Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Charlize's Angels

The Oscar winner's presence brings out the best in the remaining chefs.


Hello, my little songbirds (muahahahaha!) Before we get to Charlize (!!!), let's talk about that Quickfire. The chefs had to select ingredients from a conveyer belt to create dishes for another beauty, Eric Ripert. There are actually restaurants in this fine country where you select your food off conveyer belts. In fact, I think we featured one such sushi restaurant on The Real Housewives of O.C. I don't know if I could eat sushi off a conveyer belt, but to each her own. I only have a couple comments on the Quickfire: While most of the chefs kinda grabbed what they could, Lindsay stood there waiting for the ingredients she wanted. While I certainly respected her devotion to the integrity of her ingredients, she really could have run out of time, which seemed like a bad strategy! And then there was Chris Jones. All i have to say is, "Poor Chris Jones!" Watching him consistently miss the lobster on the conveyer belt was painful. That was one of those moments where I echo the judges' comments from a previous episode that we're a--holes. Even his competitors were trying ot help him out! That was another case where maybe you just give up the ingredient and make sure you get your dish made! Lindsay's patience paid off -- she actually won the Quickfire making a bouillabaise... a bouillabaise for Eric Ripert. Very impressive, although, she admits, her win was tainted a little by Padma's comment that had Beverly remembered her curried crispies, her dish would have won "by a mile." Ouch.

Finally, the moment we've all been tweeting about. Charlize enters the kitchen! With Charlize next to Padma and Eric, there's too much pretty going on. Word from the shoot down in Texas was that Charlize is scary pretty, just absolutely beautiful, and that she's just plain cool. Yay! Love hearing that. All of the chefs have an intense reaction to Charlize's presence, Sarah, apparently a huge Charlize fan, flips out, and seemed to start tearing up. Beverly also loses it when Charlize describes her character as a serial killer (note to self: make a .gif of Beverly's reaction later.) The chefs are told that they will have to create dishes fit for a queen, an homage to Charlize's character, the Evil Queen, in Snow White and the Huntsman. All of the chefs interpret this differently, but some of them just downright scared me at the grocery store. We saw where all their minds go when they're allowed to, y'know, go there. Line of the episode goes to Grayson for her description of Bevery: "That girl is tiny, but she crazy."That night, the chefs all sit around and discuss their plan of attack for the next day. They all agree that they need to play nice, in fact, my boyfriend Paul says that outright. And they're all pretty much referring to Beverly, who seems to have no idea what they're alluding to. Oh well.

It's serving time! And all the chefs do very, very well. I dont know what it was about this particular challenge that had all of the chefs rise up, but I'm starting to wonder if every episode should feature an Oscar winner. The food would be amazing. (I actually think cooking for Eric Ripert had a lot to do with it too.)

Let's go through each dish, shall we?

Edward started the night off right with a fish dish playing off "good and evil." He started the whole meal off on the right foot.

Lindsay made a stew she holds dear to her and her mentor Michelle Bernstein's hearts. Tom loves it. She moves on. I would've liked to see her step out of her comfort zone, but, hey, you can't argue with good food.

Sarah made another risotto, and although it was met favorably, there were still comments about the risotto itself. She was worried when making it, remembering that Tim Love didn't love the consistency of her risotto earlier in the season, and there seemed to be similar issues this time around. I'm sure risotto is one of the more subjective foods, but it'll be interesting to see if Sarah changes her methods moving foward.

Chris Jones' gadgets were finally put to good use as he made the poison apple for dessert. Chris actually said that every time you make something new, there's a risk it won't work out. That's quite a risk to take during a competition, but fortunately for him, it did work out! Grayson actually loved the idea from the get-go, and it was executed well. Anyone else notice the Chris/Grayson friendship? They're so supportive of each other, it's adorable. Grayson admitted she takes these challenges very literally, and although that's bitten her in the arse before, it worked out this time. She made a black chicken, something she's never cooked before, but something we have seen on Top Chef before, and just killed it. Literally. Her plate looked like a murder scene. When she described the egg on top as representing the egg inside the bird when it was slaughtered, I was, well, frightened, but also intrigued. Grayson has a dark side, y'all! (I never say "y'all," but seemed appropriate.)

Paul Qui won with his "murder song" of a dish. The bloody handprint actually reminded me of the old WB show, Roswell, and I loved it. I just thought it was so artistic, and although his ingredients sounded sweet, I wanted to try it with the bacon. Paul's on a roll.

Finally, we have Beverly.

Beverly made a halibut dish that really didn't seem very wicked at all. I swear I thought she would go out there and be all "This halibut represents the positivity -- me -- as I rise above the evil that Is Heather and Sarah...." That would've made my day, but she didn't do that. And so, Beverly went home. I knew she was dead in the water when the judges started commenting on her weird sauce. None of the other dishes really had negative comments about major elements, other than Sarah's risotto. And, so the great underdog Beverly is out of the competition. Or, is she? She goes up against reigning champ, Nyesha, in this week's Last Chance Kitchen. Watch HERE.

Until then, Have a Nosh!



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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