Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Keepin' it Reel's Editor answers your questions and tells you what to order during your next meal at Dos Caminos.


This week's episode combined two of my favorite things: film and food. But before we get to the Elimination and my answers to some of your questions from last week's blog, let's talk Daniel Boulud. He is one of my favorite guest judges. We always get the occasional, "Who does that guest judge think he/she is?" comment here at the site, but I have a feeling they might just not happen this week. And I agree with one commenter one of our blogs (honestly, I'm too lazy to look) who said that the chefs shouldn't just kowtow to the guest judges, they shouldn't be disrespectful either. Um, so, when Ryan said Daniel's restaurants "weren't his style." All I can say is, "OK, kiddo. Whatever you say" No one can really deny Boulud's place in the culinary landscape, and the chefs' faces pretty much say everything whenever he enters the Top Chef kitchen. He doesn't patronize the chefs by telling them everything's great or staying quiet, he gives them real criticism. (Oh, and his glasses were really flattering on his face.)

The chefs had to show off their technique, which for many of them, meant their knife skills. Zoi had it right -- she poached an egg -- which presumably when done incorrectly can be, well, nasty. (Is it weird that I can't recall every having eaten one?) This challenge made me think of our Holiday Special last year when Season 1's Stephen Asprinio made the "perfect omelette," which was by far the simplest dish presented, and he won. Why? Because of his technique. (Sidenote: The only advice I can offer in making your omelettes better/fluffier is to whisk your eggs rather than beat them -- a little tip I picked up from watching the legendary Jacques Pepin on PBS when I was younger.) Anyway, a lot of the chefs seemed to do the same thing: blanche vegetables. But Boulud was quite taken with Dale's knife skills and Richard's progression. Ultimately Dale won. I'm actually really surprised to see all the comments comparing Dale to Hung or Marcel. Sure -- I guess they all have an attitude? Maybe it's my love for Hung and Marcel that's blinding me, but I just don't see the similarities.

Onto the Elimination Challenge. The chefs were asked to choose their favorite movies. When I heard their choices, I was all "Huh?" Now maybe you can't really pick your absolute favorite movie because you cant' think of a food tie-in (or it's pornography, ahem), but let's be real, I think Harold hit it on the nose when he says in his blog, "I don't really know anyone whose favorite movie is Good Morning, Vietnam." We polled around the office, and a couple of us thought Overboard with Goldie Hawn could have been really funny. They could have made a trio that progressed from haute cuisine to comfort food. (You can vote for it in this week's Foodie Poll!)


It seemed like most of the teams worked backwards, choosing what food they'd like to cook before choosing the film. How sad was it to watch Mark trying to think of the films Ryan was suggesting? I just wanted to yell, "Stop yelling at Mark -- he's adorable!" I gotta say, though, I would eat that quail spring roll in a heartbeat! Again, Lisa and Antonia looked like strong, but quiet, contenders as members of their respective teams, and I think it'll be interesting to see how far they both make it in the competition.

And what about Richard, Andrew, and Dale? I literally said, "Wow -- what a Dream Team" to my TV screen. I think the only thing that could've gotten in their way was a clash of personalities or stubbornness. Thankfully none of them let that happen. Now I've been pretty open about my irrational affinity for Andrew (although his Oompa Loompa impression this week left a bad taste in my mouth), but I can't even tell you how many comments we got this past week asking a)whether Andrew is on something or b) if he probably should be. All I can say is, I would hate to see what you guys would say about us editors at around 4 p.m. each day, after some serious exhaustion and caffeine intake. It happens every day, but there's a point where I'll just start singing the theme song to The Golden Girls, and well, you know I've officially cracked. Moving on.

So, the Dream Team wins, impressing Daniel Bouloud, and guest eaters Richard Roeper and Aisha Tyler. Padma told us Ms. Tyler was super-nice -- something we always like to hear about our guests. I don't much care for salmon, unless it's on my bagel with scallion cream cheese, or in my sushi, but the Willy Wonka-inspired dish sounded interesting. And I was pretty happy to see the team use chocolate in a savory dish. This is the perfect time to plug our Bravo For Foodies Chocolate blog. This week our chocolate expert, Clay Gordon (seriously the man knows more about chocolate than one can imagine), talks about what beers to pair with your chocolate. Um, count me in!

I was pretty annoyed with the conversation happening in the stew room over the winning dish, though, particularly with Zoi's comments about knowing that the dish couldn't have taste good. Cause guess what? They didn't try it, and I wouldn't argue too much with Daniel Boulud's palate, would you?

And if the judges seemed nitpicky about the colors of dishes and things, I gotta say that's a good sign. It shows how high the quality of the top dishes were, and, well, they have to pick a winner. So, everything counts.

As for Spike and Manuel's dish, it was kind of sad. I felt bad for Manuel because he seemed like a really gentle guy (Did you notice he didn't open his mouth when the other chefs were bashing team Wonka?). Also, i don't know how many of you have frequented Dos Caminos, but you must order the street corn. (I'm full of tips today!) Alas, breaking one of the Top Chef Commandments, he didn't speak up. And so Manuel went home.

Next week's guest judge is Ming Tsai, and he's, well, dreamy. And I can't wait. Now onto a few of your questions:

"jcb" wrote:
"Sooooo...what you are saying is that the royal "we" does not apply and a different staff person writes this blog every week. Or, explain please how one writes a blog by committee. ..."

Well, I do have to apologize for being so unclear, which I was. Every other blog on our site is written in the royal "we." However, this blog will be written by one editor -- me -- every week, so I'm sticking to the first-person. You can call me "superfan." (Everyone else does.) I really hope I've cleared that up.

The next biggest question is when Top Chef is coming out on DVD -- trust me I want to relive Harold's glory just as much as the next fan. I'll ask around and see what I can dig up.

And the cursing? Well I responded to that last week, and Dale addresses it this week in our new Burning Questions blog, where we will interview the winning and losing chefs each week.

Finally, I just want to thank everyone who commented -- I appreciate the compliments and criticism. And even if I didn't shout out your comment here, that doesn't mean I'm not addressing them around the office. So, keep posting.

Anyway, let me know what you thought of this week's episode, which movie you would have chosen, and if you've made any of the recipes from this season yet.

Until next week,

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: