Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Hey, I Work There!

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

Hey, I Work There!

30 Rock that is. Bravotv.com's Editor talks Today Show and Long Island bagels.

Hello my little salt and pepper shakers. (Sorry -- that's a nod to the uproar over Whitney Pastorek's The Office recaps over at EW.com. She refers to the readers as her little binder clips. They hate it, but us bloggers need to stick together.) Anyway, back to the show.

On this week's episode, the chefs were greeted by the very handsome (yes -- he's even better looking in real life) Rocco DiSpirito. The chefs were asked to create a breakfast amuse bouche. I, like Jamie, am not a breakfast person (although I do like breakfast at dinnertime) and basically grew up on Long Island bagels (they're the best -- take THAT Brooklyn!) so I probably would have been at a loss during this challenge. Although come to think of it, maybe a play on a bagel bite could have been cute ... with bacon. Cause like the Top Chef judges ... and the Foo Fighters ... and Ms. Lee Anne Wong ... Rocco DiSpirito loves him some bacon.

It looked like most of the chefs made the same mistake that the chefs make every year -- they just make their amuse-bouche way too big. Jamie definitely got points in my book for being different, but Leah was the obvious winner, as she was seemingly one of maybe two people that actually made the correct portion size. And I know I have mixed these two up almost every week in this blog, and I'm sorry. They don't even look alike -- I have no idea what it is. And I mixed up Alex and Eugene last week, who look nothing alike either. So, again, I apologize. For the Elimination Challenge the chefs had to create a dish that they could demo in 2.5 minutes. Now, I thought this was challenge was really interesting. And before everyone starts with the "Hey, this isn't the Next Food Network Star," being able to do demos on TV or otherwise is becoming an evermore important part of being a chef and especially one of our Top Chefs. If you ask any of our Top Chef alumni what they did for the next year(s) after the show was over, they'll say they did a lot of demos. Our chefs get asked to show their skills in a lot of different venues after the show wraps because, well, people like to meet them and people know who they are. So when Leah told the judges that she didn't want to do TV and Padma said "You might have to," she was totally right.

Some things about the chefs' demos really cracked me up. G-d bless Carla (who, yes, knows she looks like Tracee Ellis Ross. And actually if you ask her, she tells a funny story about a couple stopping her while on vacation because she seriously believed she was Ms. Ross) because she is so genuinely happy for the other chefs' successes. Did you see her face when Ariane won? Priceless. I also really wanted to try her tortilla soup. When Tom called time on her she thought she had two minutes left, wihch means she thought that the 2.5 minutes had elapsed was only 30 seconds. Yikes!

As for the bottom three: Jamie's dish seemed to be simple enough, although I was a bit skeptical of her choice of duck eggs, something I don't think most people cook with at home. But please correct me if I'm wrong on that. The idea of eating that raw egg white didn't sound too appealing to me either and the more I think about Rocco's comments the more I agree that if I saw a chef recoil like that on TV, I would have been really put off. I also doubt Melissa tried her dish before serving as all of the judges seemed to think it was violently hot, and Rocco even went so far as to call it "inedible." And then there was Alex -- he knew he made a bad call, so it seemed like a fairly obvious choice for him to go. I know he was trying to be different, and I applaud him, but I don't find anything too unique about a creme brulee. He could have made a quick, easy, and "different" dessert if he wanted. And then there were the top choices: Ariane, who made a smart move and used fresh, local ingredients -- something the chefs usually favor -- and will be appearing on the Today show (in the building next to mine) tomorrow morning. Jeff, who had to handle Kathy Lee's over-the-top spitting out of his food (Could it have really been THAT bad?!) And Fabio who honestly didn't leave much of an impression on me this week.

What did leave an impression is the weirdness that is Leah and Hosea. I actually think they're kinda cute, but I actually can't answer the question of why we're relegating that story line to commercial breaks. Maybe we're trying to keep the bulk of the show about the food? I will get to the bottom of it -- don't you worry.

Before I go I want to say "Hi!" to all the current and former Rochesterians reading this. And I want to thank you all for your corrections, and to "Marj" for the Hedgedorn's correction. I'll have to check the place out next time I'm up there.

As always, leave your comments below!

Until next week where we get to "attend" Gail's bridal shower!

- Monica A. Reyhani

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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