Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Catch... and Release

Gail: Mei's Menu Was Almost Flawless

Make Top Chef Mei Lin's Winning Dessert!

Richard: "Gregory Had the Better Ideas"

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Hugh: Mei's a Chef's Chef

Richard: "Winning Is Overrated"

Make Mei's Sushi Style Guac!

Gail: I Wasn't Surprised Doug Stayed on Top

Get Doug's Masterpiece Brisket Recipe

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Make Melissa's Seared Duck Breast Dish

Make Melissa's Mom's Egg Custard

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Make Mei's Inspired Duck a l'Orange

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

Catch... and Release

Anthony Bourdain speculates that Top Chef fans are probably quite satisfied with this week's outcome.

I'm sure that this was a pretty deeply satisfying episode for the Jamie haters, all those viewers for whom every week that went by without their nemesis getting unhooked and thrown back over the side was agony -- evidence of everything they suspected wrong with the world and with the show. Conspiracy!! Evil producers! Master Plan! No. Jamie simply managed to not suck more than anyone else for a few weeks more than appeared... seemly… or just. Keeping your head down and avoiding a spectacular failure may not be a winning strategy. But it can work for a while. It works in the military. It works in politics. It works in kitchens. In the end, of course, as in any true meritocracy, you are usually found out. Unlike many institutions, there is, on Top Chef, actually a price to be paid. Eventually. Just like the restaurant business. This was the week when Jamie was finally returned to the briny deep from whence she came, to rejoin, perhaps, her beloved scallops. Given her under-performance (some might say non-performance) this season, many, I suspect, had they been in charge of the good ship Top Chef, would have found being tossed overboard like bloody chum insufficient punishment for all the vacant stares, hiding under tables and eye rolling utterances of "whatever." But keel-hauling is prohibited on basic cable. Believe me, I've inquired. Best one can say about Jamie is that she lived up to her role as this year's "designated villain" magnificently -- and without raising much of a sweat. But… now that the Sea Sloth is gone, who… who shall take her place? Who will rise to grab the Crown of Douchedom from the vacant throne?

Marcel seems to be doing his best to live up to her standards. Apparently, all you have to do is feed Marcel a little alcohol and he starts thinking he's an OG, flashing a dizzying array of half-assed hand gestures and gettin' all gangsta and shit. And  right up in your face, too! It's really an amazement that Marcel has made it this far through life without getting a proverbial pencil in his neck. On the prison tier of existence, he seems designed to be a victim. May you live long and prosper, Marcel. You make good television. Especially your menacing exhortation to your cellies that should they not live up to your high standards, they should just "Get the f--k out tha game!" I tell you, that gave me chills. Reminded me the time Suge Knight held me upside down off the hotel balcony and asked for half my publishing.

What else did we learn this week?

Well… we saw Richard Blais take one for the team as he loyally described the cheftestants getting in the cars to Montauk  as jumping into their "Toyota Siennas." Sounded natural, too. Personally, anytime I invite friends down the shore, I always mention the name of the car. Like… "So. What say you and us jump in the El Camino and head down to Seaside?"We saw Padma, dressed like Mr. Howell in Gilligan's Island. Kind of a yachting outfit, I gather -- though our intrepid host was noticeably absent from the churning, angry seas during the actual fishing scene. I have to say, by the way, that I was shocked that none -- none -- among the contestants were to be seen spraying chunks over the side. Many years of making way too many fishing scenes for purposes of television have taught me an almost ironclad set of rules.  Rule One is that for every five people who go out on the water, one will become sea sick. Rule Two is that no matter if giant sea creatures were leaping out of the water and onto the deck yesterday at this time, TODAY, when the cameras are rolling, there shall be nothing. Rule Three is that the best strategy is to dispatch a PA to the nearest supermarket in advance, for some Gorton's frozen fish sticks or a flounder filet to attach to the hook.

We also learned that when Jamie says "I'm excited," it means she's visibly breathing.

Challenged to cook and serve their catch from an earlier fishing scene on Water Taxi Beach, the contestants formed teams and reverted to predictable patterns of behavior:

We learned that maybe there really is something to the longstanding superstition that to be a teammate of Antonia (The Black Hammer), spells doom:  both Jamie and Tiffani F. fell -- one on each side  of her. Jamie, for making a bland, watery, and flavorless dish with incompetently cooked bass. Tiffani for making the fatal error with bluefish of not removing the dark, oily blood line whose strong flavor and odor can quickly permeate the rest of the fish. Which is too bad as she correctly understood how good the under-appreciated bluefish can be when fresh. I admire anyone who cooks bluefish and I'm sorry to see Tiffani go. She was a strong contender. Richard, Fabio and Marcel -- three complicated characters -- colluded on one overly complicated dish. And Marcel being Marcel, there's NEVER an occasion where foam doesn't improve things. Except when it doesn't. Like this time. I loved guest chef Kerry Heffernan's comment: "Foam on a beach?" Exactly.

Dale stayed out of trouble by  (once again) identifying the venue and the context and making good decisions. What do you want to eat on a beach? Answer: Fish tacos!

Antonia made a similarly wise choice with her Open faced Po' Boy with Old Bay mayonnaise.

Angelo managed to resist the urge to do raw fish.  And it was entertaining watching him hide under the table, refusing to be objectified by his teammate, Mike Isabella's, solicitations of female passersby.

And underestimated Carla gave  us all a lesson on how to do everything right on Top Chef, and how well bluefish takes smoke, serving it with pumpernickel and dill with lettuce wraps -- an homage to New York -- and the beach -- that won her a trip to Amsterdam and five Gs.  Maybe she can sell her prize to Antonia, who one suspects, might enjoy that particular destination more -- or Marcel "Snoop" Vigneron, who for sure smokes an ounce a bud before brushing his teeth in the morning, then, no doubt, to his corners, to pistol whip any crew who might have come up short on the money.

All in all, a strange, but ultimately satisfying episode of Top Chef. Tune in NEXT week for an episode I'm pretty proud of. And a challenge I actually helped design. Excitement and drama guaranteed.

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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