Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

She's Crafty, She Gets Around

The chefs cook in Tom Colicchio's kitchen, and's Editor prefers kosher hot dogs.

There's no meaning behind the title of my entry (Get your heads out of the gutter), other than I could not get this song out of my head during this week's episode, which took place at Craft. But before we get to the abysmal Elimination Challenge, let's talk about the Quickfire. Hot dogs.

I. love. hot dogs. It is one of the few foods that I crave, and while I can't remember the last time -- if ever -- I've had a "dirty water dog," or one out of a cart on the streets in NYC, I do head to Nathan's or Ben's Deli pretty regularly. Although I'm not Kosher, I usually opt for the Hebrew Nationals at Ben's because Kosher dogs tend to have a thicker casing which I love (and they answer to a higher authority!) Frankly, the only chef's hot dog that looked appealing to me was Radhika's. Someone should have made their take on a hush puppy! For those who don't know what that is, it's a hot dog wrapped in potato. Nothing too crazy happened in the Quickfire other than Stefan being in the bottom three. What does that mean? It means he isn't invincible, and one half of the "Euro Duo" may just trip up on those American comfort foods. We'll just have to wait and see. What I will say about Stefan is that he is kind of hilarious. I got to speak to him on the phone this week and he was seriously dying of laughter from the blogs on our site. I love when our talent (insider lingo for the people on our shows) read our blogs, but he was LOVING them. So, be sure to leave some messages on his Burning Questions this week because I can pretty much guarantee he'll see them! For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs had to create a three-course New American Cuisine menu. I honestly have no idea what New American Cuisine means (and maybe the chefs didn't either), so that's where I urge you to read Tom's Blog to get clued in. The chefs were left to their own devices to break up into the three courses. Thankfully Jeff and his sideburns organized everyone accordingly. What was interesting was that there didn't seem to be a shortage of chefs who wanted to make desserts. Basically, most of the chefs did horribly, which I hate to see. It's not that I care about them so much that I want them to succeed, but rather as a viewer, it's much more entertaining to watch chefs create amazing food. The two biggest standouts for me were obviously Fabio's (the winner) and Jamie's. Jamie's soup reminded me of Ilan's roasted corn dish in the TGI Friday's challenge from Season 2. They're not remotely similar, but I think the judges might like corn almost as much as they like bacon. We'll have to see if that theory holds any water.

Most of the other dishes looked pretty unappetizing, but let's focus on Ariane's and Jill's. Ariane really got saved again -- she needs to start listening to what people tell her BEFORE she serves her food. Padma actually spit out her food! That was supposedly a Top Chef first. And honestly I can't remember when that's happened before, so, yeah, that's pretty bad. And then there was Jill. Oh Jill. Just using an ostrich egg doesn't work if no one knows you used it without reading it on a menu. I wonder if she would've gotten more props for the out-of-the-ordinary ingredient if she had incorporated it into the presentation somehow, but with so many diners, I guess that wouldn't have worked. Honestly, ostriches scare me. And the thought of eating one of their byproducts scares me too. And although I agree with Gail's comments about Jill's defense being lame, she could not have seemed more nervous. Anyway, sweet Jill goes home. She did pretty good work last episode, but although the judges liked her Rastafarian-themed dish, I thought the colors were a bit cheesy. I'm just happy Hosea's poor crab decision didn't get him sent home. He's quickly becoming one of my favorites. (So hands off Leah!) On a non-episode front, I got to spend some time today with some previous Top Chefs -- Stephanie, Hung, Richard, Dale Levitski, Antonia, CJ, and Lee Anne -- at the French Culinary Institute as they prepared for a private dinner tomorrow at the James Beard House. We will have video from the prep kitchen soon where they told me what they've been up to and their plans for Thanksgiving, so check back on the site for that.

I think that's all for now, but leave comments and questions, and I will try to answer as well as I can.

Until next week, Monica A. Reyhani

P.S. If Fabio made that Mario Brothers reference one more time ... (I kid. I kid.) P.P.S. I grew up writing "G-d" because it's what I learned in Hebrew school. It is not a bad word, so feel free to use it at will.

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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