Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's Senior Editor is a little too excited about the new season.

Yes my little blog all-stars, this season is truly my beautiful dark twisted fantasy. (And I must confess that I'm also listening to Kanye's new album while I write this.) I can't describe the feeling I got when I first heard this season's theme. I got chills. My eyes got wide, and I lost it. For a Top Chef fanatic like myself, there's really nothing more exciting than an all-star season, so it is with great pride and a general 14-year-old-girl zeal that I write my first blog of the season.

I love all these chefs, but I have to admit I was most excited to hear that Marcel was coming back. I didn't watch Season 1 until the finale, but would race home to watch Season 2, and it was because of Marcel. I can fairly say that he is the reason I'm obsessed with the show, which is the reason I'm obsessed with Bravo, which is the reason I applied for a job here. So, I guess you can thank/blame Marcel for that. While many viewers and even some all-stars think Marcel's immature, I've always thought he was misunderstood. But, hey, Pete Campbell is also my favorite character on Mad Men -- are you recognizing a pattern?!

At the start, the chefs all meet at their home-away-from-home and we learn a few things:
1. Fabio's new 'do will probably be polarizing, but I'm on Team Long Hair!
2. Tre is lookin' goooood. (I saw him at the shoot for the new season, and I can confirm he looks as good in real life.)
3. Antonia and Spike may get into it.
4. Marcel and Fabio may get into it.
5. "Interesting? That's the kiss of death." I love Carla. Hootie-hoo!
5. Fabio will probably have the best lines of the season. Here's a quick taste so far:
    - "We're going up, but it feels like we're going to hell."
    - "I'm like the underdog. Italian dog ... good one."
    - "I squashed my balls on Season 5, and that's not going to happen."

Well, I probably could've done without that last bit, but I'll take it. Also, is it just me or does Fabio seem a little more sarcastic this time around? I just want to give him a hug.

So, after all the not-so-pleasantries, the chefs get down to work in their Quickfire Challenge, where they work in teams based on their season, making foods inspired by where their season was filmed. There were only two dishes that gave me pause: 1. Richard's mustard ice cream could've gone either way. While I obviously have all the faith in the world in Mr. Blais, Tom likes simple food, and he could've thought there was no added value in the molecular gastronomy. Luckily for Richard, Tom liked it enough to not only give his team the win, but to call out Richard's component for praise. The New York team didn't fare so well. Their dish sounded sketchy from the start in that the challenge was a team challenge, and the chefs didn't work together at all. I love Jamie, but i was a little disappointed to hear how down she was on her fellow chefs. Oh well -- I guess that's how you win shows! And considering Tom called her element of their dish out specifically as the best part, I guess her instincts are good. I wonder, though, if they had all worked togheter, how much better their overall dish would have been.

Onto the Elimination, which i'm going to assume was difficult for most of the chefs -- literally staring their failures in the face and remaking the dish that sent them home. For some of them, the dish that literally cost them the title of "Top Chef." The twist? The chefs didn't know but they'd be cooking for each other. AND the chefs would be able to hear the other chefs' comments. Yikes! While most of the chefs took it in stride, Fabio and Elia seemed to have particular trouble with the critiques. Elia couldn't even watch it. Apparently Elia knew something we didn't, because her dish was not received well, and she was the first of the chefs to go home. Although she felt embarrassed going home first, I would say to her that it's probably better to be on the bottom of the very best, if that makes any sense. It didn't? Oh well. Fabio landed on the bottom with Elia with a dish Anthony Bourdain found particularly offensive.

I would like to take this moment to talk about Anthony Bourdain for one second. When it was mentioned on an early conference call about the new season that Bourdain might be joining, I nearly had a coronary. The man could probably just go by one name, "Bourdain" -- he's that awesome. Men love him. Women love him. I'm sure most of the animal kingdom loves him too. As a young and naive editor at it was my privilege to receive his blogs each week for posting. Unless I'm re-writing history I think his blog may have been my idea. I figured, hey, I'm a fan and I want to hear more from him, I bet others do too. I am so excited that he's back blogging for the site! Say what you will about his food, which I've unfortunately never had the pleasure of eating, but the man can write. So, welcome, Anthony -- or, as everyone else calls him, "Tony"!
Tony certainly has a way with words. It's entertaining, it's colorful, and usually exactly what you're thinking. But, apparently Fabio didn't appreciate it this week, and spoke back to Anthony at Judges' Table. I don't know that I've ever seen Fabio that pissed. Anthony talks about the confrontation in his blog, and even says he feels bad about it! Read on... I didn't really get the whole pasta on paper thing either, but I actually kinda like crunchy greens, especially spinach. But apparently Fabio's greens were greasy.

Stephen also found himself in the bottom. Stephen cracks me up, and although I felt bad for his problems in the kitchen this week, I found it amusing. He's a little rusty, and just trying to find his bearings in the kitchen. I guess we'll find out if it ever happens for him!

Angelo won the first challenge, which is a big deal on Top Chef. As longtime fans know, many of the winners of the first challenge go on to win the whole thing. I guess we'll see if he can be a part of that legacy.

Jamie also did well, recreating a dish she hated making in the first place. Shooting Eric Ripert's vlog was particularly interesting this week because he had a few choice words for Jamie. Watch:

Remind me to tell Eric how much I love braised celery next time I see him!
Richard was also in the top, but because of those pesky rules, he was disqualified for the win. Eh, seems fair.

And then there was Spike and his frozen scallops. If I never have to hear about the frozen scallops again it will be too soon. It was a bit of a nightmare at the time, and besides, this is Top Chef, not Top Scallop!

I feel like that were a lot of hilarious things that happened in this episode because I remember giggling like a jackass when I watched it the first time, but I'm blanking! Help me out! Also, help me out by leaving comments -- reading them really makes my day.

I hope you're all as excited about this season as I am -- that "On this season of Top Chef..." was certainly intense enough.

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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