Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Blame Game

Gail Simmons shares her take on Andrew's departure.

We all struggle to find healthy, tasty food for ourselves and our families on the go. I am constantly at a loss as to what to eat for lunch when at the office or otherwise strapped for time. After all, it is so difficult to make positive meal choices in a sea of vending machines and fast-food restaurants, and so easy to fall into the trap of grabbing whatever is most convenient and least expensive. I try to eat as well as I can during the workday, but I swear my taste buds cannot take many more mediocre grilled chicken salads on wilted greens. If only I had time each night to plan my midday meal and make it at home. Which brings us to this week's Elimination Challenge -- cooking a healthy and satisfying boxed lunch for cadets at Chicago's Police Academy, incorporating a protein, a whole grain, and at least one fresh fruit and vegetable.

I personally loved Dale's idea of the Lemongrass Bison Lettuce Wrap with Brown Rice & Herb Salad. In fact, just last week I had dinner at an Asian restaurant with a family member who has diabetes, and we ate lettuce wraps, noting how perfect they are for her diet. Similar to a sandwich, but without the overdose of carbohydrates, they afford no end to the different flavor combinations you can create. Dale's decision to use bison was also smart. As Tom explained, it is an incredibly lean meat, but that still tastes rich and gratifying, like beef.


It seemed that the bottom three in this episode knew exactly why they were there, despite Lisa's claim of ignorance. They all were well aware their lunchtime creations were weak, but they appeared to be more angry than usual and completely unable to face the judges' criticism. Having seen three other seasons of chefs get to this stage in the competition, it is easy for me to spot that moment when they become so run-down and frustrated that they give up trying to defend their food and instead begin looking for other people to blame. This episode was that turning point. Lisa was certain the rice in her shrimp stir-fry was sabotaged, regardless of how poor the rest of her dish may have tasted. She continued the blame game, calling out Andrew as if the judges didn't already realize his dish was missing a whole grain.

Spike spent so much time worrying about how to incapacitate the other contestants that he forgot to pay attention to his own food and put out what looked to be the most uninspired dish served so far this season. A lame chicken salad with a limp sliced tomato and lettuce on bread is not exactly what I call Top Chef material.

Andrew, the self-proclaimed nutrition expert of the bunch, had the nerve to blame the judges for not having good enough palates to appreciate the raw salmon sushi he made -- a tactic I guarantee did not win him any votes! He could not put his ego aside long enough to realize that, apart from the lack of a whole grain in his dish, his food simply did not satisfy his customers. At the base of it all, isn't pleasing your diners the sole purpose of being a chef? For this reason and more, it was time for Andrew to pack his wisecracks, along with his knives, and go.

Before I sign off, I want to thank everyone who wrote in to my blog last week with suggestions and wishes for my upcoming wedding. I loved reading all your ideas and will take many of them into consideration as we put the final touches on our menu. I was especially inspired by those who proposed I incorporate favorite family recipes into the meal. Please keep the ideas and questions coming -- about the show and, of course, all the action behind the scenes.

I promise to answer a few in my next blog post.

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: