Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

From Wieners to Craft, "Only In NYC"

Season 3 chef'testant Brian Malarkey handicaps the competition.

Maybe Tom should start some carts called Wiener Craft to go along with his very successful 'Witchcraft Catering. You told me yourself Tom that's where the money's at and maybe we can get Spike from last season "The King of the DC Burger Scene" to do some consulting for you.

Thank you to some of the Top Chef alumni for coming out to San Diego and enjoying the SD Food and Wine Festival with me this last weekend. C.J, Casey, Richard Blais and very incognito Ilan Hall, you guys all rock and I want to extend an invitation to the rest of you to come on down next year. And a special thanks to Amuse Biatch for keeping us up to date on all your twisted thoughts and ideas, for those of you who don't read her, it's hilarious.

Now down to business with the ups and downs of the second episode of NYC Top Chef:

1. Fabio: "It doesn't matter how many dragons you kill, it matters who brings home the princess." It was obvious in the first episode he had the mad skills to excel in this competition and he really put it all together in this episode. The Mediterranean Dog sets him up for success from the beginning. He shows he's more of a team player than his other European counterpart by helping Jill crack her Ostrich egg or maybe he just saw the tragedy in the making but I doubt it. He shows respect for Tom and his highly acclaimed restaurant by declaring that he is "inspired" just being there. The Carpaccio and the awesome olives lead him to victory. We also get a glimpse of his humor when he is confused at why he is at Judges' Table. He also backs up my point that a "Top Chef" is more than just about the food. So all of you who got up in my grill last week about my thoughts about Hung, CHILL!

2. Stefan: No doubt in my mind he is going all the way to the end with Fabio. He is enjoying the competition with a constant beer in hand and hates to lose. I'm sure like the rest of you he is starting to grow on us all ... the Euro is killing our Dollar and now the European chefs are in control of our competition.

3. Hosea: Not a great week for him but he had the right combinations just not the right seasonings. From one seafood chef to another "Dungeness has no substitute." I hope he doesn't lose his focus flirting with Leah. From my own experience, nothing keeps you out of the bottom like seeing it firsthand and you all know I saw my fair share. 4. Jeff: Gives us all a better look at who he is with his great leadership skills getting all of the other contestants focused as they divide into teams. I thought it very interesting that so many wanted to be on desserts and yet they all explained later that they were all unsure of their dessert skills.

5. Eugene: Still looks to me like he's lacking the confidence to take this one all the way home but he's so hard not to like with the sushi dog and the Aloha Vibe.

6. Daniel: The big man gets delicate with his pound cake and NYC Dog.

7. Jamie: She took the smartest approach with the simple corn soup that the judges love. Take it from the guy who threw the whole kitchen at the elk shank, simple keeps the sails full. The "Bone Dog" was a misfortune but I believe she and Leah are the girls to take on the boys this season.

8. Richard: Life in the middle is nice, it's a great place, and the "After School Snack" is a compliment in comfort, I think.

9. Leah: For all of you who are hoping for a Top Chef romance, everyone has to sign a little contract that says no contact on the set. Save that type of drama for the Real Housewives and for love of sanity save yourself Andy Cohen from the Atlanta crew.

10. Melissa: The grilled avocados were not good enough for the top and not bad enough for the bottom.

11. Radhika: Great Job with the Indian Dog but she did say early on that she didn't want to be typecast as the Indian girl that only cooks Indian food. I don't know a lot about Indian food but if sweet guacamole is a dessert then she might want to try something different, said the guy that only cooked seafood.

12. Carla: Great energy, almost motherly to the rest of the crew. When she said that she was nervous about having to cook in a new kitchen just after she got used to the Top Chef kitchen I had to laugh -- has she not seen this show? She will be cooking in every type of setting if she stays in the competition and next week looks like an outdoor nightmare.

13. Alex: So little face time this week and last week and pulling pork as his big gun, I just don't see it. The worst secret of Top Chef is that who ever gets the most face time in each episode is going to be either the top or the bottom so I don't see him going anywhere for awhile but I have seen nothing to sway me in either way.

14. Jill: I agree with her that Ariane should have been the one to go, although her argument to stay broke the Ostrich egg. If you can't crack it don't try and cook it.

15. Ariane: The fact that she was going to let all of the other contestants hear all about it if she got kicked off was as bad as the comment about being able to experience food from her books. She even admitted that she makes this dish at her own restaurant all of the time after confessing she didn't know if it was any good. O MY! I hate to see anyone cry so I hope we can get by this unnecessary drama and just work on cooking some great food.

A few extra thoughts:

Damon Weiss, the Chef of Craft NYC: His boss is one of the most popular chefs on television and you could tell he wanted nothing to do with the invasion of his kitchen. Now that's a real chef ... Rock ON!

The guest chefs who did not make the show: I thought some of them were great and open-minded but some of them were (as NYC Chef and Contestant on my season "Joey Pickles" would say "DoucheBAGS!") One guy was so unoriginal that he said of Hosea's crab dish "I would have done that dish differently" not that he would have done something else but he was explaining how he would have fixed someone else's dish. No -- what would you have done with the world and cameras surrounding you? Finally another guest was so proud to say how he didn't use any animal fat or butter in his cooking ... To him I yell from the top of my lungs " LIVE LIFE AND ENJOY."

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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