Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Easy Start ...

Season 3's Dale Levitski offers his unfiltered perspective on each dish.

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Holla!

Where and how do I begin. Watching the premiere was the most intense mindf**k I have had in a long time! I was totally brought back to the first day ... not knowing anything about what I had gotten myself into. Driving in the RAV4 from the airport with Casey and Lia thinking that they suck ... biting my pillow laughing the first night when Brian totes farted in his sleep .... Then the floodgates opened and ALL the memories of Season 3 smacked me in the face. CJ's imitations of Padma ... telling Damien, Padma's ripped hot PA, that he was fat everyday ... the TC3 beer shotgunning contest (I won) ... being asked to get Casey out of bed cuz she wouldn't budge... (Bengt?) ... napping with Sara ... the bathroom line at the NJ Airport ... Andy on set for the "Brokeback Bravo" Quickfire ... I was laughing crying nervous and grateful by the end of the opening credits ....
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But none of it had to do with the latest lineup of wide-eyed overconfident victims .... When I finally came back to reality I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what these guys would have to go through .... They got off easy! Pizza. Really? They were not thrown into the stressball panic that the Quickfire should be. Here is the kitchen and PROVIDED Dough! And 90 ... yup 90 mins ...! First Quickfire? OK -- the results had me cringing. The mattress crust of Nikki had me going, "Oooo. Damn. Ouch." ... Marmite ... Dick (Richard) honoring Chicago pizza with peaches ... a few fauxhawks ... a lesbian couple (the new Joey and Howie!) ... ANOTHER DALE ... the Chicagoans getting the bottom on CHICAGO pizza! (Shameful ...)

On the other hand ... Rocco! (honestly a great guy ...) The peaches rocked, as did the Marmite.

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Then … Elimination. Classics. Even easier than the Quickfire …. Where are all of the f**ked up ingredients? I mean making Eggs Benedict? Come On! They had it SOOO easy. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this challenge and the twists. Although souffle was mean! 1 on 1! Awesome! Now I will just say that it is totally not fair to judge these people by what was on the screen. I know a lot more goes into it etc., but I am going to anyway ....

Here are the things that stuck out for me: The plastic wrap presentation for the “smoked” crabcake ... dumb. I thought the dish looked and sounded great, but the smoke presentation was a hack job…. And the store bought mayo? What’s up with that? Isn’t mayo like the First thing you make in culinary school? And both of them planned on using it!

Team Picatta … more like Team Picwhatta! I will at least give Valerie some credit for trying to stretch the concept. Ryan’s dish -- WTF? Not even close. I saw it and cocked my head with a "Huh?" He had no idea. 

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It all seemed good with the duck. Stephanie made a simple clean dish. When I saw her hand shaking while saucing, my heart went out to her. I have never seen her like that. Steph and I worked together years ago. She kinda rocks. Mark went for the deconstruction; risky if you cannot articulate what your goal is. It just seemed silly and useless.

Lasagna …. Great job, girls. Nothing wacky -- just good food. Benedict …. Same thing. Nice basic dishes that worked ….

Steak au Poivre …. Dale’s dish looked like he was trying too hard. Intricate plating that wasn’t needed ... meat looked great. Manuel’s looked sloppy on the other hand. rate_401_erik_elim.jpg

The poor soufflé couple. I really felt for them. But they had a great attitude about it. It seems like they embraced the challenge together because they knew they were screwed.But Erik’s plate looked terrible! I mean nacho soufflé ? I thought Casey’s pizza party ice cream last season was f**ked up, but this was doomed from the concept alone …. Ewww.

Scampi …. Antonia’s looked good -- the judges loved it. But Nimma …. Bottom line -- she just screwed up. The scrambled flan? Nice try, but not so much. Salty shrimp and a f**ked up scramble. When all of the components of the dish fail, expect to go home.

Overall I am very impressed with the chefs -- they are all obviously great cooks. I’m giving it another week before I can say anything about personalities, but not many stick out at me. My first impression: The chicks are gonna kick some ass. They all seemed much more relaxed and focused. Well maybe not Steph’s hand, and she STILL won. The guys seem a little bitchy and possibly annoying. We’ll see.

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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