Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Justo Right

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

Justo Right

Eric Ripert provides a little more insight into Justo Thomas' role at Le Bernardin.

Full transcript after the jump

I am Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin commenting on Episode 7 of Top Chef in New York, actually at Le Bernadin with Tony Bourdain and our fish butcher, Justo.

So Justo is a legend in Le Bernardin, and is very well-known also in the industry since Tony wrote in his book, Medium Raw, an entire chapter dedicated to the work and the passion of Justo, and the expertise of Justo in filleting fish and being an amazing butcher. And what happened is that, he's very very focused on what he does, to the point that he sharpens the knife a certain way not to be too sharp, because they will grasp too much the bone and you will lose a couple of seconds there (so it's not too sharp, but it's sharp enough to work very fast and to be able to filet the fish in the way you want). He has very little tricks here and there that makes him a great butcher. And like we say in the episode, when he's on vacation we struggle to replace him with three people. Justo comes at 6 am, 7 am, by lunchtime he's thinking about going home. When he's in vacation, we have three senior people from Le Bernardin struggling until 9 or 10 pm, and the fish is not even as nice as Justo does. So I think it was a very good idea to bring everybody to Le Bernardin and have Justo demonstrating what he does because it's definitely an art at that level.

And it was an interesting Quickfire.

Some of the contestants didn't even finish filleting the fish. They had a very hard time doing it. Filleting fish is a basic. And everybody in a kitchen should know how to fillet fish. Especially when you have a fish restaurant, because it's embarrassing not to be able to do it when you own a restaurant that serves fish.

So it's a tricky Quickfire because the ones who did very poorly, actually are safe. I mean safe, they are not busy doing anything. And the ones who are the best, they can't use the beautiful fillets that they have. They have to use the head, the tail, the bones, the collar of the cut fish, the cheeks, and they have to do beautiful dish that Justo and Tony are testing later on. And it looks like they are very inspired and creative in using those parts. The Japanese actually are very very also good at using the collar, and the cheeks, and parts that us in the Western world are not necessarily using. They are very delicate at times, very rich because of fat content on the belly for instance. Sometimes they are a little bit gelatinous, but as soon as you have gelatin you have flavors that catch into it. So [the chefs] come up with some very great winning dishes. It looks like they're very very close to each other. Those four dishes look very good on camera and when they describe the ingredients and the technique and everything else, I would love to taste those dishes, and I'm sure I would enjoy them.

Anyway at the end of the day, the winner is Dale.

I am Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin commenting on Episode 7 of Top Chef in New York.

And Dale is the captain of his team, and he has people that he wants to work with. They decide on the bodega, as a theme for the restaurant. And I think it's very clever and original to think like that because you can make a bodega slightly upscale. You can have the bodega as a starting idea, and then create something more original than what you would find in a bodega obviously. And it's what, exactly what they do. I think the idea of having the potatoes in a bag, 'the chips in a bag, it's great because as soon as the guests arrive they can munch on it. And then they are very organized. They have a good strategy. They have good dishes. And Fabio is with them and Fabio is the master of Top Chef in this season. He's fantastic in the front of the room, as well as in the kitchen so far. In between having someone very good in the dining room, who knows how to talk to the waiters, and guide the waiters properly, and having a strong team that works collectively to succeed, it's definitely the winner.

So Richard is the winner. He has two very tasty dishes, good-looking dishes, and at the same time he has been helping a lot the rest of the team and therefore that probably adds points to his winning victory.

Dale seems to be rude, but it's not like he seems to be rude, he is rude with the waiters. And a lot of chefs in kitchens are rude, not only to the waiters, but to their own teams, their own cooks. And I think it's not a nice way of managing a team. It's not a nice way of showing leadership skills. I think you bring a team together, and you train a team and you create a team by being an inspiration. And you are an inspiration only by showing your qualities, and not by insulting and putting people down. So Dale has to in Top Chef, and in his professional cooking, has to change that attitude, and I think he will be happier and also have much better results.

Marcel's team is a disaster. And Marcel is the captain so basically the captain is basically an executive chef in the kitchen and nobody seems to trust Marcel or nobody wants to listen to Marcel. And the entire episode he's complaining about that. And you just, you can't force people to listen to you. People will follow you and will listen to you and will do whatever needs to be done if you inspire trust. And you will inspire trust again by showing leadership skills, by being an example yourself, by showing calmness, by showing organization, by directing properly people with the right vocabulary and by again not stressing the team, by comforting the team. And by having a certain logic about the way you are going to organize that team. And then if the team understands your logic and your directions, and if it makes sense to them, they will follow you. So on that aspect, I must say, I mean Marcel has to take responsibility for the failure of that team.

So Mike Isabella has a dish which is under-seasoned. The octopus seems to be bland as well. Antonia has a dish that has the sauce too reduced or too salty. Marcel has a monkfish, which seems to be very bland in texture. He makes a foam that doesn't necessarily make sense for this kind of concept as well, doesn't bring anything. So everybody is disappointed by his dish and by the dish of the team in general. And then they have this dessert that doesn't seem to be pleasing the judges and the people who are eating at the restaurant. Nobody has good comments on it. So why add a dessert when you are already struggling with the rest of your menu? I don't know. Maybe it was a risk to take? Anyway, it didn't pay off.

And at the end, after fighting in front of the judges. The panel decides that Marcel is the one to go.

I'm Eric Ripert I was commenting on Episode 7 of Top Chef in New York City.

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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