Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

What a S--t Show!

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

What a S--t Show!

Eric Ripert commends Tom Colicchio and breaks down the disastrous Elimination Challenge.

Full transcript after the jump.

Hi I'm Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin, commenting on Episode 5 of 'Top Chef All-Stars' New York. 

I was very impressed with the Quickfire and seeing Tom. I think it was a big surprise for everyone to see Tom come in and embrace the challenge, which was to cook something delicious in a very, very fast pace, a very timely manner. Tom, he can still kick ass. He's very precise as you can see on the show. And when we look at it, he's very fast, he's very organized, he's very focused, and at the end he created a dish in 8 minutes and 37 seconds which is very, very fast paced. It's exactly like being a line cook. Actually it's more challenging than being a line cook during service, because he had to filet his fish, he had to open his clams, so he had to do a lot of extra work compared to a line cook. And obviously he is the winner of the Quickfire.

Angelo, Jamie, and Dale are in the bottom of the challenge. Angelo, despite what Tom said about not doing raw fish, decided to do raw fish, which is kind of taking it easy on the challenge because 8 minutes to do a raw fish is really easy going. 

Jamie was challenged by the timing, and basically what she can provide is one clam. And the clam doesn't look too happy. It's a sad dish, so she's in the bottom unfortunately. 

Dale was ambitious and tried to make his own pasta, but unfortunately his dish looks really terrible. It's actually one noodle with kind of a strange color sauce, which doesn't seem to taste too good. He's actually embarrassed himself. And at the end of the day they are all at the bottom. 

On the top we can see Mike, Marcel, and Richard. Marcel was very clever by going to Tom's station and picking up his fish while everyone is fighting by the fridge. That saved him a lot of time I think. And to make a good dashi in such a short period of time is an accomplishment, and I think the dish looks good. The judges were pretty happy, Padma and Tom were pretty happy about it. 

The foie gras looked very good as well, and I'm sure it was delicious. Richard made a sauce with his foie gras, he had time to do that. He presented it well. It was very nicely made.

And then Mike made a bronzino with capers and olives. It looks like in terms or harmony of flavors, combinations of colors, and presentation, and so on, and even technique, he deserved the prize. So he's going home with a Toyota Prius. 

So the Elimination Challenge is a sh-t show. And seriously, it's a tough challenge for the contestants, and they are obviously a bit lost. But it's really tough. They have to expedite, they have to present the food to the tables, and they still have to cook downstairs the food for themselves and for the guys upstairs. It's very difficult to do that, especially with food that you are not necessarily familiar with. Dale is familiar with that kind of food, but when you look at Fabio he has no idea what Chinese food is about. So that challenge is probably the toughest of the season so far from what I see.

So Casey is very adventurous, and I admire her courage to take chicken feet and decide to make them delicious. And she goes and discovers that she has to cut the nails, and she spends hours cutting nails of the chicken giving them a manicure. And not only that, but she volunteered to be upstairs pushing the cart, so someone else is going to execute her dish. At the end of the day, chicken feet are already challenging for a lot of people to eat. So she didn't choose an easy ingredient, and she was very courageous. I think she's leaving the competition of 'Top Chef' with a lot of glory actually on her way out. I congratulate her for being such a courageous chef. 

So Jamie's paired with Antonia, she would love to cook some scallops for the dim sum. They are going to do some string beans together. And it turns out that the scallop dish is not really a winner. The string beans are very greasy, or they look very greasy. Supposedly the taste is not right either. And even Jamie is disappointed with her dish, and so she thinks that she's going home. But Jamie is safe, because I think her dish, even mediocre, is better than the chicken feet. So she's going to the next challenge. 

So Angelo and Dale are familiar with Asian food, so I'm not surprised to see them at the top and for Dale to win the challenge. Dale knows how to cook rice for sure, and he found a very original way to present it and to give flavor to his sticky rice. 

Angelo is having fun with making a shrimp spring roll, and it looks like it was delicious. All the judges are happy with the dish. The surprise is actually Fabio, who actually surprised himself. He was happy because he made a great, tasty dish although he was very scared with the ovens not being perfect for what he wanted to do. He could have even maybe won that challenge, which would have been quite an accomplishment for an Italian to win a Chinese challenge. 

So Susur Lee is a great chef, highly respected in our industry, and he definitely knows Chinese food. He has been very famous for having a great restaurant in Toronto in the past and one in New York. He is very familiar with Hong Kong and Chinese cooking. And I think his comments are –- they are very, very short but they are very constructive and very technical at the same time. So for the viewer it is definitely a big advantage to have him commenting on the dishes. 

I am Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin, commenting on Episode 5 of 'Top Chef All-Stars' in New York City.

 

Hugh: Mei's a Chef's Chef

Hugh Acheson weighs in on the finale showdown between Mei Lin and Gregory Gourdet.

There is always a Top Chef winner but obviously some seasons have a less experienced assemblage of chefs, while others have veritable US Olympic-caliber culinary practitioners. (Congrats to Team USA in the Bocuse d’Or competition by the way! Silver! Silver!)

