Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

This Provençal Life

Eric Ripert reveals what he might have cooked for the Ellis Island challenge.

Full transcript after the jump

Hello I am Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin commenting on Top Chef, Episode 12, New York, Season All-Star.

The challenge on the boat is definitely not easy. You don't know how long you have to go to Ellis Island. And on top of it, there's a lot this processed food on that boat, and I'm sure it's very challenging to cook with nachos and chips and junk food. However, they are very creative, and they come back with some good ideas. And I was impressed with how quick they react, and by the results as well.

So then judging a challenge like that, I was kind of laughing about it, because Dan has been a supporter of sustainability about farming, about great quality products coming from grovers and farmers and so on, and then he end up judging a Quickfire where they have hot dogs and nachos. And I thought it was funny.

Mike Isabella's bread soup looks really, really bad. It looks like someone has been sick on the boat. So I really feel bad. I mean, it could have been a great idea. At this point, you know, it's almost the end, they're going to the finale, and I really feel bad when I see something like that. At the same time, you know, it's good television, and it makes me laugh.

I really like the idea of Carla, although Richard thought she didn't work enough. Sometimes, and I think Dan Barber would agree with me, when you have great ingredients, beautiful ingredients, of something fresh you, don't have to do that much to make a great recipe. It doesn't have to be necessarily complicated. So Carla win, and I'm glad that she choose to make some so fresh and simple, using a fruit actually.

So when they arrive on the island, they have their relatives and parents, and it's very emotional, and, of course, it's for them very difficult, I'm sure, to deal with that. It's probably a great motivation, at the same time, it's emotionally challenging. And it's probably messing them up a little bit.

I find the idea of looking into their ancestors with their parents very interesting, and the fact that Antonia is a cousin of Mike, very funny too and surprising as well, I mean for them of course, but for us viewers.

So they are to cook something related to their family or their origin. If I would have had to cook something, I think I would have gone Provençal, because part of my family is Italian, part of my family is from Provence. And I would have probably done a stew, with Provençal influence, and that would have been my dish.

So Antonia wins, and she decided to make a stew with a risotto. And until now, on Top Chef it's kind of a curse on risottos. Whoever tried to make it lose, so she's very courageous. And she goes for it, and makes a delicious one. She's the winner. Congratulations Antonia.

So Mike hasn't cooked Italian food since his grandmother actually passed away. And he's very emotional about it, and I can understand that. He decides to make gnocchis . The dish becomes something fantastic and magnificent, and everybody agrees that he has done a great job. So his grandma would be very proud of him.

So Tiffany has the courage also to do something that Tom doesn't necessarily like: okra. And she changed his mind, so she definitely did something really delicious and fantastic as well. And now Tom likes okra.

I would have loved to try Carla’s dish, the pork shoulder, and also with the cheddar biscuits. That sounds really good. Actually I would have loved to try all of those dishes and be there with them.

Well I love the idea that they all are going to the finale. I would have hated to see one of them going home, especially with their family on their side. And you know, they are only five, and we really get attached to them, they have done a fantastic season, they have seen up and downs, and they have conquered, and I was very happy to see them staying and going to the Bahamas.

So I'm very happy that they are all going to the Bahamas. Actually I may, I don't know, see them there. We'll see. That would be a kind of a vacation for me, I don't know if it will be the same for them.

I'm Eric Ripert, from Le Bernadin, commenting on Episode of 12 of Top Chef New York, Season All Star.

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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