Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Jamie: I Wasn't Inspired

Jamie admits she deserved to be the one to pack her knives.

Bravotv.com: First, the Quickfire: What were you thinking when you saw that Eric Ripert was guest judge?

I thought for sure it was going to something involving fish, I mean, I know Le Bernadin is one of the top rating seafood restaurants in the country so it wasn't surprising when the announced the fish relay race.

Bravotv.com: What did you think of the filleting challenge? If they hadn't started with sardines, do you think you would have gone further?

I thought the filleting challenge was cool, until we pulled off the domes and were presented with the sardines...I had never actually filleted a sardine like that, with such precision...I was definitely intimidated, I usually serve sardines whole, Eric's were gorgeous! I knew I wasn't going to be able to do it as well as he had, it was something I had no experience with. I think, had we started with the Char, I would have totally had a chance to go on further in the quickfire.

Bravotv.com: Onto the Elimination: It almost seemed like you guys didn't know there would be a challenge announced while you were eating at Le Bernardin. Were you guys surprised?

No, Not at all...all through lunch I sat there and scrutinized every last thing I ate. I knew for sure we were going to have to replicate his dishes, and I knew I was in trouble...I am am awful at replicating...I thrive off the creative aspect of cooking and being innovative...I was terrified that was going to be our challenge.
Bravotv.com: What did you think of the concept of the challenge overall?

I thought the concept was cool, but not surprising...we all knew what was coming, some people were even taking notes under the table on certain dishes...but, I would have preferred being thrown in his kitchen and making our own seafood focused dish...I just think that would have been more interesting.

Bravotv.com: Were you happy with the fish you got? Was there a dish you would have preferred to make?

I was happy cooking black bass, I have cooked it hundreds of times before...I didn't think that part of it was going to be a problem (which its was). I would have loved to make the dish Fabio got with the tomato water and bread crust. That dish was beautiful. Or even the dish Hosea got because of the flavors in it, the black garlic (which was one of my ingredients I brought with me), the Persian lime, the cous cous...It was just more interesting.

Bravotv.com: What did you struggle most with in replicating Chef Ripert's dish?

I had a hard time figuring out the sauce, it was such a strange flavor with the ham and the celery. I also was having trouble trying to cook in his 700 degree ovens...I guess in his kitchen he really likes to keep his oven at blazing hot temperatures. Every time I opened the oven door and stuck my hand in, I think my arm hair got burned off! And then there was the braised celery, which ultimately did me in...

Bravotv.com: You knew that your celery was over seasoned. Did you think this would send you home?

I knew the celery was over seasoned, but at the point I realized it, I couldn't do anything to change it. All my ingredients were accounted for and I had nothing left over to help dilute the liquid to take some of the salt away, I tried adding some water when we got to the upstairs kitchen, but at that point it was just too late...I couldn't fix it. But, I had to serve it...it was either that, or serve nothing, I thought nothing would have been a worse offense. I had a pretty good idea that I would be going home, considering mine was the most offensive of all the dishes.

Bravotv.com: Do you think someone else deserved to go home instead?

Nope, not that I can recall...I think it was totally fair, and I was okay with that. I screwed up, it wasn't my food, I wasn't inspired...I think if I were to go out on any challenge this was the one to do it on...because at least I didn't screw up my own food and I didn't go home because the judges disliked something that was creatively mine. I think that would have been a bigger blow for me.

Bravotv.com: What was your experience like overall? Did Stefan ever get that kiss? (just kidding)

I had a great time shooting the show and I am super happy I did it. I met a lot of really amazing people who I know I will be friends with for a long long time to come. I think in the long run being on Top Chef has made me a stronger more inspired chef. It was a chance that not many people get to live through and I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to do it. As far as Stefan is concerned...I think we may have kissed once or twice in his dreams (ha!)....but, truthfully...he knows I adore him...
Bravotv.com: You were the last member of Team Rainbow left standing -- is Team Rainbow still alive and well off camera?

Oh Team Rainbow...that's one I will never live down! I never wanted to be a gay poster child when I started the show, but I think as the months have progressed I have changed my tune a little...It's amazing to be able to inspire a community and I am glad that I had the courage to be "out" on national tv...a lot of people can't even make it that far...I think its important to embrace who you are and be proud of it, hence the reason Team Rainbow was hatched in the first place. The three of us immediately bonded over being queer, which when you are a minority tends to happen, and yes, we are still thriving...in fact Rich and I are doing an a gay marriage fundraiser in San Diego next month.

Bravotv.com: Where can your fans learn more about you and your food?

Fans can check me out at  www.absinthe.com where I am still the Executive Chef...Plus, on our website there is a link that tells folks where I will be over the next few months so if I am in your city, I'd love for you to come out and say Hello! I also just wanted to say many many thank you's to everyone who has supported me through this journey...

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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