Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Cuisine on the Silver Screen

Forget Good Morning, Vietnam. New York City restaurant critic Andrea Strong offers a list of her favorite food movies.

strong_01_404_320x240.jpg

Last night we said goodbye to Manuel, and it's debatable (shocker) whether it was he who deserved to pack his knives and go. Is it worse to follow the leader like a sheep, or be the leader with the lousy ideas? That's certainly up for discussion, but last night the judges decided it was the sheep that would go home.

To start off the episode that would be the end of Top Chef for Manuel, the producers offered up a nice challenge. They packed up the gimmicks for a later date (or later in the episode), and tested basic classic technique, from knife skills to poaching and grilling, with guest judge chef Daniel Boulud. I think this was one of the better challenges because it did expose the contestants' weaknesses in foundation cooking. It seems Manuel's departure stems originally from his poor performance in the Quickfire Challenge.
strong_03_404_320x240.jpg

The Elimination Challenge was a fun one, but I was surprised that no one used great classic food movies as their inspiration. Maybe it would be too cliche to use Big Night or Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, but someone could've used Super Size Me and done a fun burger (perhaps some riff on the stuffing of foie gras and short ribs in an ode to the DB Burger) and fries (maybe show off some pomme souffle technique) and a fancy milk shake for the judges.

Like the judges, I was disappointed in the Talk to Her meal (though I too LOVED that movie), as it didn't seem terribly confident, bold, or passionate. While I loved the idea of using Willie Wonka as inspiration, I had my doubts about that white chocolate wasabi sauce (so did Zoi as she said over and over again, rather petulantly, in the stew room). But apparently Richard, Dale, and Andrew nailed the flavors and really produced a stunning dish. I think the Quote of the Show has to go to Andrew who offered this gem at Judges' Table when discussing his Willy Wonka-inspired plate: "I have no doubt that people will culinarily crap in their pants when eating this food." What would we do with out Andrew? He's the best.

Below is a list of my favorite "food" movies. I would love to hear yours so please add your comments below.

What's Cooking, directed by Gurinder Chada, is probably the most underrated food movie ever made. It's about four different (dysfunctional) families celebrating Thanksgiving and the drama and meals that show up in each of their kitchens. It was out for all of one month in art house theaters in New York City and I caught it and LOVED it. See it now.

Mostly Martha (German version), written and directed by Sandra Nettlebeck, was exquisite in its original German version-heartbreaking and poignant. I didn't even bother with the American remake.

Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, written and directed by Ang Lee, is a classic. If you can watch this movie and not laugh, cry, and come out of it craving Chinese food, you're inhuman.

Babette's Feast, written and directed by Gabriel Axel based on the short story by Karen Blixen is really the story of nourishing the soul with food. The meal that Babette prepares for these two sisters in this small gloomy village brings the whole town to life. Big Night, directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci, tells the story of two brothers and their failing New Jersey restaurant and the one night they have to save their business. It's inspired many to attempt the famous timpano. I still haven't had the nerve.

You May Also Like...

Recommended by Zergnet

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

Read more about:

You May Also Like...

Recommended by Zergnet