Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Dragon Slayer

Richard Blais takes a page from Brian Malarkey's blog and handicaps the chef'testants.

I thought for sure that our season would have had a hot dog challenge. It will sound a bit weird, but one of my most inspired moments came at a baseball game eating a Chicago dog. A dog, topped with fiery peppers, nuclear green sweet relish, and the kicker, celery salt. I mean, celery salt on a hot dog? I returned to my restaurant to grab some octopus, which for some reason always reminds me texturally of hot dogs, to create a sort of octopus hot dog. I'm sorry if anyone just threw up a little, but the point is that inspiration can come from anywhere. In this Quickfire, some showed that, others didn't seem to get it.

Being inspired by your background always works, so Radhika had the right idea. Her dish sounded great and I'm sure as soon as I say this she will get chopped, but I like her. Her background cuisine is perfect for this type of competition. Indian food delivers impact and impact is key.

What the viewer doesn't understand is that judging food is difficult as well. And I'll raise an interesting theory that it is easier to impress at the beginning or dead end of the line of a challenge. In the beginning, the taster is looking for their first bite of "I'd like to have another bite of that". At the end, they're looking for something to trump that first bite, something to finish. It's a theory, but I'd be surprised if the data showed otherwise. Actually, in the elimination challenge notice how the top three all come from the appetizers and dessert groups.

Besides Radhika winning, the other story is Stefan finishing in the bottom.

There's no doubt that this guy is a good chef, but we get a good read on his character from his reaction to being in the bottom. He's pissed and he doesn't take responsibility for it. I think, for sure, we have our villain.

The elimination reveal has us heading to Craft for a lunch service focusing on New American cuisine. Like Tom, I found most of the selections right out of a CIA class I took called American regional. We had fried chicken and meatloaf. Peanut butter and jelly and quiche. This group, in general, seems to have trouble grasping the premise of each challenge. The premise is simple. Cook your food and bring in the theme a bit. Don't change your food to match your understanding of the challenge. Shopping also reveals a lot about this group.

Hosea blames the ingredient. I have him pegged for a long run, but this doesn't bode well for him. If you know exactly what you are going to do before you get to the market and can't improv once there, you are in for a few trips to the bottom. I can also tell you that unless these guys are heading to the Fulton Street Fish Market or Le Bernardin, which they may, seafood is a roll of the dice at a normal supermarket. Not always, but you need to be flexible.

OK. Let's talk about the Ostrich egg. I don't know who goes home as I write this. I'm not on that PPX list, but I loved the call here. Inspiration to me is when a chef sees an ingredient that they haven't worked with, appreciates the pressure of the moment, and goes for it anyway. I didn't care for Jill's hot dog, or the Rasta scallops last week, but I'd work with her based on grabbing that egg alone. She has giant huevos, literally. Quiche though? I immediately thought egg drop soup ladled from the shell itself.

Back at the dorms (I always felt that's what they were) there's a romance brewing. It's gonna happen folks, so get ready. All rules are off! The question is will it be Hosea and Leah, or Stefan and Fabio who hook up first?

Off to Craft at what everyone in TV land should know was probably 5 AM!

The mise en place is going well. Tom's in his blue apron. That means business folks. This is like a marine in fatigues and camouflage face paint.

The audience is comprised of applicants who haven't made it on the show. Some of them are goobers. Some show a sense of respect. I personally loved the guy who said, "I coulda done way better den dis." Perhaps.

The judges unleash a barrage of comments that are usually left for much later rounds. Slimy, like glue, eighties, and this is an after school snack (my personal favorite) are some of the comments. But none compare to Padma violently spitting up her lemon meringue. This was a Tony Bourdain/Gordon Ramsay moment.

The chefs get an early tongue lashing by Tom. And then it's off to the stew room. Tom makes the appearance, that's a change. And again we get top and bottom called in together. I like this as a viewer. I would have hated it as a contestant.

Now we hear the good news. Fabio, in a moment of Ryan Scott-ness, breaks down as soon as his name is called and sings like a canary. But they loved his dish. Why wouldn't they! Here we have what could possibly win the whole competition for Fabio. A focus on great ingredients, an understanding of what people like, and the application of creativity for the sake of improvement. Cha-ching. Sounds like 100,000 dollars to me. Besides, he's as adorable as Tina Fey playing Palin. And I will not bring up that he is doing Ferran Adria's false olive. Wait...

Jamie kills it with her soup. She might as well be a spokesperson for the cuisine of Northern California. "I just wanted to celebrate the season". Although, I understand this, it also irritates me. Next time she does well, surely she will say it wasn't her that made it great, it was the tomatoes. She did a great job. I'm a Jamie fan. So, I hope she has watched previous seasons and witnessed the fate of those who live and die within the stubbornness of their cuisine. I'm flying back from San Fran as I write BTW. I love the food there.

Carla rocks it as well and I'm going to sound like I'm jumping on the bandwagon, but I like Carla. She reminds me a bit of Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars - a little goofy, excitable and tall. I like Jar Jar and I loved the idea of sweet and savory with the cheese. Her energy is unique, and it should serve her well. My DVD ends there. So I don't have the privilege of reporting on fact. But, I want these to go live the night of, so why not let it rip and see if I can guess what happens now. Did you see how I slipped that in there?

Hosea served an uninspired, rather common version of a crab salad with mango and avocado. It looked like hotel food. He's shown us that he's got some skills, so I'd be shocked if he got the cleaver. He'll get the rubber spatula over his knuckles.

