Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

I'm Allergic to Beer

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

I'm Allergic to Beer

Find out which dish Harold describes as "weird," "really weird."

The Quickfire was interesting for me because I'm allergic to beer. So, I can certainly taste beer and be able to pair with it. I just can't consume any sort of moderate consumption -- I have two or three beers and I get sick. It was kind of tough in high school. I didn't know I had an allergy until post-culinary school. I would drink two or three beers and just feel like a total lightweight because I'd get sick. But then I could knock down the hard alcohol and throwdown.

But pairing with beer is just like if you're pairing it with food. If you have a sweeter beer, you want to go with something that's a little fatty, something to cut the richness. If you want something more crisp, you probably want to pair it with something more on the lighter side. It's the same concepts if you were pairing food with wine. I am not a beer connoisseur, so this definitely would have been challenging for me.

Koren Grieveson was guest judge, and, well, I've made it clear to a lot of people that I'm a gigantic Avec fan. I was just planning on going to Chicago this week and that is on my must hit list. Because when I was there, I had a really nice meal at Alinea, but I crave Avec. The food there is just so craveable. That's on the must hit list.

Onto the Elimination Challenge. First If you're a sports fan, just know who you're making food for. I mean, even though Nikki didn't do a great job with it, sausage and peppers? Absolutely. I mean you just have to make it nice. You also have to save food for the judges. That's kind of a no-brainer.Ribs? Great idea. I thought Richard's burger idea was by far the best. That sounded just like holy s*** -- I need one of those right now. I think I had a couple gin and tonics in me when I was watching the show. I was like I want one of those right now. I was like that looks good. That looked really nice.

I thought for the most part they did a really nice job. They figured it out. Ryan didn't. He didn't get it. He's metrosexual and goes dancing and isn't a sports guy .... Maybe he hasn't experienced that type of culture where it's a lot of people that -- even though they might not consume like that in their regular lives -- but you kind of go into that Neanderthal state of mind when you go into those sporting events. I know I do. I'm a huge Giants fan, a big football fan, a baseball fan. When I go to that, I don't want any finger food. I want to get my hands dirty. I want to throwdown and consume in the masses.

But, Ryan's a total gentleman. I don't think I've seen anyone on the show who's presented himself better. I want to know that kid. He's a good guy. Just look at him - he's a gentleman. He's a first-rate kid. But, you watch him going along and he's kind of skating along and at no point did he make anything that was just "Wow -- that looks tasty." But he looked like a great guy.

Would I choose a charcoal grill over a gas grill? Yeah -- sure why not? I think to me it's a challenge thing. But Mark was kind of in a s***storm. The station looked kind of a disaster.And Nikki did the shrimp skewers -- that was weird. That was really weird. There was no continuity between the two proteins. I get what she's saying that some people don't eat pork, but whatever. If they don't want to eat pork, tell them not to eat it. It's not like it's a restaurant and you have to make something for everybody. It's a challenge, but put your best dish out there. You know it's tough only having two hours to prep, but I think this could have been a perfect opportunity for someone to do some sort of braised sandwich. I mean two hours to get a braised done is tight, but if you take the meat and cut it up into small pieces and expose it to more surface area and give it a shot. Two hours is tight, but you can make a BBQ sauce and some sort of braise that has been cut up into small pieces. Instead of braising it whole, you give it a quick 15-20 minute smoke and then really cut it down and give it a braise. Or you can BBQ -- maybe brisket's a bad example, I don't know.

But it would have been tight making sausage -- they'd need to have some sort of sausage-maker there, and who knows if casings were available when they were shopping. I mean everybody has all these great ideas, but, you know, it's just one of those things. It needs to be practical too because you have to work with what you got. And I don't know if there's a sausage-maker in the kitchen. So it's all hard to say.

I've never been to Paul Kahan's Blackbird, but Avec and Blackbird are right next door to each other. Because I remember hanging out at Avec and popping my head into Blackbird. It's a pretty ideal situation - you have two really nice restaurants, one a little more casual. And you get the spaces that are connected, so it makes a lot of sense. It's kind of a perfect world.

No new favorites this week. I like Richard. I like Stephanie. I think those are my two peeps right now. That's who I'm feeling right now. It changes week to week, so we'll see what happens next week.

Harold
www.perillanyc.com

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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