Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Kitchen Hubris

Forget the dishes —'s Editor focuses on the feistiness of the chefs.

Welcome back, Top Chef fans! I got a few inquires last week basically asking, um, who I was. To steal an explanation from our Team Project Runway blog:

"We're the people who read your comments every day, who alert our bosses when you're looking for a recipe or more information about what happened to Jo on "The Real Housewives" - we're the people who make this website. Sometimes we do interviews with talent."

This time, we decided to make this blog a little more personal, so "we" became "I," and here we, er, I am. Now onto the show: ted_403_02_320x240.jpg

The Quickfire Challenge called for the chefs to create an upscale taco. And first I just want to say that watching this episode made me crave Mexican food so badly I had to have some tacos last night. Seriously, Mexican food is one of those cravings that just doesn't go away until you nip it in the bud. Anyway, so the chefs have to create an upscale taco for Rick Bayless (Read our Q+A with the chef), and I'm kinda thinking an upscale taco is basically the same thing as a street taco, but about five times the price. But apparently it's actually different. I thought Spike, despite his ever-increasing annoying attitude maybe had the right idea -- create the perfect street taco. Because what's more upscale than creating something really "street," but done well? But then I realized that maybe I hang out on the Lower East Side too much where everything old is new. Two peeps that got it right were Richard, and Andrew -- my two faves. Richard won the challenge by creating his taco shell out of jicama. Andrew used luxurious duck meat to pimp his taco out. Chef Bayless told me that Richard's taco will be rolled out after the show premieres. I plan to eat at Topolobampo when I head to Chicago in May, so I'm pretty excited, and hopefully I'll be able to try Richard's taco for myself!
Now onto the Elimination Challenge -- The chefs had to make their own teams. Spike brought up a good point that even though Richard is a great chef, he has immunity. And EVERY time a chef has immunity, they say they will perform like they don't. Um, whatever you say buddy. Remember Casey's "nest" debacle last year with Joey and Howie? Mm-hmm. Because even if you don't mean to be a weak link, if you are, your immunity will be blamed. Anyway, the Red Team and Blue Team are formed.

I haven't been to a block party in a long time, but if I recall correctly, all the food is basically just there so that people don't get AS drunk as they might with no food in their stomachs. But I digress -- I know that the chefs had slightly limited ingredients, although they were a lot better than I would have thought, but some of their choices really baffled me, probably the most being the paella. Not only was this taped during the summer, so it was super hot out there and paella is heavy, but who eats paella at a block party? (Apologies if you do, in fact, eat paella at your block parties.) But the more and more I think about the more I hear Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers in my head asking "Really, Richard?" I'm also thinking that now Richard can't make paella in another challenge that actually might have called for paella to be made. Hope that doesn't bite him in the arse later.

How cute were the Richmond Ave. residents talking about the food? I love how everyone now speaks as if they're sitting at the Judges' Table right alongside Tom and Padma. Anyway, rather than talk too much about the dishes, which were frankly disappointing to watch, I want to talk about the feistiness of the chefs this week. Andrew calling the Top Chef set "his house," Richard talking back to Chef Colicchio. And what about Erik telling Chef Bayless to screw himself in his vignette. Whaaat?! Easy, Odysseus. We now all know how both those stories ended ....

Oh, and before I forget, I'm going to announce Andrew's best line each week because, well, I love him more and more with each passing episode. This week's winner:

Andrew: Do you guys smell that?
[Voice]: What?
Andrew: Success!

He loses points for impersonating Borat, but otherwise it was solid.

Let me know what you thought about this week's episode and who you think is inching towards victory. I love getting comments -- it's a sickness.

- "superfan"

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: