Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Hootie Who?'s Editor thought Gail's bridal shower was the funniest episode so far, and counts down her favorite funny moments.

Hello my little bacon bits (You're welcome, "Caulder.") This week's episode was quite a doozy. There were several hilarious moments, which I will point out later, and what I think was kind of a shocking elimination.

First things first: what I think was the most exciting Quickfire maybe ever. Honestly, at first I was kind of confused with the whole calling each other's bluff thing, but when I finally understood I literally was on the edge of my seat. Although I'm sure they all have excellent palates, I'm also guessing they figured out what kind of sauce it was and knew what ingredients go into that sauce and named them (or they should have). Was I the only one that thought it was kinda hot when Stefan and Hosea knew eight plus ingredients? And not like "salt" and "pepper," but the hard ones? I know -- I have problems. And to "michelle" who suggested I hate Stefan because I never mention him, I think I actually overcompensate for my adoration for him by not mentioning him at all! Stefan and Fabio are my faves and I think they balance each other out nicely.

I loved this Quickfire so much that I think we're going to try to get more video of the next season's chefs doing a simliar March Madness-style taste test for the Web. Would you guys watch? Onto the Elimination Challenge, which I thought was really cute in that the chefs had to create dishes for Gail's bridal shower in the themes of "something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue." Sometimes these challenges are so frustrating to watch for me as a writer. All day my fellow editors and I have to think of fun play on words for the site to engage you guys. So when presented with having to make something "blue," we were all yelling at the TV. Um blueberries?! (Sorry Tom -- I think they're blue enough) Chicken cordon bleu? Food that you eat when you're blue? (upscale comfort food). I gotta say sometimes I'm shocked at how unimaginative the chefs are. I think one of the members of Team Old (Hosea maybe) mentioned the fun play on words of heirloom and old. But then every other time the team members tried to justify using the heirloom tomatoes they kept mentioning the old seed and old vine and not the play on words!!! Half of me thought they didn't get the relationship between old and "heirloom," but I will give them the benefit of the doubt ... sort of. So yeah, Team Blue totally should have done a meat, perhaps duck, with greens and a blueberry sauce. And since I have no idea wht I"m talking about, they should definitely heed my advice.

The New team confused the hell out of me. Sushi is new? Cooked sushi is new? Wrong on both accounts. What they wanted to create actually sounded like a roll I mentioned in last season's Team Top Chef Blog, the Dinosaur BBQ roll served up at Cali Rollin' in Rochester,NY (I'm not obsessed with the city I swear), but basically is a tempura roll with Dinosaur BBQ sauce on it. It's delicious ... and has been done for years. When Gene so adamantly told Stefan "It's a deconstructed sushi roll," I got really annoyed. If I saw seaweed paper on my plate and wasn't told what to do with it, i'd be totally grossed out, especially because i don't like seaweed, UNLESS someone rolls it up for me. What's that called again? Oh yes -- sushi! Really any one of those chefs could have gone home. Gene for masterminding the debacle. Carla, lovable Carla, for not speaking up. Or Danny for going along with it all so enthusiastically. I had a special place in my heart for Danny being from Long Island, but he really bugged me this week. So much for Strong Island. And then there was Team Borrowed. Honestly I don't know that Ariane should have necessarily won this week, but based on what the judges saw they made the right decision. And if we were giving points on attitude alone, then I would give it to Radhika. I was really unimpressed with Jamie's and Ariane's attitudes. Jamie's soreness aside, Ariane seemed so intimidated by Jamie in the kitchen, which really turned me off.

OK, onto the things that literally had me in stitches:

1. Danny's use of the world "splooge". I don't know about you but I don't want Danny's splooge or spluge anywhere on or around my dish!

2. Danny asking to try the sorbet in Whole Foods. I didn't realize till later in the episode that this may have helped with the preparation of the yuzu sorbet in his dish, but I literally thought he was just stopping for a snack. We didn't show it, but he stopped by the loose candy section right after. (OK -- that's not true; there's no loose candy section in Whole Foods.)

3. Carla's mating call: "Hootie Hoo." Not only was this just funny on its own, but Carla's detailed explanation of it cracked me up. In case you thought this was a one-part call you are wrong. It's two-part. I know that now. Carla told me.

4. Carla's reaction to Stefan's advances on Jamie. Don't get me started on this. I will say, Stefan is quite the flirt, and this whole scene didn't surprise me one bit. I'm glad Jamie stayed strong. 5. Carla again! "Are pickles new?" in response to Danny's suggestion of using pickles in their dish.

6. Fabio's wedding pictures. OK -- they wren't funny at all. They were FREAKIN' ADORABLE! I think that's it for this week. Let me know if I'm mistaken on anything or forgot something important. Until next week when we get a visit from Martha Stewart!!!

- Monica A. Reyhani

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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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