Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Lesser of the Evils

Harold Dieterle declares his love for Wylie Dufresne and shares his wisdom with the Season 4 cheftestants.

I thought the Quickfire was good -- I thought both challenges were really good. They did a pretty good job. The difference between people who have experience and people who are just starting to cook is about restraint. I know when I first started cooking I found myself just putting tons and tons of ingredients in a dish, and the next thing you know the person you're cooking for is looking at you like, "What the f*** is this?" This challenge was about restraint, and which chefs know how to take a minimal amount of ingredients and make something tasty out of it. Overall, I think they did a pretty good job.

With Mark, I think he learned what the judges said about the last challenge and composed a dish instead of deconstructing everything, and I think it paid off for him.

I like Wylie. I'm a big Wylie fan. I think he totally thinks outside the box. It's not the way I cook, but I appreciate what he does and some of the other fellas who are doing that style of food. If Wylie thinks something's good, he's going to say it's good. If it's not what he's looking for I think he's a pretty straight shooter. Elimination was another really fun challenge. If you're going to get involved in this kind of competition, you need to know a few things. There are going to be restaurant wars, there's going to be a cocktail party, and you're going to have make a dessert at some point. You need to have a game plan of how you're going to do these things somewhere down the line. It's just preparation.

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Anytime you use pastry or something that's supposed to be hot and you have to leave it out for an hour or two you're probably going to run into some trouble. Blini don't work if you cook them ahead of time and then try to serve them. Unless you can cook them now you're probably going down the wrong path.It boils down to what the worst dish was. I can't really go out on a limb and say whether the right person went home. I'm still trying to figure out the mushrooms with the dried blueberries -- that just sounds absolutely disgusting to me. That's just me, though. I love blueberries and I love mushrooms, I just don't get how those flavors go together. Dale goes out of his way to say he doesn't give a shit about putting flowers or all this other stuff on the table because he only cares about how the food tastes, and then he goes and puts this cheese on the mushrooms that doesn't taste good.

It's a lose-lose situation. Tom's walking out of the kitchen and he's asking what you're doing, he sees you making these dishes, and if they're not served he's going to ask why. There's got to be some sort of rationale as to why you're not serving.

Andrew's a loose cannon. He's got a lot of energy. In the team they talked a lot about what dishes they were doing, but I think ultimately they were each responsible for the dishes they made. They were each making their own dishes. I thought his glacier was really interesting. It didn't look very appetizing to me, but I thought there was continuity behind it with the penguin theme. The calamari, on the other hand, looked really nice. I think he did a really good job. I wouldn't have made a glacier, but I don't know what I would have made.They're making foams already. It's cool that they're bringing some of their own equipment, he had an immersion circulator -- that's pretty cool.

Even though she didn't do well, I think Stephanie's alright. I like Stephanie. I think Richard's going to do some interesting food, so I'm waiting to see. He seems to be able to articulate his ideas through food, which I think is interesting. It's not someone who thinks they have great ideas but can only half-ass it -- I'm not going to name any names. He seems like he knows what he's doing.

Harold
www.perillanyc.com

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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