Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Team Rainbow No More

Real Housewife of NYC Bethenny Frankel needs more action.

I really can't wait to get down to the wire. These contestants are dragging a little bit. I long for stars like Hung and Richard Blais to make it exciting. Stefan and Eugene seem like the ones to watch, but I can't invest in anyone yet whereas in past seasons I had my absolute favorites early. Where the contestants lack a little bit, the tasks are a little bit of a kamikaze mission to mix it up. As for me recapping it, I'll try to just comment without making it so structured. This is my personality -- I'm a writer, I'm structured, and unless I follow the show, I don't know what the hell happened.

I love that the Quickfire moved from the Top Chef Cookbook to a soup. It seemed boring to simply recreate past recipes. This seemed brutal since soup with large pieces of fish sounds vile and difficult to me. Low and behold, many prevailed. Grant Achatz was the guest chef. He's a superstar, and might I add, he is totally adorable.

Jamie rocked that corn soup before so this was going to be a breeze for her. She's got the goods, but I can't get as excited as her as I did about Stephanie from last season. Richard's demise began here when he was too late in getting his acid into his Mexican soup. When people are on the chopping block, I look at several of their past mistakes to try to see who really hasn't performed overall. Daniel's ham and egg soup looked thick and hearty and delicious. Strong Island holding strong. Ariane looked like it wasn't going down the right road with her overcooked lamb. Leah started to shine with her underdog white asparagus soup and I was even surprised to see that she won. I thought the main task was daunting, but for individuals to whine and complain about the circumstances is useless. Everyone has the same disadvantages, so the playing field is difficult. This was totally doable if organized. I've cooked entire meals on a hotplate, a microwave, and a tiny Holly Hobby-like oven. This can be done and Jeff's initiative in being organized was a good start. I'm glad the judges said that it was close because I truly wasn't sure how this was going to go down.

I actually thought Team Cougar was going to win this one. Ariane definitely redeemed herself -- although being good at turkey (in her comfort zone which is catering) isn't blowing me away. This was a moment where I realized Stefan may not be the star we thought he'd be. His turkey couldn't trump Ariane's. I get why Ariane is still safe. Turkey is the meal centerpiece. Jeff secured his spot for taking the shot and being the leader, although his dishes were underwhelming, and there is a recurring theme where he takes on too much and can't do it all well. I actually thought the bacon mac and cheese was a good idea because it is microwave and toaster friendly and can sit on a buffet. Eugene was a star with his MacGuyver grill. He's strong. I agreed with Tom on Fabio's take on Tiramisu. The judges always love someone staying true to themselves and inspiring a dish in a new way. Radhika did it last week with her Indian hot dog.

I thought S'mores was a great idea, but when I heard that they were being done a la minute, that scared me. S'mores are good for one minute and then they flop and get soggy. The Foo Fighters were mixed on their reviews of both teams but the standouts were the vegan stuffing, Eugene's MacGuyver port, and the mac and cheese. I loved how knowledgeable and opinionated they all were about food. I thought they were cute and sweet and having them on was a great part of the show. I think Team Cougar lost it on the nasty S'mores and pumpkin "barfaits." What I did like was how the Cougars were great losers. They supported each other, didn't attack each other, and that is really what kitchen teamwork was about. Jeff said the team had a lot of heart which I agreed with. I wished that they had won. Everyone loves the underdog. This was particularly nice since they were the leftovers after Leah picked her team. I didn't like how Daniel gave Team Sexypants the finger when they came back from the concert. He seemed to be the only really bitter one, and he wasn't so strong with his al dente mashed potatoes. I had no idea who was going home but I thought it was going to be Daniel and Richard. I'm so upset to say this, but I have to agree with this difficult decision. Historically, Daniel has been better, and in particular on this episode overall. It broke my heart how he cried, and I am so upset that Team Rainbow is decimated. I miss Richard. Maybe he'll be the Fan Favorite. He was definitely one of mine.

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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