Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Lisa: Shakin' and Bacon

Lisa talks Stephanie, bacon, and her fight with Dale in the stew room.

blogs_405_02.jpg You seemed pretty psyched to see Ming Tsai as guest judge. What's your experience with Asian food?
I like Ming Tsai's cuisine a lot, and I was excited because he was the first judge we had who really cooks my style of food. Were you worried about the Quickfire Challenge at all?
I wasn't nervous about the challenge, but when you're in a room and you're blindfolded and everyone else around you isn't, it starts to get a little nerve-racking. The whole idea of being blindfolded made me a little bit shaky. Can a palate be trained?
I think you're born with either a great palate or not.
blogs_405_07.jpg So what happened with your team during the Elimination Challenge?

I was really frustrated in the Elimination Challenge because all these ideas were being bounced around, and the final concept my teammates decided on was one I didn't understand, and if I'm going to work with a team on a dish I want to understand what's going on. I had to basically trust both of their palates, they're both really good chefs, and as soon as we had a chance we'd be able to go through it and I'd be more comfortable with the dish. Stephanie seemed to calm the situation down -- what's your take on her as a leader?
I think Stephanie as a chef and a person is awesome. She has a way of dealing with things, and she knows my personality and appreciates it, so we get along really well. She also knows Dale's personality, so she was a good mediator in the middle of us. How was your confidence level after your win?
I was really excited about my win. It was Ming Tsai, a chef I really enjoy watching on TV and whose recipes I love. It was a really nice win, and I got a pretty awesome prize.
blogs_405_06.jpg Can you tell us a little about that technique you used to make the bacon?

The bacon technique was just a technique I've learned, and I knew those flavors would go really well together, so I just went with it. Everything tastes good with bacon. And the fight with you and Dale ...
Dale was creating a situation that had nothing to do with him and making it all about him, and I could see the frustration in other people's eyes at the extent to which he was going to express his feelings. I'm very quiet when it comes to sitting in that room because I don't know what's going through people's minds, and all I said was one little sentence to him along the lines of something like, "Dale, that's enough," and he basically went completely crazy on me. It went on forever, and I just sat there with my head down, waiting for him to stop. He just got more and more aggravated and frustrated with me, and that just shows his maturity level when we're on a team together and it's a team dish, and I didn't expect to win based on the components I did. I'm happy I did, but you should be happy when your team wins, and he just completely freaked out, and I showed a lot of restraint not cursing him out in retaliation, and his half-assed heartfelt apology the next day was a load of shit.

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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