Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Poor Richard's Editor admires Richard's pure class.

Oh maaan. So, Stephanie wins! I would never take the win away from our first female winner, but I'm sure most people are simply saying "Thank G-d Lisa didn't win!" We had mixed reviews of the finale around my office -- while I actually thought it was kind of a nail-biter, some of my colleagues disagreed. I really thought Lisa might have taken it, especially when the judges asked each other whose meal they'd want to eat again because many of the guest diners commented on wanting to eat more of Lisa's food.

Let's start back at the beginning (a very good place to start). Based on who had the most Elimination wins, Richard and Stephanie had to draw knives to see who chose their sous-chef first. The options: Eric Ripert, Dan Barber, and April Bloomfield. Ummm, doesn't look like anyone would be at a disadvantage with this bunch, but I got the chills when they introduced them. I love love love the guest judges we're able to get for this show, and the introduction of ridiculously accomplished chefs as the contestants' sous-chefs last season was probably my favorite addition to the finale format. Stephanie chose the uber-sexy Chef Ripert, while Richard stuck with Dan Barber. That left Lisa with April Bloomfield, who might I add is a 2008 Food & Wine Best New Chef. Can you believe I haven't been to the Spotted Pig yet? What am I waiting for? Good question! I have to make plans with foodie blogger Andrea Strong soon, so what better place to go than NYC's premier gastro-pub. Anyway, the chefs got to work quickly. Stephanie was kind of hysterical micromanaging Chef Ripert's fileting, considering Le Bernardin is a world-renowned seafood restaurant. April and Lisa got along swimmingly, and Dan Barber was just along for Richard's wild liquid nitrogen ride.

Now, over the years (mostly post-Marcel), many of our chefs have given their opinion on the use of molecular gastronomy, but I think Richard was right when he swapped out some other ideas and only used his tricks for the ice cream, using science as a way to enhance the culinary experience. And according to the judges, he was successful -- and definitely more successful than Marcel was on the beach that fateful day with his bacon ice cream.

I don't want to focus all my time on Richard, but OK, I'm kind of going to. The moment when he commented on teaching Eric Ripert something new, my heart almost jumped because as a viewer I'd like to believe that that's what being a chef is all about, and that all of our chefs are as classy as Richard Blais. I unfortunately haven't had the opportunity to meet him in person yet, but he has been nothing but a pleasure in all of my correspondences with him -- even being super-busy with two babies -- Riley Maddox and his restaurant!

My affection for him grew even more in maybe the saddest moment ever when Richard admitted that he choked. And although I doubt that his idea of choking would be, well, my idea of choking, he did. He knew it. And he admitted it. At first I thought he really shouldn't have said anything -- always stand behind your dish -- but you could tell he was broken, and I felt for him. You can tell that Tom really respects him -- or maybe I'm just reading too much into body language at Judges' Table.

So, Richard was basically out of contention. In the stew room, Lisa said that she and Stephanie had split the four courses. Although Richard had already given himself up, I felt Lisa's comment was a little, for lack a better word, yucky. Lisa and Stephanie may have done better, but not once was the word "Michelin" thrown around. (Where's Todd English when you need him?)

In the end, Stephanie did win. (Braised pistachios? Who knew?) And I simply will not accept comments about her only winning because shes' a woman because that's just not fair. She has been outstanding all season and deserved it. Read our Q+A with Stephanie HERE.

Another season is over, and so with it goes my personal winning streak -- I predicted that Richard would win. Oh well. It's not so bad being wrong.

This may be the finale, but this certainly isn't my last blog -- not only do we have a reunion next week, but I will continue to write about my amateur foodie experiences and continue to answer your questions and try to get what you want on our site.

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

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