Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

No One Makes Marmalade

Hugh Acheson echoes Beverly Kim's comments about karma.


The chefs have eaten through the sweet potato fence of the last episode and here we are still in Dallas. 

Beverly is bringing in the karma police to do battle with her arch nemesis Heather. A life-sized voodoo doll is in the works. While furiously making egg rolls in the future “Asian” battle, Heather will suddenly get stabbing pains in her side. Beverly will laugh in a maniacal way. 

Onward to Austin. Paul will be at home but is “sweatin’ balls” right now. These are his words, not mine. We learn, and this is unexpected to me, that Paul was a pot dealer with a messy apartment full of dog turds. Now he is the chef of Uchiko, one of the leading Japanese restaurants in the nation. Youth of today, take note: there is life beyond the dog-pooped apartment you live in. 

Toyota Sienna wagon train time. Hopefully they don’t go via the Donner Pass… these chefs would eat each other faster than any other expedition in history. Heather is looking for a man, a tall man with wavy hair, and would gladly make etouffee with John Besh, as long as he left the Asian fusion out of it. This in lieu of $5000. I love Besh, but I’d take the greenbacks. Matchmaking is the chatter in both vans. Malibu is exposed. It’s been a while since Crary has been to the YMCA to sport his spandex chef jacket. 

I think they have no idea what’s about to occur. Hell, I have no idea what to expect. Tom and Padma are the Quickfire tweet judges. I still have no idea what to expect here. Bacon it is. I would love this. I am thinking Edward is going to excel in this. But no, they aren’t happy just with the simplicity of the bacon, here come the tweet twists: 1. Now its got to have hash. Paul is good for this one from his weed-dealing days. 2. Everyone has to hand off an ingredient to another chef to use. Sriracha for Slingblade. Maple for Malibu. Crary ain’t got no manners. And refuses to open the hot condiment for Lindsay. I love writing Crary and hot and condiment together. 

• Beverly is up first with her belly and hash.

• Moto Chris makes a salty dish with scallops. I am having déjà vu. 

• Heather makes General Tso’s quail. Just kidding. I wish someone had given her soy though. Her dish looks pretty yummy though, for white people food. 

• Ed makes crab with sriracha and potato and cocoa nib and something hash. He will not be pitted in this Asian food thing! 

• Sarah cooks a crisp squash blossom with burrata. Looks great.

• Malibu Chris makes a beauty monkfish dish. His plate looks great but his hair looks fantastic.

• Grayson, German/ Wisconsinite, has made a light and fluffy puff. 

• TyLor has made glazed belly with bacon and kale hash. 

• Paul made clams. With bacon. Landscape of sea and earth. Boy is killing it. 

Bottom tier is Grayson, Moto Chris, and Ed. 

Top tier is Beverly, Sarah, and Paul. 

Winner is Paul. Killing it. He wins in Austin! $30,000 in his wallet. Drinks on Tom at the hotel bar. And in walks in Patti LaBelle.The soul goddess belts out some tunes. Gitchi Gitchi Gitchi . Yeah yeah yeah. Spoiler alert, no one makes marmalade for Lady Marmalade. 

Sarah is crying a lot this episode. Get it together girl. You can do this! 

Whole Foods. Food stories. Moto Chris is going to cook his steaks, but the steaks will look like his grandmother. Modern. 

Beverly has been away from home too long. She tapes a cosmic note of hope to the mirror. It reads “KILL KILL KILL.” Edward looks exactly like his grandmother and doesn’t cook vegetarians. I only cook vegans. They taste good. Like earthy grass. I do think he’s on to something here though, in the fact that the dishes are usually very meat-centric and a veggie dish could easily stand out. We’ll see if it's good. I see an homage to Korea coming soon to a plate near Edward. 

Paul is cooking a Filipino adobo influenced by the Texas Hill Country. I think of Whataburger in another language. Heather is cooking Beef Stroganoff and having some issues with tenderness. She has a lot of issues with emotional tenderness as is fully evidenced in previous episodes. Karma police are in full effect.

