Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Best Finale I've Ever Seen

Eric Ripert comments about the tense finale and toasts the season.

Full transcript after the jumpI am Eric Ripet, chef of Le Bernardin, commenting on Episode 16, which is the finale of Top Chef All-Star.

So in this challenge, they have the opportunity to create their own restaurants. It's the finale. It's prestigious. It's a very exciting challenge for sure.

So in between Richard and Mike of course is an exchange. "I'm going to win. You're going to lose, you're gonna. . ." Of course, it's expected. At the same time, I think they have a lot of respect to each other. They have been through that season, which was a very difficult one. They have, I believe, created a strong relationship, a friendship. And, yes of course, they're saying "I'm better, or he's weak. I'm this and I'm that." But it's good television.

So I like the panel of the judges. Lydia is an authority, and she's the queen of gastronomy in America. Alfred is a pioneer, and one of the kings of American chefs in America. You have also Hubert Keller from San Francisco, who's an amazing chef as well. Again, the usual suspects, Tom and Padma and Gail. I mean, it's really, it's really a good panel.

So I like the process of choosing the sous chef. It's basically a blind tasting, and then they pick whoever did the best dish. And they have some surprises. They see Jamie going with Mike, and I don't think he was too thrilled to have her on board. But, then, you know they work really well. She does a good job. They work as a team. She's a trooper. She's doing a great job. I like the process. I like the process of the blind tasting, and at the end that was a good team, both of them.

So we started with Mike’s restaurant.

Mike has, I think, a good strategy. His restaurant is a little bit rustic in a sense, compared to Richard’s restaurant. But he seems to be well organized. The food is coming out. It looks like the food is well executed. We hear some "wow" here and there. So he has some very strong dishes. He has also some weak dishes. I mean, the first appetizer, I think, that he's serving with the mozzarella, is a little bit weak compared to what Richard is doing.

But then he redeems himself with the fish, and then the meat. The problem is the dessert. It's basically a crème caramel, a flan. And it has been boiled in the oven, so therefore instead of having a silky texture, you have a texture, which is very different. It’s harder. It has some little bubbles. It's grainy. But, you know, except that, he's doing really, really well.

Like Tom said, and as a viewer, you can see that it's one of the best finales we've ever seen.

Richard's restaurant is pretty sophisticated. I like the name of the restaurant as well, Tongue and Cheek. And he starts with a very clever canapé, amuse-bouche, which is oyster with the crème fraiche pearls. And everybody seems to love that. It's kind of surprising. And I think it's like basically saying, it's a statement. It's like, "This is going to be like that. The dinner that I’m providing today, it's going to be sophisticated with a twist." And I like his dishes. I think he has a little bit of a problem towards the end with his dessert. But he addressed in between, so some of the judges have the dessert that is not necessarily amazing, and then because I think Spike is listening in the dining room, he can find out what's going on, and he adjust, and he has something a bit different.

It’s very close, in between Mike and Richard, and until the very end you don’t know who’s going to win, but again, Richard is a bit more sophisticated. And I think Gail say it very well, when she says “Mike has a restaurant where you want to go eat during the week, and Richard on the weekend.” It’s more like a celebratory, maybe concept. The food is more sophisticated, again like I said. And if you pull out a menu with great dishes like he did, very strong dishes, like the hamachi, that Tom was very impressed with. And on top of it, that hamachi dish -- not only is it powerful and it’s clean and it’s complicated in a sense because he has some sweetbreads with it -- to make a successful dish like that is difficult. So to me, Richard win. I’m not surprised. I mean, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Mike. But I congratulate Richard, of course.

Mike is not happy. Well, I can understand that. I mean, it has been a long season. He has been preparing himself. He has been doing some great cooking. He was basically on the rampage in the Bahamas. He was winning. And to see Richard winning I understand he's disappointed, but, c'est la vie.

So the season has been very interesting to watch on TV. And it was very challenging for all of them. It has been basically a rollercoaster of challenges, and it has been very emotional for the contestants.

I love watching the All-Star season this year, and I'm sure all the contestants are very happy that they have been able to participate in such a challenging season.

Congratulations to all of them, and again, especially to Richard -- and Mike.

So I'd like to toast everybody. The judges, the contestants, obviously the winner, and the best way to do that I think is with a nice shot of tequila, so cheers.

It's very good. Like the season!

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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