Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Vive Latino!

Carlos Fernandez gives his take on the spicy Soap Opera challenge.

Casting is now starting for Top Chef Season 4, and let me tell you folks, it ain't as easy as it looks! To all of you aspiring contestants out there, remember: It's not your kitchen. In your own kitchen, things are familiar and you rule the roost. In Top Chef kitchens, the Magical Elves, Top Chef's amazing production team, make the rules, and you have to adapt. Regardless, for those of you who do make the cut, I hope you get digs similar to this season's at the Fountainbleu in Miami! tc_305_group_320x240.jpg
Last week I got a few questions about the Chaine des Rotisseurs organization. Truthfully I have not been to a Chaine event for some time as I am just too busy running my own restaurant to attend their events, which are usually held on weekends-- always the busiest time for me at Hi-Life Cafe. Yes, I wore one of those dreaded sashes. However, being the eternal optimist, I found the sashes especially handy for hiding wine and mustard stains! The medals on the sashes,or bling as some have suggested, are given at special events or when visiting other chapters. Each chapter has its own designated medal. Next, I got a comment from a fellow Floridian who thought that Hung's dismissive remarks to last week's guest judge were similar to my own defense against the "Dark Arts teachers" at the Judges' Table from last season. I say it is the difference between a harmless egret and a vicious snapping gator! Ha!

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Finally, there was a typo on last week's Miami Spice webisode. For my Vera Cruz Snapper, you should use 3 tablespoons of butter, not 3 pounds. My condolences to those of you who tried it that way...and to your hearts.

Joey, it was funny to hear that you didn't want to be the "grey horse"--I guess the role of "dark horse" was already taken! I love the guest chef Maria Frumkin--her dolce tone actually had me swooning. My first thoughts when I heard "frozen piecrust," "90 minutes," and "Lee Anne" at the helm of the pantry were...no problem. Padma actually had a clever comment when she asked CJ if he was trying to "butter up" chef Maria. Shocking!

Tre - I'm glad to see your clean plating styles--I really get a sense of your philosophy. And Hung, it would seem that your dynasty is no more! When I saw you tinkering with the freezer, I thought "Oh no! I'm having ice-cream flashbacks from Season 2!" If you recall, I was the only one to have my ice cream plated and photo-ready within the time limit. But I digress... Joey, your tarts looked simple and delicious. Rather than try to create a five-course meal from one crust, you streamlined and stayed focused, and it paid off. I am glad to see the judges not simply reward quantity, but straightforward quality. tc_305_joey_320x240.jpg
Thirty minutes to shop, three hours to prep a Latin dish, and I am freaking out thinking once again that I was part of the wrong season! That quickly dissipated when Tom walked through those kitchen doors to announce they will only have 1½ hours, and that familiar sinking feeling returned to my gut! Now this is Top Chef stress as I remember it. Howie does seem to have a certain affinity for pork. Hmm. Is it just me, or does it seem that Casey is getting a little cocky? tc_305_casey_320x230.jpg

I know firsthand that it could very well just be the editing, but as Andy Cohen says, they cannot create what did not exist on some level. However, by the time she got to the judging table she seemed appropriately humbled. (And I don't know about you, but those sandwiches Casey has made for herself the last two episodes look better than a lot of what is prepared for the competition.)
It was great to see so many of the stars from Telemundo at the competition, including my faves who I have the opportunity to work with every week on "Cada Dia"--Maria Antonieta Collins, and Jose Diaz-Balart.

I loved Jose's line about Hung needing to spend a little more time in Miami to master Arroz con Pollo! Also on hand were the stars Maria Celeste Arraras from "Al Rojo Vivo," Natallia Streignard of "La Tormenta," Genesis Rodriquez and Kristina Lilley of the ultra hot "Dame Chocolate," and Renato Lopez from "Vivo, Have you Cine?" Tom, Gail, and Padma seemed a bit shocked at all the culinary knowledge these folks possessed, but I wasn't surprised in the least. Cooking and dining are an integral part of the Latin culture. Like all things Latin, they are done with passion and gusto! I thought they were spot on in their critiques without being cruel. Did anyone notice that when Gail was commenting on Lia's polenta being so very un-Latin she looked just like Mo Gaffney's character on "Absolutely Fabulous?" And that "Rebecca of Donnybrook Farm" hairdo and outfit? Well, I will leave that to Bravo's other reality show blogs to decide!

Sara N., you must understand that this group really does understand the difference between guacamole and ceviche. And given the challenge, I don't understand why Lia didn't make some sort of tamale instead of polenta. Oh Lia, the rock at the top is always so shaky. And is anyone else detecting a foot-fetish theme from Padma? First there were the fried toes and now she is talking about Achilles' heels?! Howie, I was really impressed that you have now won two Elimination Challenges with two different pork dishes. You are a rare medium well-done! (Will somebody please give him a towel to wipe all that sweat while he is cooking? Perhaps that is the piquant in his sauce. Hmm.) I was a bit surprised that Sarah M. did not at least get a mention in the top three as her stuffed poblano looked superb, and she finally got to show off a bit of her cheese expertise with that homemade queso fresco. Hers was obviously a favorite of the Telemundo folks as well.

Joey once again demonstrated straightforward flavors will win a crowd over. That dish reminded me very much of my Mom's Camarones Enchilados recipe, which is so aromatic and flavorful. (You can get that recipe on one of my upcoming Miami Spice Webisodes.) I was thinking Joey might actually have that rare back to back Quickfire/Elimination win in the same episode. It was obviously a difficult decision as to who should go, but it seemed the bland polenta did Lia in. She was one of my favorite. But have no fear, she just needs to keep focused and keep her eyes on her craft.

I have no doubt that she has a wonderful future in store, and cannot wait to taste some of her cuisine in the future--either at Jean Georges or her own restaurant that she will no doubt someday run. Anyway, don't forget to watch this weeks Miami Spice webisode here at Bravotv.com You are going to love my delicious baby clam and chorizo recipe. I always appreciate any comments or feedback you might have. Until next week, 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

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