Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Bananas are Sexy

Find out what Harold Dieterle considers the cooking equivalent of going to the dentist.

I mean, where to begin -- dessert. You know you gotta do it; it's like going to the dentist. It just sucks. I don't enjoy it. You just need to have a whole different mindset and it's challenging because you can't just do pastry as a Quickfire because you need recipes. It's like you can memorize one recipe, but everybody's nervous, you're under the gun, you can see them trying, they clearly have a couple of recipes that they've memorized and they're going over in their head the different amounts and proportions and it's like "Shit, I wish I wasn't nervous right now, 'cause I'm trying to remember this." It's tough, pastry's a science -- its not just like cooking when you just shoot from the hip and you taste something and it's just seasoning; you need to have your proportions right on, so right there, right from the get-go it's challenging. And then nobody there is really a pastry chef. That's why you hire pastry chefs, to do that type of stuff, 'cause we don't want to do it.

A chef dessert is something that you focus less on technique and more on ingredients, something similar to what Richard did. Bananas are really sexy, and he sold them. Bananas and avocado sound a little weird. I've never really had the combination, but if the banana's good and the avocado's good, it probably was a smart idea. He didn't do anything that was mind-boggling technique -- he focused on the ingredients. He made guacamole, he cut out some bananas. There's not a whole lot of pastry technique there but he sold it, so good for him. Everybody's focusing on making tarts -- that's great Spike made a souffle, and that shows you've got balls, but if it's not a really standout souffle, and you're passing it off to a pastry chef, it's gonna be tough.

I like Johnny a lot, he's been in the restaurant. We've gone out and had cocktails together on numerous occasions. I think he's a great guy. He does cutting edge pastries at a four star restaurant in Manhattan. He's highly decorated -- let's put it that way.

I liked the fact that Mark tried doing something from Down Under -- he tried doing pavlova. I thought that was pretty cool, 'cause I've had some really bad pavlovas in my day and it's a dessert that I've tried to make before and I've totally f****ed it up. It's like cornstarch and egg whites and basically what you do is you dry it out and bake it off and it's supposed to get really really crispy and traditionally you serve it with some Down Under tropical fruits. It's almost like a baked meringue, so to speak. It gets a little more textured; it's supposed to get a little crispy. But not be hard either.

I thought Dale's was cool. I thought it was a chef dessert. I thought it was one of those things were he was saying, "This is what I know how to do," and just knocked it out. It's like, I have a basic custard recipe: It's two eggs for every cup of cream, and you can do anything you want with it -- you can make creme brulee with it, you can just make a total flan with it, or you can use it for a savory custard. When I was on the show we had to make a fig tart, that was the ratio I made for the filling, and Le Anne helped me out and she hooked me up with a great shell recipe. So you just have your little things you remember and when you gotta knock it out, you knock it out.

I saw the Elimination Challenge and I was just like "Wow, man." I was getting cranky watching that. I get cranky quite often. But I would get really cranky -- all these knuckleheads are making me make this food. I thought some of them did a really good job. I take a lot of pride in making a curry. I always have a curry on my menu here, so I thought that was pretty cool to watch them do that, and I thought the whole technique with marinating the curry inside the beef, that was brilliant. I thought Richard did a really nice job with that. Do I want to sit down and eat a big brick of tofu? Probably not, but from what the judges were saying, they liked it, and it's something that's got a good sauce, and tofu's very much like a blank canvas -- it absorbs flavors very quickly. I have a vegetarian here every once in awhile. I'll have folks come in here that want to have a tasting menu that are vegetarian and I'll do something similar and put it out with tofu and poached with black olive oil. And it worked out real well and for the vegetarian, it was an eye opening experience. rate_407_jen_stephanie_elim.jpg

The proportions of Jennifer's entire dish were ridiculous. It was this massive piece of crispy melted cheese, and then the big piece of bread, and asparagus, and it was weird. I thought the dish was really weird. And I felt like Jen had more creatively invested into the dish than Stephanie did. I felt like Stephanie just kind of sat back and was like "Alright, let's do it." It just doesn't look like something Stephanie would conceive of, not that I know her that well, but just based on the type of food I've seen her cook, just doesn't seem like a lot of her creative input went into that dish.

I don't know why Antonia and Lisa were hating on the Eastern Europeans. I love Polish sausage. It's like pretty much a no-brainer. It's taking Polish sausage and heating it up in beer. I would have liked to see them do something a little bit more creative than that but you gotta keep the Polish sausage in there. They totally went away from the concept of the dish; the fish is the focal point of the dish, and you got a little bit of sausage, and I don't even remember, what did they make, some kind of tequila sauce? The easy way to look at that, especially Eastern European food, traditionally goes really well with rooted vegetables which is why they used the Peruvian potatoes, but I was surprised they didn't do something with beets. Just get that really sharp purple color, and I just didn't get where it all came into play. It was weird.

My favorites? Richard is really killing it. He's doing some really creative food; he's sharp. Dale's doing well too. I'm enjoying it.


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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