Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

A Difference of Opinion

Eric Ripert makes the case for sending a different chef home.

Full transcript after the jump

Hello I am Eric Ripert chef of Le Bernardin commenting on Episode 9 of Top Chef in New York City, the Season of All – Stars.

So the Quickfire we have to make the fondue, which is actually reminding me a lot of ski vacations, a little bit like Fabio when he was going in Northern Italy.

In France we have two types of fondue, or in Switzerland as well. One is called "the cheese fondue," made with cheese, obviously, and you dip your bread in it. So then one is "the fondue bourguignon," where you have a pot of very hot oil, and you cook your meat in it, and you have different sauce.

So I grew up with those types of fondues. And this seems to be less psychedelic than the '70s in America in terms of spirit. However, fondues are fun to entertain, and I think it's a good Quickfire for them to have. And the fact that they're judging themselves, I find that also very constructive and interesting to watch.

So Dale went with the idea of the Pho, which is actually kind of a cousin of the bourguignon version, the French version. Instead of using oil, he's using the broth, and obviously he has garnish in it and so on. It's going to taste good, we know that, and not surprisingly, he wins the challenge.

Maybe he over-thought a little bit the fondue concept. But I like the idea, and I thought it was fun to watch, and it looked like it's pretty good actually. So it may have been one of the contenders as well.

Richard is believing the conspiracy theory and he thinks that maybe some of the contestants are sabotaging each other to make sure they eliminate the strong one, and so I don't think with that group it's happening. I think, you know, it's the All-Star season, they are aware of that, and they focus on their craft. They are actually becoming friends through the show it looks like, and they seem to have a lot of respect to each other, to last so long in that season, despite the difficulty of the challenges. So I wouldn't believe in that theory of conspiracy, no.

Well I like the surprise of going to the 'Jimmy Fallon' show. And they have no idea where they are going, they hear some noise, they think they're going on top of the Rockefeller Center. It's actually in the studio where Jimmy Fallon has his show. And they have this kind of fun challenge, to try to catch an image with their cell phone, and that dictates the dish they will create for Jimmy. I mean, it's a lot of fun to go on his show. I have been lucky once to go there, and they seem to be so excited, I mean Carla is going crazy. They're really like they're supposed to have, a lot of fun in that beginning of the challenge.

So for Jimmy's birthday, they have to cook some food that seems to be pretty much home-food. That he grew up with. I mean a burger, a chicken pot pie. Tongue, I was surprised a little bit that he likes tongue. However most of the challenge is basic home food, homey food. I think it's easy to win that challenge if you stick with the tradition, and don't try to become too creative. And when Fabio decides to reinvent the burger that was not the right idea for that moment. It's not about reinventing anything; I think it's about bringing back memories to Jimmy and also making something delicious for the family and for the celebration as well.

It's always sad to see someone going home really. That moment when, you know like the last seconds before Padma says "please ___ pack your knives and go." It's really difficult for everyone, I think. And Jimmy's actually having a hard time with that as well. And I think he's genuinely having a hard time with it.

So Fabio goes home. As a viewer, it's a little bit difficult to accept the fact that Fabio goes home because he has a dry burger. To me, I would have loved to actually be with the judges and taste the food, because as a viewer I think it's more important to send home someone who creates a dish that is way over-salty, and that is not edible. The burger didn't seem to be edible, so I would have maybe argued with the judges that it's more important to send someone with over-salted view. I don't know. I'm just a viewer I couldn't taste the food, obviously, but I was convinced that Dale was going home that day. And I wouldn't have been surprised to see him going home of course.

So Carla wins, and thank God she wins because she was so excited about making that chicken pot pie. She was obsessed during the week about chicken pot pie. She wanted to have the opportunity to shine. Good Carla you won. It's the third time, it's actually a big accomplishment. You are right to be excited about the challenge, and about winning of course.

Angelo has been very creative on that challenge, with the pulled pork and mixing coffee and dill and it's a very strange combination, and I think you have to have a lot of talent to make it happen, and to make the dish a success. So I congratulate obviously Carla and Angelo for creating that very uncommon combination.

Antonia had a very challenge ingredient to cook for Jimmy. The tongue is not something that is very common. It takes a long time to cook. Richard actually helps Antonia a little bit by putting the beef tongue in the pressure cooker, it definitely speeds up the process. And so and she ended up with a good dish. So I'd like to congratulate Antonia for making a good dish with something that is not so easy to cook.

So Carla's going to be on 'Jimmy Fallon'. And first of all, Carla, you're 'going to have a lot of fun being on the show. Jimmy's a fun guy, full of energy. You may have to try to contain him a little bit, or may not, because why bother? But for sure, it's going to be very interactive. It's going to be a lot of surprises for you Carla. Being next to him, you’re going to have really a blast. I'm confident of that.

I'm Eric Ripert commenting on Episode 9 of Top Chef in New York, the All-Star season.

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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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