Jill took a chance with the ostrich egg and all we heard was that it tasted like glue. I happen to like the smell of certain glues. What? So, I'm going to say she's safe by way of that ostrich egg. It's a choice that says a lot about her character...to me at least.

And then we have Ariane. This is her second time with a simple execution mistake. Besides Padma's violent mouth ejection, I noticed Tom double take when he tasted the meringue. And if nothing else, the fact that she called it cherry surprise should seal it.

Here are some initial thoughts on the contestants' cuisine so far:

Stefan. He has a simple yet modern approach. The hot dog even sounded good. He should be able to breeze through the first half.

Fabio. He's positioning himself as the creative guy and also a team player. Speaking as a guy who slayed the most dragons but didn't take home the princess, I find myself rooting for him.

Jamie. She's got the swagger and she has a defined style. She reminds me a bit of my castmate, Jennifer Biesty. That means I think she's a badass. Leah. She also seems to have a style. It will be interesting to see the effect of a possible relationship starting on the show.

Jeff. We still don't know much about Jeff. But his focus while working is obvious. I'd like to know more about his style. Hosea. He claims his expertise is seafood, but flubbed the crab dish. Tom specifically said last week that he sees a defined approach. I don't see it yet.

Rhadika. The Indian angle will do her well. She should keep with this. As the super serious French chefs start coming on to judge, that will work for her. Just enough sweet, tangy, tart and spicy is a perfect formula for competition cooking.

Eugene. He seems to be playing defense, meaning he is adapting his food for each specific challenge, but not in a good way. Besides maybe his Hawaiian influence, I don't see an angle yet. He won't give up though, that's for sure.

Richard. He has a style. All cheeky, all the time. Peanut butter sandwiches. Lamb sliders. It's a bit gimmicky. Someone will read that and say it's the pot calling the kettle black. But there's a difference.

Carla. Super energy. No real defined style yet, with the exception that she seems versatile and it makes sense. She's a caterer, so she has to be open to cooking many different things.

Melissa. Absolutely haven't had that much info. Tells me she may be around for a bit...

Daniel. Danny is a wild card for sure. I didn't dig into him last week. But that Chinese chicken salad was a bad call. Chefs borrow and adapt, see Fabio's olive sphere. But I really think he thought that salad was a fresh idea, and that makes me worry for him.

Alex. Alex says he does Latino food. Yet when left to his own devices, he made what looked like a hotel dish.

Jill. She seems a bit goofy, in a fun-loving, casual way. I really did like the ostrich egg call though.

Ariane. If she's still around, it won't be for long. The pressure is getting to her.

If you want to weigh-in live on the contestants each week during the show, join me at www.plodt.com or catch up with me at www.richardblais.net .

rB

Richard: "Winning Is Overrated"

Richard Blais congratulates Doug Adams on his admirable run and knows (from experience) this is just the beginning for this talented chef.

Doug Adams is not Top Chef.

Doug Adams is, however, the poster chef for what this competition is all about. A jumping off point for unrecognized or yet truly discovered talent.

Mr. Adams, yes I'm saying Mister because it pays respect to the man, and also because that's how The New York Times goes about things, came on to this season touting his resume of being a working class sous chef from Portland.

Doug Adams is not Top Chef. Doug Adams is, however, the poster chef for what this competition is all about.

Richard Blais

Sous chefs are on the line everyday (sous chefs from Portland I imagine are also butchering whole animals and foraging for botanicals, buts that's for a different blog). They are hands-on, blue collar grinders and early on Doug uses this statement to separate himself from the contestants who maybe are clipboard surfing, or worse, not even really in a restaurant at this stage of their careers. And although this is a part of his strategy or drive, and a very honest personal understanding and awareness of self, I have news for you...

Doug Adams is no longer a sous chef.

Sure, he may actually, technically still carry the title tonight, I'm not certain to be honest, but by his performance this season on Top Chef, he is now ready for the next stage in his career, and this is what can happen and should happen after Top Chef.

I can't imagine someone not taking a chance with giving Doug the opportunity to run a small restaurant. I can't imagine that someone out there tonight, hearing about Doug's goal of operating a Montana restaurant, connected in some way to hunting and fishing won't contact him. I can't imagine it; because it happened to me... My restaurant Juniper & Ivy in San Diego is a direct connection from my performance on Top Chef, and my gut tells me it had very little to do with "winning."

The fact is, winning is overrated.

Winning is fun. It may get you some cash or secure your ego, yes, but really, six months after this thing runs out on television, we are all just "that guy or girl from Top Chef.

Throughout this season, Doug has demonstrated everything one looks for in a great business partner. He cooks delicious, relatable, soulful food. He does it with a smile on his face. He cooks with a sense of authorship and knowledge of place and time. And perhaps most importantly (no, not his epic beard), most importantly, he communicates with his colleagues professionally and with integrity. I'd guess every cheftestant likes him. I know every judge likes him. He takes risks, like roasting a whole lobe of Foie gras, or say, blending up an aioli of ant eggs. Which, by the way, are you kidding me? Maybe he takes these chances because it's part of the game, but I think more so because Doug is a curious cook, which is a sure tell sign of a chef ready to do their own thing.

Doug, it may seem like I never had anything positive to say about your food, and maybe indeed that's how it played out on television, but it's not the case, Chef.

Congrats on an amazing run, one for all future contestants to take note of. And when rooms become available at your resort in Montana, I'm booking...

Blais
@RichardBlais (Instagram & Twitter)

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