Judges like Chris’ idea, but worry about the sauce. I think great food sometimes, but the reality can be a bitch. He is looking a little less styled and manscaped, and the stress may be getting to him. Heather is getting some bad reviews on her Bigfoot meat. You have to really braise Sasquatch for a long time to be tender. She should call in a member of BFRO, Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization. It exists, I s--t you not. Paul’s quail with ginger rice and salsa is pleasing all soul singers. Emeril is coming over to Patti’s house. “With bells on.” My grandmother, Freda, rest in peace, used to use that line all the time. Sarah is cooking sausage again, but this time it's singin’. Looks great. 

Beverly has cooked short rib with edamame and mushrooms. Her short rib is treasured. Top 10 on the R&B charts. Crary has a salmon with a carrot puree and confit potato. The dish is a little convoluted and brings the ire of Tom. 

Edward is cooking Bibimbap. Crazy veggie move!I like it. Lindsay is cooking for two grandmothers, Greek and Southern. It’s a trout spanakopita with trout roe. Emeril and Patti have eaten caviar together before, but Emeril thinks the dish is too butter-rich and blasts out the other flavors. Ed’s egg dish is loved. Nice play, Mr. Lee.

Grayson has meat 'n' potatoes. Ribeye with veggies and potato salad. Wisconsin style may be a little big for even Texas. Ty-Lor has chicken fingers with peaches. They love it. They all want crayons and a word find game though. 

Good golly, Padma is looking hot. Crary is speechless. Low tier is called first: Heather, Crary, and Grayson. I have a certain Radiohead song in my head. Tom takes a swing at Heather with Beverly’s successful pressure cookery. Tops: Ed, Beverly, and Sarah. Ed is so genuine and fun. Beverly is relieved. Sarah needs to drink some water as she has cried a lot in the last few days. All of them rocked this episode. Sarah wins. Well=deserved. She is a smart cook, who shines through with a perfect happy personality to run a happy kitchen. You want a great chef? She’s right there. 

Heather goes home to work on her tenderness. Karma Police. This is what you get when you mess with Bigfoot. 


Hugh: Mei's a Chef's Chef

Hugh Acheson weighs in on the finale showdown between Mei Lin and Gregory Gourdet.

There is always a Top Chef winner but obviously some seasons have a less experienced assemblage of chefs, while others have veritable US Olympic-caliber culinary practitioners. (Congrats to Team USA in the Bocuse d’Or competition by the way! Silver! Silver!)

This particular season of Top Chef could have been a contest of mediocrity, but it bloomed into something very skilled and mature, which is good for judging, but makes writing a blog with poop jokes and rap humor very difficult. I have to say, I was a little worried at the beginning that the whole chef squadron was a little shaky. But early retreats by chefs with bigger egos than culinary skillsets allowed the true talent to rise without being malevolent fools. And that talent really was there. By mid season we were eating their visions on the plate, while watching them battle it out over the food and just the food.

The two most successful chefs of the season made it to the end, and they are ready to rumble in the most respective way they know how. One will plate most of their food on the side of the plate, incorporating Korean flavors and modern technique into the vittles, while the other will weave a more classic story and put food more in the center of the plate like regular people. Should be a good show no matter what, because at the end of the day, it’s just hard not to be really enamored with both of them. They are good people.

Gregory and Mei start out on a hot air balloon ride, because that’s how I like to start every day in Mexico. The country looks beautiful to me even if you are in a basket hoisted hundreds of feet into the air by hot air. The hotel I stayed in was the Casa di Sierra Nevada, which was AWESOME, so if you are looking for a vacation, go there. It's no party town, but it is plenty fun. Great food scene. And to put safety into perspective, I felt safer wandering around St. Miguel than I do my hometown. Anyway, the balloon ride looks like fun and allows for that finale moment of almost tearful reminiscence and contemplation.

