Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Hosea: The Meal of My Life

The Season 5 winner dishes on his menu, Stefan, and, of course, Leah.

Bravotv.com: OK, cook the meal of your life: What was the inspiration behind each dish?
Talk about pressure! I'm not sure any chef alive can cook the "meal of his/her life" in such a short amount of time, but I tried my best. I was inspired by the ingredients. I cooked a meal that I would want to eat. It was a combination of ingredients, cooking techniques, and flavor profiles that I love. It was the first time all season I felt like I was really cooking my own food. I was very happy with each dish.

Bravotv.com: Did you know before you came what you would cook?
No way! I learned from watching the show that you NEVER get to do exactly what you want.  Of course I have some signature dishes I was hoping to present, but I never had my heart [set] on any particular one. My mind was clear until I saw what food was there and how much time we had. 

Bravotv.com: Of course there was a twist (there always is), but did you think Stefan would have cooked the alligator so well?
I am not surprised at all that he rose to the challenge. Stefan is an amazing chef and we both know the only real advantage I have on him — my looks! That's for you buddy! Seriously, I respect him a lot. I know it looks like we can't stand each other, but I consider him a good friend and I look forward to hanging out with him soon. As long as we don't have to compete against each other, we will never have harsh words again.

Bravotv.com: Were you happy you got Richard to help you? How much influence did he have on the meal?
Richard was amazing. He is the real deal, one of the best chefs this show (or any) have seen.  Richard never tried to make the food his own, he just supported my vision. He had some useful advise when it came to plating and service, and I wouldn't have been able to do so many things if he hadn't been there.  His speed, professionalism, and his humility were exactly what I needed. THANK YOU RICHARD!Bravotv.com: What did you think of the other chefs’ menus?
When we told each other what we were doing, I really thought Carla was going to take it. Her menu sounded so delicious. It was what she had been building up to all season. If she hadn't run out of time plating, the results might not have been the same. Stefan's also sounded wonderful. We all know he can make fine desserts, but unfortunately that seems to have been the dish that helped me edge out the win. 

Bravotv.com: What was it like cooking for that table of esteemed chefs and others?
I can say it was one of the biggest honors of my life (right up there with the last dinner in NYC). I am glad I had already done most of the cooking before I had to say hello to them, as I might have been too stressed out to think and cook clearly. 

Bravotv.com: You and Stefan got into a bit of a scuffle over the foie gras, etc. What happened?
It's a competition.  There are limited ingredients.  Part of the strategy is to go in the walk-in and grab what you need.  There were many times during this season that I didn't get to use something because somebody else had already taken it and wouldn't share.  I was clear to him that I would share whatever I didn't plan on using.  I'm not going to feel bad about getting the foie gras first.

Bravotv.com: Do you actually like Stefan because sometimes you seem actually kind of playful.
Yes. As I said before, he is a friend. The show needs drama, so you see the fights and the insults. There are many hours worth of footage of Stefan and I having a great time together that are laying on a cutting room floor somewhere. In fact, I'd say 90% of the time we got along wonderfully.  Bravotv.com: Did you agree with the judges’ comments about your dishes?
I have tried to take everything the judges have said to me during this competition as constructive feedback. You never stop learning. I have learned so much because of this experience. I didn't always agree, but I never disagreed, if that makes sense.

Bravotv.com: Did you think you would win, or you were unsure until the end?
I was never sure I was going to win. What I was sure of was that it was probably my best performance of the entire competition. I was happy with my food and I enjoyed myself. It was such an honor just to be here. And to make it all the way … I feel extremely lucky.

Bravotv.com: What are you going to do with the money?!
I am trying to open a restaurant of my own. I also will be spending a lot of time with my parents over the next few months, helping them out. My dad is having a serious battle with cancer. He is getting worse. My mom lives alone and is also dealing with a number of illnesses. This money gives me the freedom to be with them and help them out for a while.

Bravotv.com: How would you describe your experience overall? Would you do it over again?
Hands down the hardest thing I've done as a chef. I don't wish that kind of stress on anyone.  I would do it again if the prize had a few more zeros on the end of it!!!!!!Bravotv.com: What was your best/worst moments from the season?
Best is easy: that last dinner. The worst: probably the couch

Bravotv.com: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, at the end, Leah almost looks like she’s going in for a kiss, but it’s super-awkward, what was up with that?
Leah and I are great friends now. We really care about each other. We talk a lot.  But this is a cooking show … isn't it????

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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