Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Truffles and Bourdeaux

Eric Ripert shares his wish for his 'last supper.'

Full transcript after the jump

I'm Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin: New York City, commenting on Episode 15 of Top Chef All-Stars.

So for this Quickfire they bring back three classics. One of them being hot dog. The other one being made with canned food, and one being also cooking in one pot, one pan.

I think cooking with food in a can is more difficult. Hot dogs, being pre-made, is also not that easy. And I would have loved to have the one-pot, one-pan, cooking challenge. I think this way you can express yourself the most, have a better result.

But they look like they were very creative. I mean I was very surprised how creative Richard was with the hot dog. Because to me I would have looked at, and stared at sausage for a long time and didn't know what to do with that. So they were going strong on that challenge.

So then the twist in the middle of the challenge arrives. And Antonia has to be with Carla basically sharing the same apron, and I guess working each of them as one end. Richard has only one hand that he can use. And Mike has for the challenge, he cannot use any utensil. However, he has it easy in a way, because his pork is cooking in the pressure cooker. You just have to wait for the pressure cooker to be ready, the pork to be ready inside, and serve it. In a way he's lucky on that challenge, but it's Richard's fault because he gave them the easy one.

So Wolfgang is the judge. We all know Wolfgang. He has been an inspiration to the entire industry for many, many years. He's a great chef. And him being there, it's certainly a pleasure to see him on the show, and then reassuring that they are going to be judged by someone who's really knowledgeable.

So for the elimination challenge they have to cook for the chefs what they would like to have for their last supper, if they had the luxury to choose for their last supper. And Melanie Dunae who did the book “My Last Supper” is there, actually. And we have Morimoto, and we have Michelle Bernstein, and of course Wolfgang is there, and the usual suspects, Tom and Padma and Gail are there.

And they’re cooking after getting directions from Morimoto, Michelle, and Wolfgang.

And it's not very easy. I mean, Wolfgang like a goulash, spaetzele, and for dessert a strudel. It's not that easy to do the three dishes like that for one challenge.

Actually when I was younger, in culinary school for graduation I had goulash to make, so anyway I think I would have maybe done well for Wolfgang.

Morimoto: it"s a little bit complicated. He like pickled radishes, miso soup, of course, the rice has to be cooked perfectly for him, and Antonia has to do some sashimi. She has some problems with the fish, one of them not being fresh, so she switch to the tuna. Her soup seems to be overly salty and that probably come from the miso paste that they're using in the soup. So it's not a winner.

Mike is doing the fried chicken, and he tried to have a twist on the biscuit. He does an empanada with an egg, which is a good idea.

And the winner, of course as we know, is Richard, who does a good job despite the fact that his spaetzeles are a little bit firm.

The fried chicken is good, but the skin or the crust seems to go away. And the play on the biscuit, I don't know, I mean. I think if it's your last supper, you really want to eat what you want, and not necessarily have some one interpreting your best meal. So it's probably why Richard won that challenge. First because he did probably the best job in terms of cooking it, and because he was very loyal to the recipes.

So my last supper, actually I am in the book of Melanie, my last supper, was an easy one actually. Toasted bread, black truffles on top, olive oil, a good bottle of bordeaux. That would have made the winner for sure very happy, because you just have to grill the bread and shave the truffles.

So Tom think that Mike has the easiest dish with the fried chicken and the biscuit. I am not sure about that. To make a fried chicken, I mean, yeah of course it's a fairly simple challenge But at the same time when you have simple challenges, it's no safety net. If the oil is too hot. If you don't do a good job with the biscuit/empanada whatsoever, you're done. So it's not necessarily an advantage to have a simple dish.

So Richard is the winner. He's safe. He's going to the finale and he must be thrilled.

Now it's the surprise envelope to be opened. And the surprise is that Antonia and Mike have to compete again. And they have to do one-bite dish in 45 minutes that will eliminate one and bring the other one to the finale.

Mike makes a surf and turf with beef. He takes lobster and make kind of a tempura. It looks like it's a little bit under-seasoned, for some palettes, and Morimoto being Japanese, I don't know, you take a big risk to do a tempura. However, as a viewer it looks good on camera. Antonia does a grouper with a very strong curry sauce, very powerful sauce.

At the end it's basically a tie, and Wolfgang has the difficult task to decide who has the most votes and goes to the next level. And unfortunately for Antonia, she's going home. It's finished.

So it's going to be a big battle as we know. In between Mike and Richard. Two different styles. Two very different personalities. Of course, both of them have talent. Both of them are very creative. They both understand very well Top Chef. Now they know the challenge is basically their fantasy restaurants. They have probably few hours to think about it. And we're going to be delighted next week to see the battle.

I am Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin commenting on Episode 15 of Top Chef, the All-Star season.

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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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