Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Dale Is Gone. Tear.

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

Dale Is Gone. Tear.

Bethenny Frankel opens up about her crush on Dale.

OK -- I need a moment of silence. Dale is gone. A tear just fell on my keyboard. Was it a crush? Perhaps. I didn't think Dale would win, but I certainly wanted him in the top 3. Him being home-microwaving a turkey pot pie and Spike still being in the competition is upsetting. Spike is no Dale, and cooking is no personality is no beauty contest. I know the boys do love Spike.

I will live. Now to the Quickfire. I loved this challenge. Having lived in Chicago, I know Lou Mitchell's very well. Breakfast is religion in Chicago. Sports, bars, and breakfast. These are things that are religion in Chicago. Go to a game, get drunk, and wake up in the freezing cold, weather the storm and wait for an hour for breakfast. That being said, that town has the best breakfast I've ever had, and Lou Mitchell's makes a mean skillet omelet. I digress.

Antonia is street. I am street, so I love it, I have to admit. I didn't think she had the goods in the beginning, but like me on The Apprentice, I caught my stride once the riff raff was out of the way. I will still be shocked if she takes it from Stephanie, but she is scrappy. The fact that she hustled and held down that grill is respectable. Stephanie may be an artist, patient, a chef, but truthfully, most of being in a professional kitchen is the grind, the hustle and the utter stress. If Stephanie can only excel when in a calm culinary bubble, then we have a problem. Most of cooking is nothing close to glamorous. Stephanie can't conquer a Quickfire, and these challenges are really the guts of what being a chef is.

Richard may be guilty of the same syndrome. He creates art and culinary innovation, but sometimes slinging hash is what the job boils down to. You need to work on your feet.

Dale, my favorite, held it down. He is scrappy too. His language and anger show that it he can always stand the heat in the kitchen.

Antonia broke it down and won the challenge. I have to give her props. I would have done well here. A foam mousse not so much. A good ham and egg sandwich. I'm down.

Team Warehouse aka team gastro pub consists of Antonia, Richard, and Stephanie. Nice team. Shocker: Richard wants to do fine dining.

Another shocker: Dale is doing Asian. Team Asian: Dale, Lisa, and Spike. Fireworks are bound to happen with this crew.

I have to give it to Team Warehouse. They chose a daring menu that I may not be able to pull off. Leave it to Richard. Always taking chances. That is definitely what being a chef is about. I criticize Richard about his often irritating renditions of things, but when push comes to shove, he never avoids pushing the envelope and being innovative.

Choosing Asian for Dale was really weak especially on the task where he really needed to rise above the rest.

He did take chances with the choices of his Asian menu, but they were just plain bizarre. Butterscotch scallops sound horrendous. Scallops are a delicate food that need so little manipulation. Weighing them down and making them an ice cream topping is not a good idea. They are done best when seared on the outside, light on the inside with a nice delicate sauce. Not a fan there.

Lisa, Lisa, Lisa. Can you not get the rice right? Lisa messed up on the rice last week when she couldn't keep her eyes on it. I'm being harsh, but ironically it is always the simplest things that we screw up. I could sooner make a Grand Marnier souffle than not burn a piece of toast. However, she should have had all eyes on that sticky rice. Lisa seems a bit frayed. She burnt the rice last week, burnt the Styrofoam container this week, and now cannot get the rice together. She is at that sleep deprivation point where she just is not showing her true colors. She is gritty and too tough but I do think she is a decent chef. She will not be in the final three though -- not a chance.

For team Mai Buddha, I do like the short ribs choice. They are one of those foods that is very difficult to screw up, yet they seem decadent, difficult and delicious. I'm craving them now.

Antonia had every right to be panicked about the pasta. Pasta can be temperamental and I would also have wanted a backup.

It's interesting that there was worry and concern over Anthony Bourdain's Asian travels. Many of his shows have been in the bowels of Asia eating rare delicacies. However, I would venture to guess that his palate is so elaborate that anyone should be intimidated by his feedback. That being said, he is also a lover of basic good food. I bet a gastro pub is exactly where he likes to go when he has the day off. Looking good for Team Warehouse.

Dale's avocado cold mess sounds as mucked up as the rest of the convoluted meal. Personalities are conflicting and that kitchen seems to be in disarray.

My teeth hurt thinking about the gritty clams. More often than not, I get sandy seafood and it is terrifying. Sand in spinach, arugala, basil, or any type of seafood can ruin anyone's meal if not day. Those simple things are the scariest parts of being a chef. Be thorough from the foundation before you get all tricked out in caramel sauce.

Bold, ballsy menu from Warehouse. I have to give them a shout out. I had a dish of linguine with clams and sausage recently and it was vile. This sounds delicious and I could eat it right now. The same goes for their beet root salad. I agree that it isn't gastro pub, but it all makes sense and is approachable with Richard's signature twist. It is all something that I would crave but would never even know to do so if it weren't put in front of me.

I also like the lamb shank idea. Very comforting and in the gastro pub vain. I like anything Gorgonzola so I love that choice, and these sweet scallops were a great playful dessert. Props for doing chocolate. Anyone who doesn't do chocolate in some capacity just truly doesn't understand the meaning of dessert and those with a sweet tooth. Love it all.

The entire Asian menu is utterly confusing, a hot mess, and a stomach ache in its entirety. I really do like simplicity and when things are complex, it should be done subtly with flavors and hints and spices. I don't believe in serving people several courses that are overwhelming, daunting, making you never want to see them again. Asian is clean and simple and this menu sounds like Cheesecake Factory meets a takeout Chinese restaurant. Scary. Coconut, avocado, cantaloupe, mango, lions, tigers, bears, oh my. Less is more. DALE, I AM SO DISAPPOINTED. I THOUGHT WE HAD SOMETHING!

As for knife skills, mine are horrendous despite my efforts in culinary school. I cannot in good faith criticize anyone for that so I have to let that slide. However, when you suffer in an area, delegate! Know your strengths and weaknesses.

It goes without saying that Warehouse won and Mai Buddha lost. I respect that Lisa took responsibility for her dish, but her being belligerent and never accepting criticism is a fatal flaw for a chef. I am sure Spike made great short ribs, but I can never bring myself to be his cheerleader. Maybe it is because of his weasel nature which he displayed last week by attempting to sabotage the competition. He confirmed my feeling by staying under the radar -- this is a quality I don't admire. Someone correct me, but was Spike the one that told the other teammates that he had cleaned out one of the pantries for the block party (even though he admitted there was still tons of food left there).

I love the interchange between Lisa and Dale that you are only as good as your weakest link, However, I don't agree that you are only as good as your leader. If your leader is failing, pick up the slack and notice the weakness. That is the only way that followers ever become leaders and the reason why Lisa will not lead as top chef.

Dale went home, and he did say love me or hate me. Well Dale, I still love you but I see why you went home. You did fight to the core, but your temper and misdirected passion were your demise. You will be missed, and I don't think anyone should begrudge you for playing it your own way. I would spend my money at your restaurant any day.

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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