Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Eggs - Extra Special

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

Eggs - Extra Special

Gail Simmons on where she gets her favorite dish.

Wow. Was everyone as shocked as I was last night to hear Padma ask Dale to pack his knives and go? I almost fell off my couch and dropped my pint of Rum Raisin ice cream. (The show makes me hungry, what can I say?)

I was certain Lisa was the one who was going to be sent home. But when I thought about it a bit, I thought judge's rationale was not unsound. He was the executive chef of the losing team, after all. And the butterscotch lopped scallops were his creation, but still. In terms of overall talent and performance on the show, I'd have sent Lisa packing, not Dale.

But the same thing happened last year on Restaurant Wars, the episode which I judged. You'll recall that Tre, a fan favorite and promising contender, was eventually sent home, to the shock and awe of many viewers. Responsibility for the team as executive chef does have its rewards and its consequences. It doesn't mean I have to like it, but I do in some ways understand it. I thought Warehouse Kitchen and Mai Buddha both presented likable trendy concepts as their restaurant themes, though I wasn't convinced that Warehouse Kitchen's menu was all that gastro-pub.

While I loved the name of the restaurant, and think it did convey the gastro-pub theme quite nicely, I was surprised to find Stephanie's Linguine and Clams on the menu. It's not a gastro-pub dish. For a gastro-pub concept, a chef is upgrading more traditional simple pub fare -- burgers, salads, stews, sandwiches, seafood and chops -- with more refined technique and often locally sourced, small-farm ingredients. I guess it's a small point but I'd have expected to see a really good burger or a heartier more rustic cooking for this concept than the linguine and clams and lamb squared dishes that were presented. Then again, what was presented was apparently delicious, which is quite an important feature in any restaurant, especially on Restaurant Wars.


On the other hand, Mai Buddha seemed doomed from the start with a team that could not get past its internal rivalries to cook for the greater good -- their survival as a team. Their bickering and inability to support and help one another pretty much assured their place on the bottom of the competition. It was almost like all that bad energy infected the food. Certainly it didn't help.

But again, I'd have sent Lisa packing, not Dale. Her Laksa was a disaster as was her sticky rice, and she's consistently seemed unable to cooperate or work as a team. I'd be surprised if she is not the next contestant voted off.

I really enjoyed the Quickfire Challenge this week and have always been in awe of the short-order cook. These folks are aces. I spent a day once working at Shake Shack here in New York City for a story, and I was amazed at how the grill guy kept track of all the burgers and their corresponding temperatures. He has this incredible ability to keep it all straight. I didn't. Luckily they never left me alone back there or asked me to do the cooking. I was just an awed observer.

I also love breakfast, so this challenge really intrigued me. After cheese, eggs are probably my favorite food. I love them every which way: scrambled soft with onions, fashioned into a crepe-like omelet and filled with feta and spinach, or in a Mexican casserole with refried beans, salsa, sour cream, and tortillas. But my favorite way to eat eggs is rather untraditionally -- fried or poached eggs served over more traditional dinner are -- over a salad (usually loaded up with lardons and blue cheese), on top of a burger, a steak, or a dish of polenta or grits.


There are a few egg dishes in this city that consistently wow me. Here are my favorites. I'd love to hear yours!

"Steak and Eggs" Korean Style at the Good Fork, 391 Van Brunt Street, near Coffey Street, 718-643-6636, www.goodfork.com

This adorable little neighborhood restaurant, shaped like the inside of a yacht, is all the way out in Red Hook but it's worth the trip (subway and bus will be necessary if you're coming from Manhattan) if only for chef Sohui Kim's tender grilled skirt steak, served with spicy kimchee rice, and a fried egg on top. Slice through the sunny center and let the yolk coat the spicy rice and the juicy steak, and you've got the world's best sauce.

Mayan Prawns and Anson Mills Grits at Momofuku Noodle Bar, 171 First Avenue, btwn 10th & 11th Streets, (212) 475-7899, www.momofuku.com.

With all of his accolades and awards chef David Chang is undoubtedly Top Chef of the nation at this point. He's got three acclaimed restaurants to his name -- Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssam Bar, and his latest pre-fixe affair of culinary artwork, Momofuku Ko. But my favorite dish of his is one from his original Momofuku Noodle Bar menu and it's one that's still on there. It's a simple dish of Anson Mill white grits, perfectly cooked so they're almost soupy, topped with diced country ham (for a smoky, meaty punch), sweet Mayan shrimp, a shower of diced scallions, and an exquisite alabaster poached egg that runs over the grits and sauces plate in seconds. The only thing missing is a heel of bread to sop of the last bits.


The Pork Chop and the Polpettone at Mia Dona is located at 206 East 58th Street, between 2nd and 3rd, 212-750-8170.

Chef Michael Psilakis is best known for his spectacular Greek fare at places like Anthos and Kefi, but a few months ago he opened a stylish outpost for rustic Italian food called Mia Dona (which he owns with Donatella Arpaia). He's using the menu to showcase not only his talent with this other Mediterranean paradise, but also to show off his passion for eggs. He uses eggs in two dishes that are positively crave-able. In the first, he uses a fried egg as an accessory for his juicy roasted pork chop which he serves topped with a fried egg and a salad of frisee, lardons, and Gorgonzola. Fantastic. The second dish is called Polpettone and it's a sort of massive meatball fashioned from the classic trio -- veal, pork, and beef -- that's formed into a meatloaf with a seven-minute soft-boiled egg is secreted inside. Slice it open and you'll find your eggscellent surprise. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Enjoy!

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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