Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Great Steak-pectations

Grayson shines, Ty-Lor cuts, and Heather annoys.

 

Sup, muthaaa, aka Mother sauce? From the comments left on this recap last week, I know a bunch of you weren't feelin' the last challenge, so I was happy to see this week went back to the basics, and hopefully you loved it as much as I did.

I thought the Quickfire was exceptional -- as a viewer I love seeing who really has the basic skills to pay the bills. Creating a sauce is such a crucial part of cooking. I've had some amazing sauces in my life, but for some reason, whenever I think of the best sauce I've ever had, I always come back to this Daurade (my favorite fish) dish I enjoyed at a fish restaurant in Caesar's Palace. I honestly don't even remember what the dish was, but it was ridiculous.

I think sauces can be the most memorable part of a dish. Sure, you'll remember if your protein is cooked correctly, but I always remember a dish for the flavors, which usually come from some sort of sauce. So, the chefs selected from four "mother sauces" as dubbed by Escoffier. i was amused that Paul was back in his school kitchen. That must've been a little weird for him. The chefs tried to put their own spins not he classics to varying degrees of success. A couple chefs admitted to guest judge and tough cookie Dean Fearing that they hadn't made a roux. Many chefs don't make roux, and there's so much debate about the proper color of a roux, I was nervous that this might send one of them out. Luckily Paul's dish was perfect without it! But ultimately Grayson's dish won. I believe I said this after a previous episode, but I think Grayson continues to make the most beautiful dishes of the group. The colors on her plate, specifically the deep blue created by her blueberry sauce, were just gorgeous. Way to go, Grayson!Onto the Elimination Challenge! The chefs broke up into groups to create three-course steak meals for the Cattle Barons' Ball. Um, i need an invite to this event next year. I looove steak. I grew up eating a lot of red meat, and a nice steak is something i was fortunate enough to eat often. This challenge was a tough one. Creating 200 steaks at the same doneness -- medium rare --  for an event of this size is challenging. Also, this group has a lot of expectations about what steak should taste like and what it should go with. I think the chefs struggled with keeping their dishes traditional while still putting their own spins on the the food. 

The appetizer course, a gaspacho, was OK. The light soup made sense before a heavy steak meal. Beverly got called out by her group -- specifically Heather -- for not working fast enough. Beverly then brought up that deveining that number of shrimp perfectly was a big task. Maybe she's slow, but i'm going to go with her on that one. It didn't seem that other people's elements suffered because Beverly was unavailable. She was looking after the dish's protein after all. 

We'll get to the actual steak in a minute. The dessert was seemingly the best course of the night as exhibited by Heather's win. She used Edward's sponge cake recipe… again, and twisted it to make a peach cake. It looked really delicious, but i was a little bored again. Tom and Hugh debated the sweetness of her cream. Like Tom, i don't love super-sweet desserts but i need a little confectioner's sugar in my cream. Sorry, Tom!One sidetone about Heather. Apparently everyone's turning on her. As a super-loud and bossy female, I didn't find much wrong with her attitude, but it would've been nice to see it result in the proper cooking of the steak. And that brings us to her bestie, Ty-Lor.

OK, onto the steak. Ty-Lor was mostly responsible for the actual protein. Unfortunately while getting out all the marrow on prep day, he sliced right through his finger. And it was bad.

See where Ty-Lor ranks among Bravo's biggest foodie klutzes of all time.

Like any badass chef, Ty-Lor kept working, but eventually had to get stitches at night, so he didn't really sleep before the event. When the steaks actually had to be cooked, there was a bit of a breakdown in communication and they were fired t the wrong time, resulting in unevenly and inconsistently-cooked steaks. The protein was basically ruined. The saving grace of the entree was Nyesha's sauce. She redeemed herself from the Quickfire Challenge. Yay, Nyesha! Luckily for Ty-Lor, Whitney made a weak potato gratin. Some of her potatoes were raw, and the judges were tasked with deciding which was a bigger offense -- poor protein or raw vegetable. I felt for Hugh, remaining objective while obviously hurt that his mentee was facing elimination. Don't worry, Hugh! She has another chance in Last Chance Kitchen. And Ty-Lor lived to cook another day.

Did you agree with the judges' decision? And how do you like your steak? If you don't say medium rare, don't worry.

 

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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