Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Antonia's Dish: Not French

Resident Frenchman, Eric Ripert, discusses his issue with the Quickfire, and why Fabio is wrong about the winning dish.


Full transcript after the jump

I  am Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin commenting on Top Chef episode 8 New York Season All-Stars.

I was surprised with the Quickfire. I was very happy, actually, to see Isaac Mizrahi because Isaac has a lot of passion for great food. Actually he has a video blog that hosts very often some very good chefs, and demystifies some recipes from those chefs. He's a foodie. He actually, also is coming to Le Bernardin very often as well, and is definitely the proper person to judge a food challenge.

I have a problem a little bit with this challenge because to me food is about, ultimately about, flavor. And presentation comes really, in the least of priorities, much further, firstly the quality of the ingredients, then the flavor that you get for your recipes, then finally the presentation. I have a problem that it was only about presentation, and they didn't have to cook the food. Because to me cooking is, at it's best, and especially in competition like that, it's about combining the great flavors and the presentation, and it's too bad that they didn't have to make their food edible.

However, it was very entertaining. I loved Isaac's remarks. I thought they were really hilarious actually, and congratulations to the winner!

Actually Richard's dish was very appealing to me. It looked like it could be a very good dish and I think he had a good vision about creating, in his mind, the right flavors and then a presentation that was striking.

Some of the dishes looked really appealing and exciting to watch.

Angelo's dish, it was a rough comment from Fabio saying it "looked like vomit in a bag". It really did look like vomit in a bag, I'm sorry Angelo. Isaac didn't like also the fact that he wrote crocodile on the table. I kind of agree with that.

Dale did a dish that really looked like someone ate and didn't even like his food and left the leftover in the plate. So that was not really a successful combination.

But you know art is very subjective, and presentation obviously is very subjective as well, so.

I think Richard deserved to win, it could have been maybe someone else.

I don't think Angelo and Dale would have won that challenge for sure.

I am Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin commenting on Top Chef episode 8 New York Season: All-Stars.

The elimination challenge is at Rao's, and Rao's is a fantastic place. It's a legendary restaurant in New York. And as they explain in the show, you cannot really call and get a table. The tables are bought for life through generations, and every Wednesday of every month, you can go to Rao's. Or every, or if you go every week, it's every week. If you want to eat everyday it's everyday. You have to honor your word and go to the place, if not you lose the privilege of eating at Rao's.

I have been invited to Rao’s. It's really an experience. I think as Lorraine Bracco says you never forget your first experience at Rao's. I totally agree. It's something very very unique and special. It's one of those rare moments that you enjoy when you are there. So the contestants are very lucky to be welcome at Rao's.

I'm a French chef so what do I know about Italian food? However, actually, my grandmother is Italian, and I have been sharing many meals with my Italian side of the family. But I think, Italian food is about great quality ingredients, prepared in a simple manner, with some love. And it’s very homey and rewarding in terms of flavors. When you eat Italian, it's simple but it has this great effect on you, like it makes you happy.

It's perfect cooking for entertaining good friends, for having a family reunion, and the challenge was about that actually.

Mike Isabella despite the fact that he put a lot of effort in making his own pasta, served it raw. And that puts you in the bottom. And I think in his mind he was thinking "I'm going home and shame on me because I'm American Italian". He got lucky that some dishes were worse than his.

Dale didn't really impress anyone, and like Lorraine said, to make pancetta bland in terms of flavor, it's really hard to do that. So Dale could have been the one going home.

And then Tre did that risotto, didn’t really take care of his risotto. On top of it, lost the idea of making a risotto. And a risotto is paying homage to the rice. He had all those vegetables on top of it. It looked like the rice was not cooked properly from what I understood. With something like that, with those mistakes, you deserve to go home as well. And in this case, it was Tre going home.

So Fabio, being Italian, couldn't let anyone win this challenge. He had to beat this challenge. I think he was already selling himself to Mr. Pellegrino, in the beginning, by explaining what he was going to do, and relating to Rao's in some aspect, and they they had this long discussion, and the other contestants stopped the discussion.

And then he went into the chicken cachetorie, and did it. I think he did a good dish. Unfortunately for Fabio, Antonia seems to have done something better than his dish. And therefore Antonia ended up winning the challenge with something that looks simple.

And in the stew room, where they are waiting and discussing, some of the contestants don't really understand what is Italian food. It's about great simple ingredients, cooked simply but with love that have great flavors. And Antonia really did a good job, and she won so. Fabio was maybe very close, but too bad Fabio.

So Tiffany made a polenta terrine, which seems to be original, and looking at it from the viewer point of view, it looks very appealing and I would love to try. And then the minestrone was also a great idea that Carla cooked. I love minestrone. She could have been very well competing at the very top with Antonia. I think maybe it was a close up. Anyway Antonia is the winner this time.

So Fabio thinks that Mussels and white wine is a French dish. You know in France we would have probably put some crème fraiche in it, and have made it a French dish. But Italy, you can eat mussels and white wine is definitely part of the Italian cooking. Actually even crème fraiche and butter is part of Italian cooking when you eat in the Northern party of Italy. It's not only olive oil and garlic. Italy has a lot of different regions, and I think it was an unfair comment from Fabio.

I am Eric Ripert, I was commenting on Top Chef Season 8 in New York, All-Stars.

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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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