Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Meltdowns on the NY Horizon

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

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!

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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