really needed was more of the tomato vinaigrette and I bet that would have done the trick. The judges felt that Casey's addition of three small pieces of salmon roe ruined her dish. I know salmon roe is distinctive, but not overwhelming. And as far as Sake poached anything, you can count me in. I also believed that Dale's lobster dish had the potential to be phenomenal. He just needed to lighten up on the curry to a curry-scented broth, cook the lobster through and you have a home run. Hung's almond tuile with dessert was lovely as well. And I cannot wait to re-create his amazing looking duck next week during my cooking segment on "Cada Dia".

How lucky was Dale to have Todd English to French cut his lamb chops? Those puppies were gorgeous! Another home run for Dale in presentation and execution.

Congratulations to Hung. He worked hard and really 'hung" in there. And to all 15 chefs who put themselves on the line, go out into the world and show them what you've got. Make the most of this incredible opportunity. This whole experience continues to be more amazing than I can describe. I have had a blast with these blogs, the webisodes, the cooking segments on Telemundo and much more. Thanks to all of you who have and continue to join me on this amazing ride. And there is so much more to come. You can hear all about my future projects both here and at my web site www.chefcarlosfernandez.com. As always, stay well 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: