Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Annoyed at the Museum

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

Annoyed at the Museum

Tom Colicchio has no doubt that Jen's dish was the worst, and she deserved to go home.

Before moving forward, let me first say that yes, Richard may have won last week’s challenge had he not gone over the allotted time. He and I exchanged e-mails after the show aired last week. It was the first time he’d seen the footage of himself in the kitchen, and he acknowledged that he’d clearly gone overtime and that the decision of the judges not to consider him for the win was completely fair.
 
And now let me say this: We have a really great season ahead of us, but it’s going to be as tough for many of our viewers as it was for us judges, for reasons similar to those I laid out in last week’s blog. Every chef this season has a big fan base right from the get-go based on his or her performance in a past season, and it’s going to be very hard to be objective about what one’s fave does in this season. I have braced myself to hear from the fans of the chef that was sent home each week that we judges got it wrong. I’m resigned this season to “being wrong” all 17 weeks this season.  
 
I understand the impulse behind that. It’s why I wrote last week that the challenges were harder to judge this year than in years past, not only because we didn’t want to be judging people who, since their seasons ended, have become our colleagues, but also because we know the chefs going into the season in a way we never knew the contestants before. Jen is a terrific cook and she’s smart and knows how to play the game, so I would have imagined her going far … but I couldn’t let any of that color my judging. I had to judge the food in front of me, and that’s what I did. This is a game, and, just as in football, on any given Sunday one team can beat another. This wasn’t Jen’s week.Jen endeavored to make a very similar dish to one that Michael Voltaggio did successfully in Vegas, but her version in this particular challenge just didn’t come together at all.  ou even heard Casey –- Jen’s own teammate –- say on camera that she didn’t like the dish. The texture of the bacon was spongey, and the egg lacked flavor. As for why Jen would go home for the dish instead of Jamie, Jen herself said that Jamie’s not being there did not affect the outcome of the dish. If Jen herself said so, there’s nothing further to be said about that. (Jamie, by the way, had never had stitches before and was a bit frightened when she heard she needed them, which is why she left to go get them right away.) I didn’t mind at all the very vigorous defense Jen mounted. I didn’t mind her tone or the content of what she said. Jen wasn’t sent home for what she said; she was sent home for what she cooked. Staying honest about the food in front of us meant acknowledging that as strong a chef as Jen is, and as good a job as she does in her professional life in Philly, she’d served us the weakest dish on the losing team...

...which happened to be the weakest dish on either team. We cannot say so overtly while eating the food, lest the episode be over before it’s over, but it was abundantly clear to us all that “Team Herbivore” was the runaway winner. Their food far exceeded that of “Team Carnivore.” Katie Lee and I sat at a different table than that of Padma and Gail, and when we all reconvened we found that we had independently reached the identical conclusion that Team Brontosaurus had blown away Team T-Rex. All of Team Brontosaurus’ food was delicious. The argument that it wasn’t all necessarily “breakfast food” was irrelevant. I would put gnocchi on a brunch menu — people eat and enjoy hash browns, so why not another potato dish?  Similarly, people drink tomato juice at breakfast, so why not a flavorful, light and wonderful gazpacho? And a parfait that delectable made without dairy is laudable — it deserved the win.

On the other hand, let us parse the dishes served by the other team, almost all of which was flawed. I won’t recap Jen’s dish; ‘nuff said about that (and I can’t wait for the inevitable schooling I’ll be getting from Jen’s fans...). Rather than churning out three frittatas, Tiffany and Antonia could have focused on making only one or two and making them well. Further, they knew that the ovens were cooking unevenly, yet they didn’t do anything to accommodate for that. Similarly, Tre knew that his sauce had overreduced, yet he didn’t fix it. His team was permitted the use of butter — Tre had more than one option for fixing that sauce.  Tiffani and Dale made a solid steak and eggs, but it wasn’t particularly noteworthy and certainly not “win-worthy.”Tiffani may have thought at the moment that she heard the challenge that “Carnivore” meant “Omnivore,” but as soon as I finish explaining each Elimination Challenge to the contestants on camera, a producer of the show comes and explains it in far greater — and more boring — detail. So Tiffani knew within minutes of choosing the T-Rex diet that it meant meat and meat by-products ... and only meat and meat by-products. On the other hand, the other team was barred not only from the use of bacon and eggs (breakfast staples), but also from the use of dairy (the other breakfast staple!), so the playing field was more than level. Once again, the fact that the banana parfait was as successful as it was without containing dairy made it worthy of this week’s win.

It was cool working with Joe Jonas. I’d met him at the White House Correspondents' Dinner and learned that he was a big fan of the show, so it was great to have him come join us. Also great was having Katie back, as she is a pleasure to work with. Finally, I love when we get to serve kids. They are so enthusiastic and joyful. Clearly, some of them watch the show and have developed a vocabulary about food, and it’s always a hoot to hear them applyl what they’ve learned to the food they’re eating! If any of our young viewers are reading this, I love hearing from you...!  Have a great week.

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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