This particular season of Top Chef could have been a contest of mediocrity, but it bloomed into something very skilled and mature, which is good for judging, but makes writing a blog with poop jokes and rap humor very difficult. I have to say, I was a little worried at the beginning that the whole chef squadron was a little shaky. But early retreats by chefs with bigger egos than culinary skillsets allowed the true talent to rise without being malevolent fools. And that talent really was there. By mid season we were eating their visions on the plate, while watching them battle it out over the food and just the food.

The two most successful chefs of the season made it to the end, and they are ready to rumble in the most respective way they know how. One will plate most of their food on the side of the plate, incorporating Korean flavors and modern technique into the vittles, while the other will weave a more classic story and put food more in the center of the plate like regular people. Should be a good show no matter what, because at the end of the day, it’s just hard not to be really enamored with both of them. They are good people.

Gregory and Mei start out on a hot air balloon ride, because that’s how I like to start every day in Mexico. The country looks beautiful to me even if you are in a basket hoisted hundreds of feet into the air by hot air. The hotel I stayed in was the Casa di Sierra Nevada, which was AWESOME, so if you are looking for a vacation, go there. It's no party town, but it is plenty fun. Great food scene. And to put safety into perspective, I felt safer wandering around St. Miguel than I do my hometown. Anyway, the balloon ride looks like fun and allows for that finale moment of almost tearful reminiscence and contemplation.

So their balloon ride lands in a vineyard, and Tom and Padma are waiting to put a halt to this sentimentality. The task is put forward and the challenge, this final culinary joust, is to create a meal that is the meal of their lives. They pick their two sous chefs per person; Gregory picks Doug and George, while Mei picks Melissa and Rebecca.

They prep their menus after a good night’s sleep. The prep I will not talk about too much, but suffice it to say that each team seems very pro and super on top of things.

Traci des Jardins, Sean Brock, Michael Cimarusti, Gavin Kaysen, and Donnie Masterton are dining with us, all of them amazing chefs. Like amazing amazing. The kid’s table, at which I am the head, is made up of Sean, Traci, Gavin, and Gail. It is a super table. At the table I decide to hold true to the tourist warning of not drinking the water. I thus only drink wine and the phenomenal beauty of Casa Dragones tequila, a concoction that will make me sleep soundly (but probably by dessert) on the table.

Mei hits us with an octopus that I really, really like. It resounds with flavors of coconut, avocado, and fish sauce. It is deep. The only flaw is that maybe it is a bit over done. The over cooking made it kind of crunchy and she could easily have been cooking it to that point on purpose. Second course from her is a congee, with peanuts, carnitas, egg yolk, and hot sauce. It is so f----ing delicious. Like stylized comfort food that you just want to eat all the time. Comfort food, when perfect, is perhaps the hardest food to cook, because it is by definition food you are very familiar with, resulting in people having a lot of preconceived notions about it. This congee would have silenced all critics on congee. It was that good.

Mei is gliding through this meal. She has palpable confidence, but is still a nicely soft-spoken leader. In my years of watching people lead kitchens, I have always been more taken with the allegiance that soft-spoken leaders cultivate in their staffs. Her third course is a duck course, and like the congee, she has cooked duck at least twice this season, but in entirely different ways. This duck has kimchi, braised lettuce, and huitlacoche on the plate. Huitlacoche is corn smut, a term I just yelled in a coffee shop, making everyone uncomfortable. It is a good plate, but my refrain about duck skin continues. It was a bit chewy. All in all, the dish just was texturally challenged. It needed a crunchy texture. But it was good still. Her last is her version of yogurt dippin’ dots with strawberry-lime curd, milk crumble, and stuff. It was blow-you-away amazing. Very complex, but very successful. Tom says it is the best dessert on Top Chef he has ever had, and I definitely concur, though he has tasted many more than I have. The toasted yogurt base was amazing.

Gregory steps up with a brothy octopus with cashew milk, fresh prickly pear, and also xoconostle, which is the dried version of prickly pear, kind of like a prickly pear fruit roll up. It is a strong dish, and may be the winner in the Octopus Olympiad. His second was a strange soup that was redolent with flavor until you choked with a shrimp head lodged in your gullet. Strange and a little unrefined for me, and pretty much everyone else. It was a wanted textural element, but made a rustic soup weird. The whole dish needs to be compared to the comfort food of Mei’s congee, and in that context it is no contest.

Third course from Gregory is a bass with carrot sauce, tomatillo, vegetables, and pineapple. It is a strange dish. I am worried for Gregory at this point. It is not like the dish was bad, but the dish was just not a winner winner. Well, let’s not rest on that notion, because his next and final course is a stone cold stunner. Simple short ribs in mole with sweet potato. It is purity on the plate and equal to the idea of Mei’s congee in nailing comfort food. Kudos. He’s back on track. This is a close contest.

Judges' Table comes and we deliberate. I am not going to mince words and hold off on this: It is really close, but this season’s winner is definitely Mei. Well deserved. Gregory is the consummate pro in placing second and is going to be a force to be reckoned with in this restaurant world. His win versus addiction and his success in cooking shows one tough person with oodles of talent.

Mei. Mei. You rock. You are a chef’s chef. You make food that excites and makes us ponder. You are a leader and a super cool person. You are the winner and will always be a winner. Onwards.

Until next season. I loved this season. Thanks BOSTON. And thanks San Miguel di Allende. You are awesome places to work.

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