Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Meltdowns on the NY Horizon

Season 3 cheftestant Brian Malarkey handicaps the competition in his power ranking.

With four shows down, it looks like Top Chef: New York has all the makings of being the most exciting season ever. The challenges are unique, fresh and star-studded, which makes for some dynamic television.

I was traveling last week with my family on the Oregon coast and didn't get a chance to give my thoughts on the Thanksgiving Foo Fighter Fiest. A popularity contest was on full display with Leah taking the Top Chef: The Cookbook Quickfire challenge by preparing Hung's White Asparagus dish. The dish translated into a great soup that Grant and Padma loved. It's always tough when the contestants have to pick who they like and want to work with, but it's also very telling of who has the respect in the house. I would have swapped Melissa for Jeff in a New York minute and I have always enjoyed Eugene "aloha" vibe of over Radhika's casual vibe. All in all, the Foo's spit on my boy Richard from San Diego and he was sent home with his marshmallows intact, for the most part. I believe we have the second best crying exit in this episode, second only to Joey's "Pickles" breakdown on my season. Daniel dodged an al dente potato bomb with those spuds (what are party underwear?) On the up swing: Ariane is no longer the turkey, Eugene kills it with his home made grill, the Italian Stallion kicks it with a pumpkin tiramisu and Jeff's cuisine crashes, but again, he shows great leadership skills.

All caught up and full steam ahead ... Thoughts on the Today Show episode with guest Chef Rocco Dispirto:

No matter what happens to any of the contestants on this show, no matter how much Richard and Alex cry, no matter how many dishes are spit out on national TV, no matter how outlandish the chefs are portrayed, they, like the rest of us, will never know the embarrassment Rocco has put himself through. I like Rocco and I think he's a great chef . Years ago Rocco and Marcus Samuelsson made one of the best meals I've ever eaten in my life. Rocco made me laugh all the way to the top of the mountain in Aspen after I had was kicked off on the cowboy episode. (We played a game of who would you f***, fight or kill given three choices of former contestants. He picked Howie, Marcel and Stephen, but my answers will forever be a secret to everyone except Michelle Bernstein and Todd English, who were also on the gondola with us. I gave him much better choices - Sam, Lei Ann and Frankie the Bull.)

Anywho, our game was nowhere near as embarrassing as Rocco's outfits and his hip-slapping farewell on Dancing with the Stars. Rocco, what the hell was that? If you didn't see it you have to check it out on YouTube. Hilarious!

This episode is one of those episodes that really has nothing to do with what it take to be "Top Chef," even with the ever changing challenge criteria that Tom and the guest chefs seem to make up on the fly. This episode had little to do with the food, it was more focused on showmanship (which, of course, I LOVED!)  Rankings

Fabio: I like him more with every episode, he is hilarious and has mad chops in the kitchen and he is not scared to ask to butcher his own Tuna. I loved the fact that he stayed away from the "Bullshit Eggs' and made something very familiar to his country, unfortunately Rocco "not a real Italian" didn't get it. Fabio understood the challenge and knew the importance of making something "my mom" could and want to make at home. Line of the week also goes to Fabio with "Fresh out of the Boat"

Stefan: What is that egg thingy called? I don't know, you don't know and Rocco doesn't know - does anyone know?

Leah: I was wrong, we do have a couple great girls on the show this season, and Leah is the front-runner. Two Quickfire wins in a row! The "Chef of Family" kept it real with the one-bite quail egg. I can't believe more of the chefs didn't go for the quail egg.

Hosea: Not much from Hosea this week, but he has a great energy and shows streaks of ability. Plus Leah likes him and she seems to know how to pick winners.

Jeff: The Amuse was confused, but the babaganushish dish was well liked by everyone except Kathy Lee and let's face it, who likes Kathy Lee?

Jamie: The solo Rainbow survivor cracked with duck egg and obviously hates the camera, but has the tats to compete with the best of them.

Eugene: Great Grill! Eugene is hanging in there, but blew the answer to the sushi question.

Daniel: Loud and proud. Tom didn't like Daniel's shtick, but the ladies did and I thought it was hilarious. Cornflake catastrophe and soy ablaze! Better get cooking …

Radhika: Radhika is consistent and very quiet, could easily stick around a lot longer then some of these guys who go for it and bomb. Ariane: Ariane has a huge comeback and she did a great job in front of the camera, but I don't think she has the "cougar" strength to survive much longer with this crew.

Melissa and Carla: I foresee major meltdowns on the New York horizon. Farwell to Alex and all my best to you and your wife. Cheers!

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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