Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

CSI: Enchanted Forest

Hugh Acheson wishes he had enjoyed one of the show's greatest meals with Charlize Theron and Eric Ripert.

Sorry this is a bit late. It was finished at midnight at the airport in Salt Lake City after I missed a connection. Rock on SLC -- it was a great 7 hours.

Back to San Antonio we go, land of the Alamo and a fine bar called the Esquire. Google it and go; it’s a fun place to imbibe. 

Sarah starts off the show with the Strange Logic II: the Hatred of Beverly Returns. She laments that Lindsay should have won the previous Restaurant Wars but it lacks Vulcan sensibility and I wish our resident Trekkie would chime in. Bev won the war, oddly enough cooking her own dish as the best and the other dish she was in charge of pickup on, as worst. Strange days here we come.  

Alas, I still stand beside the decision. The other decision that was made was the one to send Ty-Lor packing which was a sad one for all of us. He is a good soul and a talented chef throughout the competition and also a darn fine bartender when he guested on the episode of What What Happens: Live that I was on last week with the esteemed Andy Cohen and the wonderful fly girl, Rosie Perez. The show was definitely live and full of craziness. Amirite?

All the driving scenes this season have had a play-within-a-play mentality. Let’s call them Sienna Scenes, and this is a very uncomfortable ride for the winning ladies. C'mon people, act like winners, not wieners! Bev, the champion, has the others wanting her to be a reluctant champion. I suggest Beverly regale the others with a rousing rendition of “Cry me a River.”  You have to get past yesterday and onto today, people. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, yesterday’s gone… it shouldn’t just be the mantra of a Clinton-Gore campaign.Paul is cooking up some breakfast in the Top Chef luxo-bungalow. It’s breakfast pizza pockets, a snack perfected to counter the munchies back in his pot dealing/dog poop-strewn apartment daze. It’s gonna be dope. 

And off to the Quickfire we go. Immunity for the winner. We see a conveyor belt and I am hoping for a sushi challenge where the winner is the person whose food was most consumed. That would rock. Elves… make this happen. I am gleeful though when the challenge is explained that foodstuffs will appear on the belt, and if you grab ‘em, you gotta use them. This is awesome. 

Chef Eric Ripert is in the house. Eric is a god to those of us who cook food for a living. He is also reportedly (we do not know each other) a complete sweetheart, who is very kind and calm. I do suggest that Grayson not sing her frog song just in case it gets misconstrued. Franco-American relations are in jeopardy if that happens. 

Chris Jones is being taunted by a circling crustacean which is playing hard to get. Chris is so Easy Teasy. It is a hilarious man vs. conveyor belt moment. He goes on a profanity-laced tirade. This is killer TV. Finally he gets a hold of one of those lobsters and he is not letting go. He is now going to make this lobster pay for this embarrassment by boiling it and cooking it with foie gras. 

Time is up, and it looks like Beverly is having one of her minimalist brain activity days: she has forgotten to put on one of her necessary elements, yet gets a pretty nice-looking plate composed. Curried rice krispies sounded pretty fly, so I am saddened. Luckily she has not somehow ruined Lindsay’s food in the Quickfire, or we would never hear the end of it. 

The food:

Edward Lee: Sauerkraut Soup with shrimp, shaved truffle and Macadamia nuts. Good looking. 

Chris Jones: Butter Poached Lobster with foie gras. Traditional haute cooking without liquid nitrogen appliqué. In this competition, Chris has left Planet Moto for a simpler place known as Earth. Welcome back, dude. He is seen trying to open a jar with a spatula. Wrong tool Chris, wrong tool!

Grayson: Butter poached fluke with rosemary Goldfish crumble. Sounding weird but this may have solved how to use all those Goldfish one finds crammed in the backseat when you have a toddler. I have two who are past the Goldfish addiction stage but we are still finding Goldfish in the back seats.  

Paul Q: Mussels with broth of bitter melon and saffron. Bitter melon is tough love to use and may bitter him, I mean bite him, in the ass. 

Sarah: Softshell crab with artichokes, cottage cheese, and saltines. This sounds like a CSI episode looking into a drunk Italian fisherman’s death. Or it could rock. We’re about to find out. 

Lindsay: Bouillabaisse of grouper, clams, fennel, and tomato. She’s a little worried about cooking something so French for Eric. I feel for her. I’d be freaking out. I love how they start to subtitle Eric.

Beverly: Glazed sockeye salmon with black eyed peas, tofu, and thoughts of curried rice crispies. This is where Chris Jones is very jealous. She just thinks the rice crispies onto the plate. 

So Beverly’s dish would have won “by a mile” if she hadn’t been floating above the crowds in a euphoric daze, which puts a footnote next to Lindsay's win, much like the Montreal Expos best record in baseball in 1994-1995. Lindsay takes the news with her new cloudy disposition. She’s tired, people. They all are. It’s been a long road this far and as much as they all want to finish this with a win, they all also want a nap. 

Charlize Theron is the Queen of this quasi-medieval honky tonk and you really couldn’t ask for someone to get more into it. She’s great. It is utterly unfair that I am not there. Heads will roll. 

The contestants must cook food cooked in a style worthy of an evil queen -- macabre and over the top. If Chris Jones had a gastronomic wet dream this would be it. He wants to capture this like a lobster on a conveyor belt, which proved to be more elusive than you would believe. 

Beverly is running into Whole Foods like the women chefs are trying to kill her, and this may well be the case. She begins to pop up like a Korean gnome around Whole Foods scaring the other chefs. The girl is an odd bird. 

Cooking has begun. Macabre is the theme of the night. I love lamb heart, so I’m excited for Sarah’s dish. She is really, really skilled. I have not had black chicken ever, so Grayson’s dish is beyond my experience. Chris Jones is doing the crazy apple thing. Paul Q. is making something without cocoa nibs. Fast forward to the feast. 

Tartare from Ed. Tom is looking quite serious, but he’s really happy to have the lovely Charlize there. Eric loves it. The sauce interplay is loved. Tom gets the line of the night, “When you put good and evil together you get a politician.”Paul is doing a Body Glove wetsuit plate. They love it too. It looks pretty cool. He’s making time from that Quickfire stuff he messed around with. 

Beverly has made Snow White into a fish, but I think that’s the Little Mermaid. She’s confused but the plate looks good and is well-received. Fish is cooked perfectly, rice is killa. 

Lindsay has made a Witches' Stew of seared scallop with shortrib and dragon beans. Looks great. The stewed beans are adored. Fine chef she is. Boil, boil, toil, and trouble. I like how she’s seen Bev make headway with shortribs, and she’s going to run with it too. 

Sarah is Italian (a play on English is Italian, a resto by Todd English). Lamb heart over Amarone risotto. Me hungry now. I would eat that right now, but it is not available at the SLC airport. 

Grayson is putting together a crazy plate and bumps bellies with Pebbles in celebration. Nutty plate. Love the egg. They love it too. 

Chris J. and the wacky apple. Poison apple. Looks whack. His use of LN in this is smart and is adored. Look, I wasn’t there, but Tom really said to me that it was some of the best food ever on Top Chef. Ever. And that was all of them. Way to go, chefs. You rocked it and the Queen was happy. 

Slaphappy band time. Bev plays one minute past the point of it being cool. 

Paul wins. Kills it with the Enchanted Forest. 

Beverly is gone, but certainly not forgotten. Who can ever forget her?

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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