Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Finally

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

Gail on Favreau, Choi, and Finding Yourself

Hugh on Poor Boys, Swingers and Food Trucks

Emeril: Nick's Choice Is Part of the Game

Nick's License to Immune

Hugh's Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Hugh Decides Eight Is Enough

Gail Talks OvenGate

Dookie Chase Makes Everybody Cry

Fin, Found, Floundering

What Danny Meyer Taught Gail Simmons

'Top Chef' Goes to Hog Heaven

Gris Gris Boucherie Ya Ya

Brian and Travis' Dud Spuds

Finally

Richard Blais explains how different it is to come back to compete in the finale after being home.

Things have already begun to change. People are now approaching you in random places to say hello. At your restaurant, which is now 50% busier, it is hard to actually cook, because so many tables want to say hello. Your e-mail box is filling at a much more accelerated pace. Someone even started a Facebook fan page dedicated to supporting your beard....

So coming back is very different. You know what you look like and sound like on television. So you may have updated your hairdo. Bought a new leather jacket. Or hit the treadmill as it was with me. Or hit the cookie jar as it has been for others. But everyone is a little different now. And the playing field is absolutely leveled, because the break erases one important thing in any competition.

Momentum.

There’s an intangible feeling that momentum gives. I’ll bet at least three of our finalists never felt for a second that they were heading home at any point to date. Call it track record (which we are supposed to believe doesn’t exist), call it momentum, but whatever you call it, it’s gone now.

Ramping back up to the frenetic pace of cooking in the Top Chef world is tough. I should start a training school. Featuring the 401 class: Preparing for the Finals. Of course I know what not to do, like most coaches.

And the finals present even more challenges. Like not having the Top Chef kitchen. Like cooking outside or in a different geographical location with a host of new seasonal ingredients. Like all of a sudden living in a hotel room, by yourself, even for a few days. I’ll be the first to tell you that having a dozen cameras follow a group of chefs is weird enough. Having one personal camera crew for each chef makes things really awkward. Especially for me. I like to talk to myself out loud, but I’m savvy enough to not do it within earshot of company. Having a personal camera crew shut down communication with my alter ego for three days.  Needless to say, she was pissed that we didn’t win.

Finals also present these awkward moments where the chefs are just enjoying themselves in their new location. A stroll through a vineyard, a balloon flight, or squishing sand between their toes.  But they’re not relaxing. They’re thinking about food and what twists lay ahead. They don’t care about room service, or the wine tasting. I’m sure the thought flitted through Michael’s mind that he was going to have to cook Mr. Terlato, and how he was going to have to find a sous vide bag big enough, and that he would need more than one circulator to hold the temperature correctly. That he wanted his tenderloin, even though it’s a bit leaner. And he would of course cook it in one of his own wines.

But on a cheerier note, we are nearing the end of the season. And with the playing field equal, anyone can win. Especially with this group, where for the first time in a long time, everyone honestly deserves to be the winner, Jennifer included.

Keep up with me on Twitter @richardblais and at my blog on Omnivore Atlanta!