Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Respect The Chef

Harold Dieterle questions Spike's choices.

Forty-five minutes is a long time to make a salad. Spike won the Quickfire with a very traditional Vietnamese-style salad. It had mint in it, and it looked good. It looked like something I'd want to eat. I was little surprised that Stephanie didn't get the dish done. I think she definitely is a lot stronger, clearly, in the Elimination Challenges, because maybe she's the kind of person who needs a little more time to conceive what she wants to make. And if you have 45 minutes to make a salad? I thought that was quite a bit of time. And then Sam picked Antonia as the winner. When an egg is poached properly ... that's a big thing for me. I love a nice poached egg -- it's runny, and it's just good stuff.

It was pretty funny watching Spike choose his items for the Elimination Challenge. I was laughing while he picked chicken. I mean, if you're going to use those ingredients, that's cool, but I didn't think he represented them very well. I think he chose strategically, and if I were to do the same, I think I would've chose similar items. I probably would have done a veggie burger or something like that. That's what I was thinking. I serve edamame falafel here at the restaurant and they're a big hit among the vegetarians. I think I would've done a falafel/gyro combination.


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I thought it was a pretty boring episode, actually. It just wasn't very exciting. What I can't get over, and what I have issues with, is the aggressive comments toward the judges. Show some respect, man. Show some respect! You're going to piss Tom off? That's a smart move? If you want to be on television, and you want to stand up for your food, that's fine, but be respectful about it. I'd never speak to the judges like that. It's ridiculous.

Spike had a game plan. If his plan is putting half a slice of bread and a slice of tomato, and that's how he wants to utilize his ingredients to make a chicken salad, that's his decision. I think it was weak, but I did like the idea of putting grapes and olives together. I think that was a great Mediterranean idea. I would've enjoyed that. Tom didn't, but I liked that idea. I just don't think much of the secondary ingredients that he picked out to knock everybody else down.


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And about Lisa calling out Andrew: I think that being put on the chopping block brings out things in people. It makes people more outspoken than I think they would've been otherwise. Neither one of them necessarily wanted to go home, and she definitely didn't want to go home. And sometimes you throw people under the bus, and that's the way it went down. I'm sure Lisa will look at this in hindsight and say, "I wish I hadn't said that." She should've just let the judges sort it out on their own.

It's hard to say if the sushi was a good idea or not. I think if you do, it's got to be done really, really well. I don't think of sushi as being hearty, either. And that was, to me, one of the most important elements of the challenge. And sushi just isn't hearty. When I eat sushi, I spend way too much money because I have to eat so much of it to feel full. I probably don't think it was the best idea.


I don't think it's a bad thing that Dale keeps making Asian dishes, but at a certain point, you have to show some diversity. You can only cook X, Y, and Z food for so long, especially with the talent pool being the way it is, but eventually you have to show off what you can do. Everybody has a style, and everyone on the show is not yet a chef, so they're still developing their style. You get put into a situation where you're nervous or not feeling that comfortable, you're going to go back to your comfort zone. And for him, it's Asian food. So, if he's winning, who cares? He's making it well, so it doesn't matter. At this point, everyone's looking for an angle to get ahead, so...

I still like Richard. I still like Stephanie a lot. I think Lisa is very talented. I think Dale is talented. I think, at this point, everyone's really strong. And next week looks like a war zone. You can't not have Restaurant Wars. I'm more interested in watching Rstaurant Wars than in watching the finale, to be honest. I think it puts a lot of things into perspective about opening a restaurant.

Harold

www.perillanyc.com

Hugh: Mei's a Chef's Chef

Hugh Acheson weighs in on the finale showdown between Mei Lin and Gregory Gourdet.

There is always a Top Chef winner but obviously some seasons have a less experienced assemblage of chefs, while others have veritable US Olympic-caliber culinary practitioners. (Congrats to Team USA in the Bocuse d’Or competition by the way! Silver! Silver!)

This particular season of Top Chef could have been a contest of mediocrity, but it bloomed into something very skilled and mature, which is good for judging, but makes writing a blog with poop jokes and rap humor very difficult. I have to say, I was a little worried at the beginning that the whole chef squadron was a little shaky. But early retreats by chefs with bigger egos than culinary skillsets allowed the true talent to rise without being malevolent fools. And that talent really was there. By mid season we were eating their visions on the plate, while watching them battle it out over the food and just the food.

The two most successful chefs of the season made it to the end, and they are ready to rumble in the most respective way they know how. One will plate most of their food on the side of the plate, incorporating Korean flavors and modern technique into the vittles, while the other will weave a more classic story and put food more in the center of the plate like regular people. Should be a good show no matter what, because at the end of the day, it’s just hard not to be really enamored with both of them. They are good people.

