Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

One Very Lucky Girl

Gail: Mei's Menu Was Almost Flawless

Make Top Chef Mei Lin's Winning Dessert!

Richard: "Gregory Had the Better Ideas"

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Hugh: Mei's a Chef's Chef

Richard: "Winning Is Overrated"

Make Mei's Sushi Style Guac!

Gail: I Wasn't Surprised Doug Stayed on Top

Get Doug's Masterpiece Brisket Recipe

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Make Melissa's Seared Duck Breast Dish

Make Melissa's Mom's Egg Custard

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Make Mei's Inspired Duck a l'Orange

Gail Has No Problem With Blood

Make George's Cravable Breakfast Sausage

Gail Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

Make Doug's Winning Mussels

Tom Colicchio Answers Your Restaurant Wars Qs

Gail: It Wasn't Keriann's Day

Make Doug's Winning Braised Pork!

Gail: We Had a Tough Job This Week

Make Katsuji's Authentically Delicious Stuffing

Hugh: The Demise of Cornwallis and Aaron

Make Gregory's Winning Dumplings

Richard: Chefs Please Follow Instructions

Richard Tries Money Ball Soup

Make a Home Run-Worthy Popcorn Crème Brule

Hugh: Where There's a Will There's a Fenway

Gail: Keriann and Aaron Were Being ---holes

Make the Winning Surf and Turf

Gail: We're Taking No Prisoners

Richard Goes From Player to Announcer

Tom Talks Boston

Gail: There Was No Season 11 Underdog

Hugh Wants Nick to Be Kind to Himself

Gail: It Was Difficult to Let Go of Shirley

Big Easy to Ocean Breezy

Gail: The Final Four Are Like Our Children

Emeril Is Proud to Serve Shirley's Dish

Hugh: Enough With the Mexican Food Hate

One Very Lucky Girl

Gail Simmons explains her decision to have her bridal shower on TV.

I just returned from my belated and much anticipated honeymoon and am so happy to be back in time for the airing of this very special episode. Thanks so much to those who sent good wishes to my blog while I was gone. I really enjoyed reading all your kind messages and am so appreciative of your enthusiastic encouragement!

At first I was a little reluctant at the thought of having my shower, a truly personal celebration, on national television. But after giving it some thought, and knowing my wedding would be completely private and focused on just my soon-to-be husband and me, I realized this would be a great way of documenting such an important event in my life. Besides, I knew my girlfriends would love it. They have all been incredibly supportive of the show and this was the perfect way to give some of them a taste of just how fun and exciting working on Top Chef can be! Once the party began, I was so glad I had agreed to do it. We shot the episode in early August, just weeks before my actual wedding, and despite the few culinary disappointments you witnessed, it was in fact a really poignant evening and one I will remember for years to come. As you can imagine, getting so many of my girlfriends together in one room is not something that happens very often. We ate, drank, and laughed for hours and had the most wonderful time. Although marriage is of course about two people sharing the rest of their lives together, this shower enforced for me the importance of having the rock-solid foundation of close friends and family in starting such an extraordinary new adventure. OK, enough of the sappy stuff...let's get to the food.

I have a feeling many viewers will complain that this episode's Judges' Table was extremely harsh and critical. In watching the final cuts, I have to agree. But as Tom mentioned, this was not just anyone's party. We were not serving strangers at an event we would otherwise not attend. The diners here were not only my closest friends, but many were colleagues, personal mentors, and bosses, several of whom not only have expert palates, but are people Tom, Padma, and I admire. Selecting a winning and a losing dish from the evening's four courses was actually quite straightforward. Everyone at the table agreed that the "Something New" Team had made a number of serious errors, as if the dish had been created not by chefs, but by a group of high schoolers as a practical joke. Their new take on sushi was all over the map and we were given no direction on how to navigate it. There were so many disjointed components on that plate, it was obvious that questionable decisions had been made by each of the chefs who conceived it: Eugene's overcooked rice and cold tempura, Carla's ill-fated salad, Danny's renegade mushrooms, tasteless beef, oddly-paired peach barbecue sauce, and of course the yuzu sorbet, which we were specifically told to eat at the end of our meal, but which had completely melted by the time we attempted to do so. Choosing who would go home from this team was our initial concern. As soon as we started speaking with the team, we realized how little communication had occurred among them. We also discovered that Danny had no insight into the mistakes he had made. As much as I am all for people defending their food, Danny's inability to see how poorly executed their dish was made it clear that he would be leaving.

The "Something Old" Team's Heirloom Tomato Trio was simple, smart, and refreshing. I remember thinking that parts of it could have used more salt, specifically Stefan's terrine, but on the whole the trio rose to the challenge and succeeded as one cohesive vision. I definitely appreciated the thought behind the "Something Blue" Team's concept and am actually quite thankful they did not try to create a dish made up of blue-colored foods. There was nothing unpleasant about their Blue Corn Encrusted Chilean Sea Bass. It was cooked well enough and in fact many of my guests enjoyed it. The reason it was ranked at the bottom was only that, comparatively, two of the dishes were stronger and it was our task to rank them. The sea bass is not as interesting a dish and, although it tasted just fine, was void of much texture or color. Part of creating good food is giving your diners a complete sensory experience -all aspects, from taste to sight to mouth-feel (touch), must be taken into consideration. On the other hand, the "Something Borrowed" Team served a dish that was absolutely delicious. The flavors were creative and well-balanced, the textures were beautifully varied and each element was flawlessly cooked. The dish surprised us all - a bold ray of light in an otherwise lackluster meal. It was unanimous among both judges and guests that this was the winning dish of the night. As to whom we chose as the specific winner, although Jamie may have spearheaded the effort, as judges we only see the end result, and the star of that plate was without doubt Arian's Indian Spiced Lamb.

I will not appear on the next several episodes, as I took a break from taping after that fabulous evening to finish planning my wedding and finally get married (which by the way was pretty special too!). I promise that you will be in good hands and I will be back for the finale. In the meantime, I will try to answer some of your questions on this blog and promise that lots more good food and good drama lie ahead. Oh, one more update: so far married life is fantastic. I am one very lucky girl indeed!

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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