So their balloon ride lands in a vineyard, and Tom and Padma are waiting to put a halt to this sentimentality. The task is put forward and the challenge, this final culinary joust, is to create a meal that is the meal of their lives. They pick their two sous chefs per person; Gregory picks Doug and George, while Mei picks Melissa and Rebecca.

They prep their menus after a good night’s sleep. The prep I will not talk about too much, but suffice it to say that each team seems very pro and super on top of things.

Traci des Jardins, Sean Brock, Michael Cimarusti, Gavin Kaysen, and Donnie Masterton are dining with us, all of them amazing chefs. Like amazing amazing. The kid’s table, at which I am the head, is made up of Sean, Traci, Gavin, and Gail. It is a super table. At the table I decide to hold true to the tourist warning of not drinking the water. I thus only drink wine and the phenomenal beauty of Casa Dragones tequila, a concoction that will make me sleep soundly (but probably by dessert) on the table.

Mei hits us with an octopus that I really, really like. It resounds with flavors of coconut, avocado, and fish sauce. It is deep. The only flaw is that maybe it is a bit over done. The over cooking made it kind of crunchy and she could easily have been cooking it to that point on purpose. Second course from her is a congee, with peanuts, carnitas, egg yolk, and hot sauce. It is so f----ing delicious. Like stylized comfort food that you just want to eat all the time. Comfort food, when perfect, is perhaps the hardest food to cook, because it is by definition food you are very familiar with, resulting in people having a lot of preconceived notions about it. This congee would have silenced all critics on congee. It was that good.

Mei is gliding through this meal. She has palpable confidence, but is still a nicely soft-spoken leader. In my years of watching people lead kitchens, I have always been more taken with the allegiance that soft-spoken leaders cultivate in their staffs. Her third course is a duck course, and like the congee, she has cooked duck at least twice this season, but in entirely different ways. This duck has kimchi, braised lettuce, and huitlacoche on the plate. Huitlacoche is corn smut, a term I just yelled in a coffee shop, making everyone uncomfortable. It is a good plate, but my refrain about duck skin continues. It was a bit chewy. All in all, the dish just was texturally challenged. It needed a crunchy texture. But it was good still. Her last is her version of yogurt dippin’ dots with strawberry-lime curd, milk crumble, and stuff. It was blow-you-away amazing. Very complex, but very successful. Tom says it is the best dessert on Top Chef he has ever had, and I definitely concur, though he has tasted many more than I have. The toasted yogurt base was amazing.

Gregory steps up with a brothy octopus with cashew milk, fresh prickly pear, and also xoconostle, which is the dried version of prickly pear, kind of like a prickly pear fruit roll up. It is a strong dish, and may be the winner in the Octopus Olympiad. His second was a strange soup that was redolent with flavor until you choked with a shrimp head lodged in your gullet. Strange and a little unrefined for me, and pretty much everyone else. It was a wanted textural element, but made a rustic soup weird. The whole dish needs to be compared to the comfort food of Mei’s congee, and in that context it is no contest.

Third course from Gregory is a bass with carrot sauce, tomatillo, vegetables, and pineapple. It is a strange dish. I am worried for Gregory at this point. It is not like the dish was bad, but the dish was just not a winner winner. Well, let’s not rest on that notion, because his next and final course is a stone cold stunner. Simple short ribs in mole with sweet potato. It is purity on the plate and equal to the idea of Mei’s congee in nailing comfort food. Kudos. He’s back on track. This is a close contest.

Judges' Table comes and we deliberate. I am not going to mince words and hold off on this: It is really close, but this season’s winner is definitely Mei. Well deserved. Gregory is the consummate pro in placing second and is going to be a force to be reckoned with in this restaurant world. His win versus addiction and his success in cooking shows one tough person with oodles of talent.

Mei. Mei. You rock. You are a chef’s chef. You make food that excites and makes us ponder. You are a leader and a super cool person. You are the winner and will always be a winner. Onwards.

Until next season. I loved this season. Thanks BOSTON. And thanks San Miguel di Allende. You are awesome places to work.

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