Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

That Was Sexy

The Season 1 winner talks snails, sexy technique, and whom he thought deserved the boot.

First, the Quickfire challenge. I personally like to do snails with curry. You need to have a good amount of fat and this is one of the times instead of using a lot of butter to cook them, I like to use coconut. I love snails. I think they’re meaty and not fishy at all. They can be a little chewy.

Kevin’s was pretty cool. Bacon with snails - that looked pretty top notch. The food is looking pretty tight.

The worst out of the 14 got another chance to redeem themselves with an amuse-bouche, but it didn’t look like they knocked it out of the park. I’m not happy to see anyone go home, but Jesse seemed kind of just hanging on by a string. Nothing has been terribly impressive. She had no reasoning behind her dish.

Let’s talk elimination. The one issue I had with this pairing thing was that historically, throughout the competition, you are assigned partners. With this choosing partners thing it’s kind of lame. It allows people to work together who have similar styles. This isn’t let’s see who we’re compatible with and then cook with this person. It’s just an issue I have with the challenge, specifically. Obviously you have some stronger cooks working together and they don’t want to be put under the knife. For the weaker folks, I just want to see some people with different styles bring it together.

I would have liked to cook a rabbit course for Joel. I love cooking rabbit. That would have been my number one. I’m pretty bored with lobster and beef tenderloin. It’s not very exciting to me. You make lobster with Sauce Americaine and it’s like lobster with lobster sauce. It’s not something I really care about cooking. I also would have really loved to do the trout with the béarnaise. Just because you’re in a French restaurant doesn’t mean you need to make the sauces classically. The deconstructed béarnaise was a little different, but everyone else cooked the sauces very classically.

I’m surprised Mattin did what he did. Making a straight-up veloute to me is pretty much the most boring thing you can do. I’m not really into starch thickeners. So, you make a chicken stock and you make a roux and you put them together and you cook it down. I don’t really want to eat that and I don’t think the chefs want to either. That is one of the most boring things in the world. Maybe I didn’t pick it up, but I could have sworn Ashley said to put asparagus in it. She did something. He said he didn’t remember. But, it was terribly boring. I respect the fact that she didn’t throw him under. I like her. She’s my dark horse. I was really impressed with her.

Everybody except for the two top teams went very classical. What I loved, which nobody commented on, with Bryan and Michael’s trout dish was soufflé at the end. If you were watching the plates go out you see what they did. You take the potato and you cut it in little rings, you take it out, you let it cool down, raise the oil, and then blanch it again. It creates this soufflé and you could see the little potato discs puffed up. That was sexy. None of the judges commented on that. It was tight.

Also, the way they prepared the fish I liked. If you’re going to serve skin on a fish you have to keep it crispy. There’s no point in keeping skin on fish if it’s not going to have texture. What he did was wrap it inside some plastic wrap, cured it or gave it a quick poach, and then portioned it so the exterior was on both sides. At my restaurant, I take chives and I tie it and wrap it so it’s edible. Then, I give it a little roast.

I thought Mattin should have gone instead of Hector. Maybe he saved himself because he came out speaking French. I think if Ashley would have thrown him down then Tom would have drove the bus right over him. But Hector had 4½ hours, so seriously? It was cut poorly and cooked poorly. That’s what happens when you don’t let meat rest. All the juice comes rushing out.

That's it for this week!


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

Read more about: