Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Marcel Mar-so-so

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

Marcel Mar-so-so

Bravotv.com's Senior Editor is heartbroken over Marcel's elimination, but still excited about her recent trip to Octavia's Porch.

Hello, my little wolverines! That was of course an ode to Marcel's Season 2 sideburned look. But before we get to my great loss, let's start with this week's exhilerating Quickfire. The chefs arrive at Le Bernardin, the restaurant I have the good fortune of schlepping a whole one block to every week to film Eric Ripert's amazing video blog. Tony Bourdain, Eric Ripert's dear frenemy (seriously, you have to read their Twitter banter; it's genius), was there to meet the chefs and introduce them to Justo, a man he says he devotes an entire chapter to in Medium Raw. I'd like to take this moment to interject and say that we're starting a bit of a foodie book club, and our first selection is Bourdain's Medium Raw, so go get the book, read it by February 14th, and follow @Bravotv for more details! We will do something fun and informative with Bourdain after we're all done reading.

Watching Justo butcher that fish literally gave me the chills. What a man, with such skill. I asked Chef Ripert where he found Justo and he said he stole him from the restaurant next door after it closed! What luck! I was actually nervous for our chefs fileting for Justo. While quite a few of the chefs did a good job, only four emerged on top. They went on to cook a Quickfire dish using the scraps, what most people might throw away from the fish, but this included the collar, which I've heard/read is considered by many chefs as the tastiest part of a fish. Dale feels very confident in this challenge because he grew up cooking this stuff, and sure enough, he wins. He's kind of killing it this season, isn't he?

As a reward for his win, Dale gets to choose the other team's leader in RESTAURANT WARS! (Cue epic music.) He chooses the one chef he can't fathom working successfully with, and that person is Marcel. A lot of you brought up a very good point in the comments about Marcel's behavior last week -- he was drunk. And, yeah, he probably was as he was swigging straight from a bottle of gin, but I'd like to think that at a certain age, drunkenness doesn't excuse bad behavior. And that's saying a lot coming from me becuase I pretty much defend Marcel against everything. Anyway, the lovely people at Magical Elves put together this hi-larious music video about Marcel's plight. Watch:



Marcel had his hands full again this week with his team, the losing team. The chefs just wouldn't listen to him, which I found incredibly frustrating. I think Angelo put it best when he said that he would've fired Mike Isabella for talking back to him the way he spoke back to Marcel. Honestly, at the end of the day, Marcel was Executive Chef. If you have serious problems with the way he's telling you to cook something, problems that could result in a dish being worse, then speak to him about it. But to curse back at him as a member of his team, I thought, was kind of out of line. That being said, I didn't have to work under Marcel, and who knows how I would've reacted, but it didn't seem like Marcel's team gave him a chance at all. When Marcel said at Judges' Table that he, in fact, told his team to do many of the things the judges' criticized the team for, I believed him. Marcel is totally the Kim Richards of Top Chef. Nobody will listen to him! (Did I really just make that analogy?) I actually wonder what would have happened if Marcel fired Mike. I honestly don't even know if that's allowed, but it could've gotten interesting. At the end of the day, all of the arguments aside, not only were Marcel's team's dishes the worst, but it sounds like his individual dishes were too. That dessert really put him over the edge. I was obviously very upset to see Marcel go.

The other team had an interesting dynamic as well. Although Dale was the captain, it was Richard who really took charge in the kitchen. I am constantly baffled watching the chefs this season kind of just listen to whatever Richard tells them to do. Richard really proves the point that many of the chefs tried to expain to Marcel: that if you treat people with respect, and set a good example, people will just follow you. I hope other chefs give Marcel that opportunity someday, to prove that he's worthy of that respect. Richard had such a presence in the kitchen that he actually won the challenge. Well done, Mr. Blais. We put together a little list of superlatives, as voted on by all the chefs, and Richard was chosen as Judges' Pet. I doubt this week's win will do anything to change that opinion.

G-d, I really can't get over Marcel leaving. I'm distraught. I just didn't like the way he went out. Oh well. Nothing a little comfort food can't fix.

And speaking of comfort food (what a segue!), I had the pleasure of dining at new mommy Nikki Cascone and her husband Brad's newest venture Octavia's Porch on Tuesday night. Quite different from what she was doing at 24 Prince, Nikki is serving up global Jewish food, and, um it's f---ing awesome. And trust me, I tested quite a large sample from the menu. After some surprisingly light challah, my three friends and I started with a tasting of the potato and escarole soup, which was perfectly garlic-y since it literally had whole cloves of garlic in it, which I love. The four of us ordered four apps: the kreplach (pictured), the knish, the chopped liver, and the gefilte fish. I don't care for liver, but I tried it anyway, but the kreplach and knish were true highlights. They are both must-orders.

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We were actually kind of satiated after all the apps, but obviously ordered entrees anyway. I ordered the tagliatelle as I absolutely needed to eat Ms. Cascone's pasta. It was excellent. My friends ordered the duck, the brisket, and the stuffing, which they all enjoyed. And, what goes better with pasta than a sweet potato? (She says ever-so-sarcastically.) But, the sweet potatoes needed to be ordered, and they were delicious. I struggle every year at my own Chanukah party making sweet potato latkes because sweet potatoe just doesn't bind as well as regular potato, sooo I'm either going to have to obtain Nikki's secrets, or just order them next year and pretend I made them. Even though we were all pretty full at this point (if you're looking for a light meal, this isn't the place for you), we got dessert. We all wanted the challah bread pudding, which didn't disappoint. Our adorable and attentive server, Michael, also brought us the PB&J sinkers which he sensed I wanted. They are little donuts you dip in peanut butter and jelly. Holy s--- they're good. And, although we didn't even order it, I think the drunken apple crumb cake was my favorite. It tasted like the crust of an apple pie, and I coudn't stop reaching over my friend and grabbing bites. The cocktails were great too. I embraced the atmosphere and got the 3rd & B, which consists of rum and homemade cream soda. My friend ordered the egg cream, which actually was much thicker than usual, and I kinda dug it. OK, I'll stop gushing now, but you should really check the place out before it gets super-full. This is a restaurant I will definitely be recommending and returning to. I'm so proud of Nikki!
Also, on another side note, Fay Ann Lee the director of the film I mentioned in last week's blog, Falling from Grace, wrote me a really sweet note on Facebook and told me that Gale Harold not only ate the chicken legs in the film, but is a foodie. As if I needed a reason to love him more. Swoon.

Finally, I see that many of you have requested our live chats to start up again. I'l see what I can do, but in the meantime, I'm going to try and live-tweet -- spoiler-free -- from our @BravoTopChef account as often as I can, so follow us.

Until next week, Happy Noshing!

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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