Gregory and Mei start out on a hot air balloon ride, because that’s how I like to start every day in Mexico. The country looks beautiful to me even if you are in a basket hoisted hundreds of feet into the air by hot air. The hotel I stayed in was the Casa di Sierra Nevada, which was AWESOME, so if you are looking for a vacation, go there. It's no party town, but it is plenty fun. Great food scene. And to put safety into perspective, I felt safer wandering around St. Miguel than I do my hometown. Anyway, the balloon ride looks like fun and allows for that finale moment of almost tearful reminiscence and contemplation.

So their balloon ride lands in a vineyard, and Tom and Padma are waiting to put a halt to this sentimentality. The task is put forward and the challenge, this final culinary joust, is to create a meal that is the meal of their lives. They pick their two sous chefs per person; Gregory picks Doug and George, while Mei picks Melissa and Rebecca.

They prep their menus after a good night’s sleep. The prep I will not talk about too much, but suffice it to say that each team seems very pro and super on top of things.

Traci des Jardins, Sean Brock, Michael Cimarusti, Gavin Kaysen, and Donnie Masterton are dining with us, all of them amazing chefs. Like amazing amazing. The kid’s table, at which I am the head, is made up of Sean, Traci, Gavin, and Gail. It is a super table. At the table I decide to hold true to the tourist warning of not drinking the water. I thus only drink wine and the phenomenal beauty of Casa Dragones tequila, a concoction that will make me sleep soundly (but probably by dessert) on the table.

Mei hits us with an octopus that I really, really like. It resounds with flavors of coconut, avocado, and fish sauce. It is deep. The only flaw is that maybe it is a bit over done. The over cooking made it kind of crunchy and she could easily have been cooking it to that point on purpose. Second course from her is a congee, with peanuts, carnitas, egg yolk, and hot sauce. It is so f----ing delicious. Like stylized comfort food that you just want to eat all the time. Comfort food, when perfect, is perhaps the hardest food to cook, because it is by definition food you are very familiar with, resulting in people having a lot of preconceived notions about it. This congee would have silenced all critics on congee. It was that good.

Mei is gliding through this meal. She has palpable confidence, but is still a nicely soft-spoken leader. In my years of watching people lead kitchens, I have always been more taken with the allegiance that soft-spoken leaders cultivate in their staffs. Her third course is a duck course, and like the congee, she has cooked duck at least twice this season, but in entirely different ways. This duck has kimchi, braised lettuce, and huitlacoche on the plate. Huitlacoche is corn smut, a term I just yelled in a coffee shop, making everyone uncomfortable. It is a good plate, but my refrain about duck skin continues. It was a bit chewy. All in all, the dish just was texturally challenged. It needed a crunchy texture. But it was good still. Her last is her version of yogurt dippin’ dots with strawberry-lime curd, milk crumble, and stuff. It was blow-you-away amazing. Very complex, but very successful. Tom says it is the best dessert on Top Chef he has ever had, and I definitely concur, though he has tasted many more than I have. The toasted yogurt base was amazing.

Gregory steps up with a brothy octopus with cashew milk, fresh prickly pear, and also xoconostle, which is the dried version of prickly pear, kind of like a prickly pear fruit roll up. It is a strong dish, and may be the winner in the Octopus Olympiad. His second was a strange soup that was redolent with flavor until you choked with a shrimp head lodged in your gullet. Strange and a little unrefined for me, and pretty much everyone else. It was a wanted textural element, but made a rustic soup weird. The whole dish needs to be compared to the comfort food of Mei’s congee, and in that context it is no contest.

Third course from Gregory is a bass with carrot sauce, tomatillo, vegetables, and pineapple. It is a strange dish. I am worried for Gregory at this point. It is not like the dish was bad, but the dish was just not a winner winner. Well, let’s not rest on that notion, because his next and final course is a stone cold stunner. Simple short ribs in mole with sweet potato. It is purity on the plate and equal to the idea of Mei’s congee in nailing comfort food. Kudos. He’s back on track. This is a close contest.

Judges' Table comes and we deliberate. I am not going to mince words and hold off on this: It is really close, but this season’s winner is definitely Mei. Well deserved. Gregory is the consummate pro in placing second and is going to be a force to be reckoned with in this restaurant world. His win versus addiction and his success in cooking shows one tough person with oodles of talent.

Mei. Mei. You rock. You are a chef’s chef. You make food that excites and makes us ponder. You are a leader and a super cool person. You are the winner and will always be a winner. Onwards.

Until next season. I loved this season. Thanks BOSTON. And thanks San Miguel di Allende. You are awesome places to work.

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