Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

TC/DC

Bravotv.com's Senior Editor talks about her trip to D.C. and breaks down the season premiere.

We're back my little cherry blossoms! My, how I've missed all of you so much. I hope you're as excited as I am to start another season together, dishing on the competition, and all the behind-the-scenes info I'm allowed to share.

First, let me begin by saying that I had the pleasure of going to D.C. a few months ago for Hypefest -- this is Bravo lingo for the time where we all get together for a couple days to do photo shoots, shoot on-air promos, video extras, etc. We hadn't announced where this season would be yet (although some might say it was the worst-kept secret in TV), so I couldn't share all of my fun foodie experiences at the time! But now I can! I finally got to enjoy some delicous burgers and shakes at Spike's Good Stuff Eatery. Spike's super-sweet sister, Micheline, met us and pretty much let us try whatever we wanted, so we obviously went a little nuts. Here I am with our West Coast video predator (that's producer/editor) Galen Newton indulging in the delicious Toasted Marshmallow hand spun milkshake. Yummy!

galen-milkshake-crop.jpg

I also got to ham it up on the Top Chef on-air promo set, which was truly a highlight:

oval-office-crop.jpg

As you can tell I really geeked out while I was there. I had also hoped to make another trip to Bryan Voltaggio's VOLT, but unfortunately time didn't allow for it. Next time! (If you remember from last season, I can't go an entire blog post without mentioning Bryan.)

OK -- enough about me -- onto the show! Can I just say something about the opening credits? Did you notice the Food & Wine magazine cover used during the prize description? It's BEAUTIFUL! I know that sounds nuts, but it was the cover from a couple months ago with tacos on the cover. It was literally so pretty I sent an e-mail to Gail Simmons after mine arrived in my mailbox to tell her how striking it was! And now, it's on the show.

OK -- now really onto the show: we really didn't waste any time this season, starting with the Mise en Place Relay Race, and it looks like we decided to keep the High Stakes Quickfire Challenges inspired by Top Chef: Las Vegas. This one was worth $20K. Besides Amanda cutting herself, there were no major injuries, except to people's egos. It quickly became clear that Kenny and Angelo were the ones to beat. After peeling potatoes, chopping onions, and breaking down chickens, the chefs had to create a dish from the ingredients. My parents used to make a killer potted chicken dish with just these three things ... and maybe some paprika. You can make the best one-pot wonders with just some chicken, potatoes, and onions. Our chefs went the more refined route, and Angelo won over Tom's palate. I actually have yet to eat at Angelo's sandwich shop, Xie Xie, right here in Manhattan. I'm sure that will change in the next few weeks! Also, Angelo's kind of a looker. For some reason he reminds me of Pat Monahan, lead singer of Train. Anyone else? Just me?

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs had to cater an event and create dishes inspired by their hometown. This was a great challenge because it reflected the chefs' personalities, and where they're from, which honestly is helping me remember who's who! Meeting helped me with this as well, but, again, if you've read this blog before you know I love to mix up cheftestants, so please don't yell at me about it. It hurts my feelings, and it's not intentional. I kid, I kid -- yell at me all you want!

The Elimination was also interesting because the top four Quickfire chefs had to choose the chefs they would compete against, dodgeball-style. Except, instead of choosing the strongest chefs to compete with, they would select the chefs they deemed the weakest. Mean.

I won't go through every single dish, but let's talk about the ones that stood out. Well, first, let's talk about John's, which unfortunately got him sent home. John's a really, really nice guy. I'm sure you could tell when he congratulated Angelo on his Quickfire win even after Angelo selected him to be one of the easier targets for the Elimination. This guy is a sweetheart and his hair is really, really long. He made maple cream puffs inspired by Michigan. Is it wrong that I had no idea Michigan was known for their maple syrup? Oh well -- you learn something new every day. Not only were the judges not able to taste the maple, but John didn't make his own pastry. Didn't he watch Chef Academy and learn how to make choux pastry? Guess not. Farewell, John.Jacqueline landed herself in the bottom by attempting to make a low-fat mousse. Um. This seemed like an oxymoron to me and to Eric Ripert (we'll get to him in a sec) and, well, all the judges. She might have been able to pull it off, but her mousse was grainy. Timothy also found himself in the bottom, which shocked him. Apparently his sauces were bland and the skin on his fish shoudn't have been there. Timothy and Chef Ripert have actually worked together before a long, long time ago, and Timothy does a fairly amusing Ripert impression. Stephen Hopcraft also landed himself in the bottom with his potato-crusted ribeye. I love potatoes. I love ribeye — it's probably my favorite cut. But this didn't look too appetizing. Eric compared the presentation to a chicken nugget. As much as I love a good 10-piecer, this wasn't a compliment. One word on Stephen: he is HILARIOUS. We shot another Slice and Dice Showdown video series this season (will be up on the website later this week), and he had me cracking up. I wonder how much of that side of him we'll get to see on the show.

OK -- now on to the good stuff: Kevin's lamb dish sounded tasty. Although I tend to steer clear of meyer lemon anything because I find it cloying, I think the pistachio in his marmalade might have swayed me. Kenny's trout dish got criticism for being complex, but I probably would have ordered it. I tend to order dishes more for what they come with than the protein itself, and I'm all about a good polenta. Then there was Alex with his borscht. I honestly don't ever think I've had borscht. I've been around it since before I can remember -- my parents would order it at every meal at Kutschers up in the Catskills on family vacations (where my Long Island Jews at?), and my mom would keep a bottle of it in the fridge. It just never appealed to me. But, I've recently developed an affinity for beets, so I'll let you know when I finally try it. The judges seemed worried about Alex attempting deconstruction, but he pulled it off. I think he had the best idea of the bunch. And, if you haven't noticed, I base a lot of my judgment on whether or not I would order the chefs' dishes at a restaurant; I am a paying customer in the end. Finally, we had Angelo's artic char. Being from Connecticut I had no idea what would inspire him. Nothing instantly comes to mind when I think of Connecticut, but Angelo talked about stream fishing and went for it. He wowed with his artic char which seemed to have tapioca caviar similar to the one we saw from Andrew quite often on Top Chef: Chicago. Angelo probably would have won me over with the bacon froth. Even though he wasn't in the top because of how the teams worked out, according to both Gail and Eric, Arnold's Kaffir Lime dessert was a hit too. I'm a big fan of Kaffir lime anything. Just a couple weeks ago, I had the Kaffir Lime Margarita at Top Chef Master Anita Lo's newly re-opened Annisa. You must go eat there, and you must get that drink!

So, if you look at the trajectory of pretty much every other season, Angelo seems to be the one to watch, but I I dont know — think because of how the first teams were chosen we didn't see some strong chefs in the top because they weren't necessarily the best in their team, but would have been overall. Anyway, I think we're off to a strong start, and I'm excited to see how the next episode shakes out.

Before I leave you for this week, I just want to say how much I'm enjoying Eric Ripert's presence. I gotta say, I liked Toby — he was a pleasure to work with and his blogs cracked me up. But Eric is certainly a welcome edition. I have the joy of filming him weekly for his new video blog, and he is gracious and professional. I was almost a little starstruck him when I first met him in D.C., but that has obviously subsided. I hope you all find him to be a welcome addition to the Judges' Table.

So, tell me: Who are you rooting for? Where have you been eating?!

Leave your comments below, and if you care to stalk me a bit and find out where I'm eating, friend me on foursquare. (And, of course, friend Bravotv on foursquare too!

You May Also Like...

Recommended by Zergnet

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:

You May Also Like...

Recommended by Zergnet