Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

To Judge the Judges!

Hey, Brian Malarkey likes new judge Toby Young! But wants to know what you think.

This episode seemed to be more about the judges then the contestants. Do we not have enough talent in this cuntry to find some of our own judges to dismantle, critique, and pan our contestants? Where is Anthony Bourdain when you need him, off eating lizard gizzards in Timbuktu? Our lovable Ted Allen jumped channels to The Food Network where Tom seems to be moonlighting more and more (i.e. see every Food Network event and you see Tom). This week let's change focus as did and lets "Judge the Judges." Who are your favorites over the seasons and who drove you mad? Who made you laugh and who made you want to throw something at the T.V? Yes this week my friends we are sitting behind the Top Chef Judges' Table and were going to let them have it. Not even our beloved Tom is safe this week and I'm sure Padma is going to get lit up like yesterday's Christmas tree. Don't hold back because this week we are making our own show: Top Judge on Top Chef!

Sit with me at Top Judges Table: I love it when they get real accomplished chefs such as: Jean-Georges, Daniel Boulud, Jose Andres, and Eric (kicked me off) Ripert. As a contestant you can't help but learn and appreciate the feedback from these legends. Of course it's also great to see the big celebrities chefs such as the Martha Stewarts (awful and slightly scary) and the "Dancing Chef" Rocco Dispirito (over-played on the show but mad skills). The ones I can't stand are the local chefs from the location the show is being shot, the ones who get their shot at fame and really put forth their own agenda; these judges usually show up in the early episodes that don't have as much impact on the final results. A few I have in mind are the Maria Frumkins aka the "Queen of Tarts," Michael Schwartz -- "Who" -- and so many more that I cant think of because we don't know who they are. I must say that I really look forward to more of Toby Young's hilarious lingo and movie references.

When one of his compliments to Stefan is "this dish reminds me of being in a wood cabin all alone in the middle of the Alps" you can't help but say, "What the f___ is this guy talking about." Another great one: "This dish reminds me of British Actors in a comic role in an American movie upstaging the lead actors" and the Tom Cruise in his cameo role in Tropic Thunder comment had my hairy knuckles slapping in the air at those apple bottom jeans! Come on I had to give it a shot! I am a Toby Young fan and he wins this week's elimination for me. The one knock is that it obvious he is not the one pulling the trigger here; he wanted to keep Eugene.

Now Jean-Christophe Novelli our French guest judge was overshadowed and really quite dry and boring.

Alright now it's your turn bloggers. Let's here what your thoughts are on the judges who have graced our beloved show Top Chef. Congratulations to most of the bloggers who agreed that it was time that Eugene and Melissa got the "boot." Not wanting to sound too harsh but I really wanted a triple elimination with Carla going home also. She's real sweet but her commentary, her voice, it's starting to drive me mad like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind ... I Toby Young'd that one ...

Bonus on your commentary this week: When complimenting or crushing your judges use Toby Young style references ... Get creative and have some fun ...

A quick power ranking:

Stefan: "The villain" is taking this game over! "Run circles around Hosea." "Against my taste buds." " I'm French." "Green Vomit"...

Fabio: We still love the Italian Stallion even with undercooked lamb. Roast it and win.

Hosea: Wallflower this week Radhika: Even with a weapon of mass destruction, I really am starting to like her.

Jamie: I can't believe they are not calling her out on this scallop fascination. I think she is a better cook then Hosea and Radhika but I dropped her down because of the constant scallop thing. I hate it when a contestant wins and doesn't get a prize (like me). Maybe they should send her on a Scallop Harvesting Adventure?

Jeff: Come on -- he got the Tom Cruise Cameo Comment ...

Leah: I love balsamic also ... fried food family style not so much. Ariane: I'm still not buying into it.

Carla: So sweet but no sugar

Melissa and Eugene: Same arguments week after week finally send you home. "When the booze is gone it's time to move on."

Cheers!

Also take some shots at "Mama Malarkey Macaroons" I can take it. Until next week with Hung...

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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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