Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Fast is Slow and Slow is Smooth

Hugh Acheson tries to wrap his mind around Chris Jones' mantra.

“Don’t screw with my food when you are representing me representing you." This is Lindsay’s new battle cry. I would have suggested something shorter, like the Sioux call of "Hoka Hey!" or a simple “Kill! Kill! Kill!” This drawn out Rebel Yell from Florida is directed to the recently departed Beverly. Little do they know that Beverly is cooking to success in the Last Chance Kitchen. You can’t keep the gnome down for long. 

Grayson is chatting to herself about the need to step things up. She’s a little concerned. And she should be. This is nearing the end of the line, and right now she’s a middle of the packer known for silly songs and sexual innuendo. It’s not even innuendo usually, just sexy talk. Sexy talk means nothing anymore without Chris Crary, the sculpted Ken doll of cookery. 

Emeril, Cat Cora, and Padma are judging this Quickfire. Padma is wearing a boyfriend-style shirt-dress, plaid with cut-off sleeves. Am I the last person on earth to know that she’s dating Larry the Cable Guy? Cat Cora looks completely different when she lets her hair down. Emeril too.

I don’t know how the teams came to fruition, but they seem to fall on race (Ed and Paul), sex (Lindsay and Sarah) and then the oddball team of merry pranksters (Chris Jones and Grayson.) The challenge is to peel, devein, and butterfly two pounds of shrimp, shuck and cut a crate of corn, and make a pound of perfect fettuccine. Then you cook with all three ingredients plus the pantry, and the best dish wins. Sounds easy? Whatever… this is anything but easy. Winner gets 10,000 Smackaroos, Padma’s newly-named currency system. Padma is keeping the real greenbacks and swapping them with these Smackaroos. Currency speculators are wary on Smackaroo futures.

Here’s where I get picky. The challenge calls to “shuck a crate of corn…,” yet the picture has corn cut off the cob. Shucking is just the peeling and removal of the greenery and yarn of the corn. Cutting is something else. I would’ve just shucked it and not cut it and then been all stubborn about it. That’s how I roll. I am a walking pain in the ass, albeit a nice one. People say I smirk a lot. I do. 

The teams do line up things pretty much as they should. Make the pasta dough, get it resting, then into corn and shrimp world. Grayson says that the male shrimp are dirtier. Lindsay comments that Grayson never shuts up. This is pretty much the case, but Grayson has given us some pretty memorable lines this season and that crazy rendition of the bullfrog song. 

Alas, all happy thoughts are vanishing in this grueling Quickfire. Grayson is all over Chris for his slow-pokey work style. He asides with some strange wisdom, which I would like to set the mood for… think of a snow-capped mountain top, and on the very top of this mountain is the wise soothsayer we have all wanted to chat with in life, hair up in strange ponytail, wearing a bathrobe. You ask for wisdom and the response is this: “Fast is slow and slow is smooth.” Then your life journey is complete because it will take you the remainder of your existence to figure out what the fuck that means. 

Corn cob check for Mr. Qui. We have a corn failure on aisle three. Maiz a Qui? No Bueno. He gets Cat Cora’d and has to improve the shapes of them cobs. Ed is surely convinced that the curse of being paired with Paul continues. He may be right.

“Shrimp check please.” Immortal words that you should only speak in bath houses you will never return to, where no one will ever know your name, unless your name is Ty-Lor, the centerfold sensation. 

Paul has forgotten to put the shrimp on the pasta resulting in a banishment of the white team and a continuation of the curse of Ed and Paul, the team that Paul always brings down. Paul only wins when the money is his and his alone… and then he always wins. The green team wins, even with the deep-fried bacon. Gotta get things crispy, you know. Slow wins this race, and is happy to bring home the deep-fried bacon to his family. 

The Elimination Challenge is to cook for a block party, 200 people, to fill the coffers of Healthy Choice initiative “Child Hunger Ends Here.” The chefs will be competing against their just-former teammate from the QF. When I think block party I think of sliders and potato salad, mac 'n' cheese and sausages… and Grayson comes up with chicken salad. She would be horrible at $100,000 Pyramid

Paul and Ed are doing Korean BBQ with pickled salad. Grayson and Chris J. are rocking the chicken salad with watermelon. Lindsay and Sarah are heralding a new day for meatballs and vegetable salad. 

Shopping. Grayson yells at the butcher counter guy, “You are the shit. You are the shit.” Enunciation is everything, because with a little bit of wrong inflection this could be the most insulting thing ever said on Top Chef. Other than that, shopping is pretty straight up. Chris Jones does pull out a Marauder’s Map and sees Beverly lurking in the dried grains aisle. Off we go to prep time. They are at the old Pearl Brewery where the esteemed Culinary Institute of America has a campus. Lindsay is busting balls. Ed is rolling buns. Chris has opened up a franchise of Pret a Manger with sandwiches made in advance, a British accent, and amazing turnaround times. He then gets all ornery when packing up his food, throws some very fine looking white chairs, and has a premonition about bees. Float like a butterfly, Chef, and don’t get stung by a bee.

On-site. The bees bring back memories for me of a catering we did recently in Thomasville, GA. Stunning spot with amazing flower gardens. One request is to set up elaborate cheese displays flanking the flower gardens for guests to arrive at directly following the ceremony. They looked awesome. Ceremony starts and my walkie starts buzzing with a request that I come to the cheese displays. I ask why… “Because there are some bees on the cheese.” OK. Fine. I can deal with some bees. I go over and take a look. There are about 5000 bees on each display. This is the real picture that I took. 

hugh-blog-bees.jpg

They were everywhere. One of the guests was oddly enough a beekeeper and schooled us. They were Italian honey bees and they would go away at nightfall. They did. 

