Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Falling From Grace

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

Falling From Grace

Bravotv.com's Senior Editor finds Casey's elimination sort of amusing.

Hello my little chicken feet! Before I dive in to this week's episode, just want to thank all of my faithful readers for defending me in the Comments section after my last blog. Your coming to my defense warmed my heart, but we can cut CuriousCook some slack. As a writer, I always strive to improve my skills, and realize not everyone will be down with my style. I"m obviously very casual in this blog, and appreciate readers' criticism as much as their praise.

Now, most of you probably won't understand the reference in my blog title this week to Fay Ann Lee's 2006 film, Falling for Grace, which I rented very recently. Why did I see this movie? Because Gale Harold is in it, and I was obsessed with Queer as Folk. The film deals with Chinese assimilation, and Fay Ann Lee, who is also the female lead, Grace, portrays the daughter of a restaurant owner in Chinatown. And so, the film talks a lot about food, obviously Chinese food specifically, and one of the featured dishes is chicken feet! So, Casey's dish choice struck a chord with me.

Let's start at the beginning, though -- a very good place to start. Every season we gets tons of comments and e-mails asking for Tom to compete. And he never has... until now. (Wasn't that dramatic?) Tom created a seemingly simple, yet apparently flavor-complex dish in eight minutes and 37 seconds, which is not a lot of time at all. Tom's time determined the chefs' time for creating their own dishes. I have to say I was happily surprised with most of the chefs' dishes. Dale's and Jamie's seemed like the only real failures to me. I really don't know what Dale was thinking trying to make noodles in that amount of time, but I applaud his ballsiness. I really, really wanted Marcel to win this one. He got a nice compliment from Tom about his dashi, but, alas, Mike Isabella's dish just tasted better. Marcel won in my eyes though. Not only did he show great tenacity in grabbing Tom's fish to work with, which was truly badass (and I never use that word because I hate it.) But he also won me over, once again, with comments that literally had me busting out laughing. His "Jersey accent" literally made me guffaw. And I don't guffaw easily. (OK, that's not true -- I laugh at everything, and it freaks out my fellow editors while I'm watching the episode in our shared office.)The Quickfire may have seemed tough, but it was apparently a piece of cake compared to the chefs' Elimination Challenge -- dim sum service at Grand Harmony restaurant in Chinatown. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never done proper dim sum, so this was a fairly enlightening challenge for me. Richard called it pretty early on that the whole thing would be a disaster, and boy was he right. Mike Isabella was expediting because he had immunity, but others needed to help him eventually becuase the diners were getting cranky. Poor Tom even had to enter the kitchen to tell the chefs what was what. There was so much chaos in the kitchen, and the thing that honestly pissed me off was how much kvetching was going on, instead of cooking. This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves when working in groups -- when people complain about mistakes being made before the task is complete. I always say, "Solve now, blame later!" Did I just quote myself? Ew. 

Time to break down the dishes: Not surprisingly, Angelo and Dale were on top. As Dale said, this was his challenge to lose. Tiffany Derry rocked it out with a pork bun. Just looking at the "marshmallow-y" ouside made me want a pork bun immediately. Although David Chang's are "the best," I have always preferred Hung Huynh's. They're a little more pulled pork, a little less pork belly, which means less fat in my mouth. Fabio also rocked it out with short ribs. It seems he finally got out of his own head, stepped out of his comfort zone, and succeeded. He got a nice compliment from Susur Lee, which is nothing to sneeze at.

One more quick note about Fabio: The sight of him walking his pet turtle was adorable. I had the opportunity to try turtle soup at Brennan's in New Orleans, and although I usually try to order exotic items as often as possible, I just couldn't do it. I was hungover hungry, and wanted something I knew I could/would eat. Have any of you ever had turtle soup? If so, what's it like?

Fabio's classic "Top Scallop" line was also revived this episode. Now, I know I'll get a barage of comments that Jamie, once again, should have gone home. She even admitted she thought she would. But Tom used the word "inedible" when referring to Casey's dish. Once he said that, I knew Casey was dead in the water. As soon as Casey got cut, I had visions of a "black widow" montage for Jamie at the reunion, Antonia Season 4-style. She just keeps sending people home! Carla's roll was beautiful, but apprently too noodle-y, and Antonia's shrimp toast was good, but she contributed to the poor long beans, so she found herself in the bottom. Casey, obvoiously, lost control of her dish. I don't quite get what happened in telling the others where/how to cook them (in a wok vs. a deep fryer), but it sounds like she didn't give specific instructions and that was her downfall. It's actually kind of hilarious when you think about it. Although I, Carla, and all of you have hopefully now realized that Casey wasn't responsible for Carla's Season 5 finale loss, Carla was sent home for letting someone else have too much say over her dish. Ultimately, Casey was sent home for the same thing. I will miss Casey's insightful comments this season -- she was very good about recognizing other people's weaknesses and commenting on them.

Next week, the chefs travel to my hometown of Long Island for some fishing. This should be interesting.

Oh, before I forget! I had a request from commenter Jantina to see what I ate at Blue Hill the other week. Good news: I saved my tasting menu! It's after the jump. And, I am finally dining at Ma Peche this Saturdy night, and I'll be sure to share -- in detail -- what I eat. Until then, Happy Noshing!top-chef-all-stars-team-top-chef-blog-80

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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