Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF


Find out what Dale Levitski compares to taking a crap ... if you dare.

Sorry I missed last week' s blog ....

I had a crazy week.... Three events. The last was the weekend in Aspen. The Mountain Club where we had the our Season 3 finale asked me back to cook a dinner .... Talk about redemption! The dinner was a hit and I have been asked back for next year .... So lets get to it!!!

I first want to back up and reference Episode 2. The most common questions I get are about what the experience was like, so I want to try and give a little contestant insight. Surviving the first elimination is like barely making it to the bathroom in time when you have to take an emergency crap. You know the one .... You are sweating bullets a few blocks from your house ... fumble with your keys (probably drop them ....) Kinda doin' the pee dance. Pants undone as you run up the stairs, clenching as hard as you can .... Then just in time, you dodge the bullet, sitting down hunched over in relief. That is the exact same feeling of elimination survival relief on Top Chef. Taking a good crap.

Going into the challenges after that first one gets a little more comfortable as you understand the production side, and the initial jitters are shaken off. I feel for Valerie -- her dish sounded good. The mushroom blueberry debacle was uncalled for. guest_403_01_320x240.jpg

Onto the next challenge ... Rick Bayless!!! Yes! A Chi town legend! He is an amazing chef and a genuine really, really nice guy! Upscale taco Quickfire … did anyone hear him say upscale? From the looks of it they all bombed, except Richard. I am becoming more and more impressed with his flavors …. It would seem obvious that the first thing you need to do in reinventing the taco is the shell -- start with the structure and go from there …. Richard did a good job. I am sure most of them tasted good …. But guys: Listen to the buzzword in the challenge. UPSCALE! Hopefully you will figure that out after one of your friends gets kicked off on a technical …. (Long Live Sandee!) leeanne_403_02_320x240.jpg

Elimination. Block Party …. Love it. As a native Chicagoan the block party is an institution. I grew up with ours being the highlight of my year. There are huge street fairs all summer long in Chicago. The perfect representation that Chicago is the biggest neighborhood in the world …. My only gripe is two big team challenges in a row. Outside of Restaurant Wars they tend to be a little boring … frustrating as a contestant. Large catering has a terrible UGH factor. When catering volume and being off-site, it is almost impossible to show well as a great restaurant chef.


As far as the dishes themselves … I would have to say a little boring. Running around the neighborhood for ingredients was a fun touch. But the dishes they came up with really didn’t grasp the feel of the block party …. What was that Oreo thing? Why would you transport fried corn dogs? Plastic cheese for mac and cheese?

The essence of the food at block parties is about bringing your family’s signature… I’m sure it is not a slider or Waldorf salad.

When Steph explained her dish I was excited. A great dish that embraced the essence of the challenge, the neighbors, and the judges. She blew it out of the water. How could schluppy pasta salad, soggy corn dogs, and plastic mac and cheese ever compete? brian_403_08_320x240.jpg

I was sorry to see Erik go. Although I was never impressed with his food, he seems like a chef that I could relate to. Best of luck.

I don’t feel like I need to address Andrew. His “This is my house” bullshit …. As a chef we have all worked with those kind of guys. All bark, no bite. It was fun to see the dynamics of the chefs. As I said before, the ladies are cool and professional and the guys tend to be chest puffing dick-waving hacks. My advice: Get over yourself and cook.

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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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