Chris Jones does not have the luxury of waiting for nightfall. He is also allergic which make this whole situation a little trickier. I got stung about seven times with my bee situation until I realized I needed to be at peace with the bees and not freak them out. Chris Jones, channel your inner wise man and recite the mantra,”Fast is Slow and Slow is Smooth.” This will lull the bees into confused submission. On-site they all seem to have their happy faces on and are making people happy with the charitable angles. Ed is carefully allotting his buns. Grayson is making the sandwiches to order, which is a slow endeavor. Sarah is wondering why her meatballs are not getting the ballot box love. Chris is still battling ‘dem bees. He has cut out the top of his hat to release the Pebbles 'do.

Ryan Scott from Season 4 in da house. Doing great work.

Dana Cowin is also in the house. I received a great call from Dana a decade ago and have held her in high esteem ever since. She is a pretty rad gastro-editor. She is also requesting vodka for her watermelon salad which always endears me to people… usually Russian people, but still. 

They are liking Paul more than Ed.

They are liking Lindsay more than Sarah. 

They are liking Grayson more than Jonesy. 

Paul used eggplant to get the richness in, but back off the fat. Paul is also looking alive. The Quickfire was before his alert hours, but now he’s game. Grayson did not open a Pret a Manger chicken salad outlet and that is commended. Great call back by Grayson at Judges' Table:

Tom Colicchio: “Did you ever think, if I am on the winning side or the losing side, am I going to win this with a chicken salad sandwich?”

Grayson: “I think it’s definitely possible… (she reacts to Tom’s look) Obviously not. You think that chicken salad is really boring?”

TC: “Yeah. You have to win this against other dishes that are potentially much more exciting than a chicken salad sandwich.”

Grayson: “Like a meatball?”

TC: “Errr… Right. Or…”

Grayson: “Right.”

You don’t usually see Tom without a quick answer, but he is smiling like she has a good point on this one. Grayson continues to rock the lines. She’s one funny chef. She can cook too. Alas, I would not be caught dead bringin’ chicken salad to a Texas gunfight. 

Paul wins. Boy has more money than a banana republic. 

Jonesy calls the correct play. Usually he is Captain I’m Going Home and then turns out to be really wrong, but this time he’s right on. Back to Chicago to rejoin Moto Army. Homaru, Ben, and Richie will be happy to have Chef Chris back in the fold, and we are all sad to see him go. Experimentation is really important in the culinary world and chefs like Chris J. are integral to the advancement of food. 

Rock on, Pebbles. 

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Richard: "Winning Is Overrated"

Richard Blais congratulates Doug Adams on his admirable run and knows (from experience) this is just the beginning for this talented chef.

Doug Adams is not Top Chef.

Doug Adams is, however, the poster chef for what this competition is all about. A jumping off point for unrecognized or yet truly discovered talent.

Mr. Adams, yes I'm saying Mister because it pays respect to the man, and also because that's how The New York Times goes about things, came on to this season touting his resume of being a working class sous chef from Portland.

Doug Adams is not Top Chef. Doug Adams is, however, the poster chef for what this competition is all about.

Richard Blais

Sous chefs are on the line everyday (sous chefs from Portland I imagine are also butchering whole animals and foraging for botanicals, buts that's for a different blog). They are hands-on, blue collar grinders and early on Doug uses this statement to separate himself from the contestants who maybe are clipboard surfing, or worse, not even really in a restaurant at this stage of their careers. And although this is a part of his strategy or drive, and a very honest personal understanding and awareness of self, I have news for you...

Doug Adams is no longer a sous chef.

Sure, he may actually, technically still carry the title tonight, I'm not certain to be honest, but by his performance this season on Top Chef, he is now ready for the next stage in his career, and this is what can happen and should happen after Top Chef.

I can't imagine someone not taking a chance with giving Doug the opportunity to run a small restaurant. I can't imagine that someone out there tonight, hearing about Doug's goal of operating a Montana restaurant, connected in some way to hunting and fishing won't contact him. I can't imagine it; because it happened to me... My restaurant Juniper & Ivy in San Diego is a direct connection from my performance on Top Chef, and my gut tells me it had very little to do with "winning."

The fact is, winning is overrated.

Winning is fun. It may get you some cash or secure your ego, yes, but really, six months after this thing runs out on television, we are all just "that guy or girl from Top Chef.

Throughout this season, Doug has demonstrated everything one looks for in a great business partner. He cooks delicious, relatable, soulful food. He does it with a smile on his face. He cooks with a sense of authorship and knowledge of place and time. And perhaps most importantly (no, not his epic beard), most importantly, he communicates with his colleagues professionally and with integrity. I'd guess every cheftestant likes him. I know every judge likes him. He takes risks, like roasting a whole lobe of Foie gras, or say, blending up an aioli of ant eggs. Which, by the way, are you kidding me? Maybe he takes these chances because it's part of the game, but I think more so because Doug is a curious cook, which is a sure tell sign of a chef ready to do their own thing.

Doug, it may seem like I never had anything positive to say about your food, and maybe indeed that's how it played out on television, but it's not the case, Chef.

Congrats on an amazing run, one for all future contestants to take note of. And when rooms become available at your resort in Montana, I'm booking...

Blais
@RichardBlais (Instagram & Twitter)

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