Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

In Defense of Mike Isabella

Eric Ripert weighs in on "Chicken Oystergate."

Full transcript after the jump.

Hello I am Eric Ripert chef of Le Bernardin commenting on Episode 11 Top Chef New York, All Star Season.

So the big surprise is to see Paula Deen, being, judging the Quickfire, and being part of the entire challenge actually. And she's very nice and charming. I was very happy to see her. I didn't even know she had a restaurant, I just thought she was a TV host. And she's very nurturing. I would love to have a grandma like that.

So Mike Isabella wins with a play in the oyster shell with a chicken oyster. And it's definitely an idea of Richard, and Richard is very frustrated. The rest of the contestants are kind of like, surprised, and of course, I'm not happy to see that he basically stole his recipe. In a defense of Mike, I would say: Richard, don’t show your recipes to the other contestants if you don't want them to take your ideas. It's fair game. It's a competition. Keep your recipes for yourself, or if you share, you share. And at the end, a recipe doesn't make you necessarily win. Mike won because he executed it perfectly, as well. So I give more credit to Mike for making the dish a successful dish.

Yes, I wanted to try the fried mayonnaise. I was very intrigued by that because, as you can imagine to fry mayonnaise is almost impossible except if you use modern techniques like Richard did to make it happen. I love the idea of the fried avocados. I have never tried that but it looks really good, and actually I liked also, I mean as a viewer, the dish of Anotnia. I would have loved to see Antonia winning, unfortunately she only made one plate, and she was kind of disqualified.

So for the Elimination Challenge, John Besh is coming and he's joining Paula and, of course, Padma and Tom to judge the Elimination Challenge. And I like that challenge, it's about using seafood from the Gulf and supporting, obviously the fisheries over there, and then the fisherman, and people who are involved with the ocean, and the fact that they have to cook for a benefit to support an organization that will ultimately help like I said, fisheries down in the south. It's a great challenge. Obviously cooking for 300 people is not easy. They have little time, they have only one sous chef, and we know right away it's going to be difficult.

Some of the contestants choosing their sous chef, that’s their decision, and some of them are choosing more the protein that they are going to be cooking. I would have decided to choose the protein and then manage with the sous chef. Since I am the chef, and the sous chef would have just to listen to what I have to say. And the protein is very important, so it's based on what you are doing with it not on your interaction with the sous chef.

I was surprised that nobody chose Angelo right away. And everybody thought he was exhausted or mentally not prepared for the next challenge. Actually Angelo is a trooper, and he's really bringing positive energy to dale and supporting him the best that he can. Angelo does the best he can to support Dale, unfortunately Dale makes a lot of mistakes. And he's the one who's going home. But Angelo doesn't have to feel guilty at all, he really supported him really well.

Dale has an amberjack, which is a very beautiful fish, very rich, fatty fish. And he's doing a poor job with it. Raw potatoes, I mean, that's unacceptable. I mean to cook potatoes, it's the ABC of cooking. You cannot make that mistake. If you make the mistake, you don't serve it. And supposedly there are different batch of amberjack, so I don't understand why Angelo gave that to the judge. The mustard seems to be overpowering because he put too much. I think a tiny bit of mustard would have been doing great justice to the fish. Unfortunately, it just kills the flavor of the fish. And as a viewer, I believe he's the big loser of that challenge, and he's the one who's going home.

So Richard as a revenge is winning the Elimination Challenge. And not only is he going to Barbados, but he gets $5000, which he didn't get in the Quickfire. He creates a dish which is a surf and turf, pulled pork with grits and shrimp. When you think about it, it's not necessarily working well together, those combinations. You have to have a lot of talent to make a successful dish. Obviously he has that talent, and everybody's raving about this dish. He's the winner. Congratulations Richard. You did a great job with that tough challenge.

So Marcel and Tiffany is like, I don't know, oil and water or something like that. They don't seem to enjoy, first of all, the company of each other, and they dont seem to work well as a team. At the end the dish is not very successful. I think Tiffany's vision is not really prepared properly by Marcel, and she doesn't have the time or doesn't focus on what he's doing and therefore her dish is very unbalanced, and it looks like the honey is very strong and the shrimp is too sweet and therefore it's more of a dessert with shrimp than anything else. On top of it Marcel overcooked the shrimp. But ultimately, and Tiffany says this actually, she's responsible for her dish so she takes full responsibility. And it's very honorable.

Antonia and Spike are doing a blue crab cake, which is a good idea. They're making a kind of a stew with andouille which is very local to New Orleans and the region there. I think it, I mean, at least it looks like it's a great dish. I would have loved to try that dish. Unfortunately Richard is the best in this challenge, and despite the fact they are on top, they don't win.

I'm Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin commenting on Episode of 11 of Top Chef, New York, Season 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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