Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Chefs Will Not Roux the World

Hugh Acheson doesn't understand why the chefs made individual steaks.

This is being written, fueled by hotel room coffee, in the beautiful Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood, Mississippi, the home of Viking Range. Book tours are endless.

The chefs are realizing that some of them are boys and some are girls. Except Moto Chris who shrugs off this segregation, favoring a caste system based on whether on not your hair looks like Pebbles from The Flintstones. Again, he is alone in his caste still sad about his Richie. Dude, we all miss Richie.

In saunters Padma and Dean Fearing, a fantastic chef who owns Fearing’s in Dallas. Dean is known for sauce work and is a very classic chef. His food is “best in Texas” material. He also plays a mean guitar and wears cowboy boots that cost more than my mortgage. On top of all that, he’s an awesome person. 

The Quickfire is being held at the Cordon Bleu in Dallas where Paul Q. went to cooking school, so he knows these stoves. Classic sauces are the topic. Tomate, Espagnole, Veloute, Hollandaise, and Bechamel. Get your roux working. It’s the golden oldies of saucework. 

Chef Fearing is a roux man. Roux dat. This is a generational thing, though, and many of the younger chefs make classic sauces not thickened with roux. We agree to disagree on this, Dean and I. I am very impressed with the dishes overall. Grayson’s quips that, “Sauces ain’t no thang” and “feeling fucking saucy” are pretty accurate, as she wins the challenge with a beautiful plate with ravioli, scallops, and a gazillion little elements. Looks badass. Nyesha was talking big, but ended up in the bottom three with Beverly and Dakota. 

On to the Elimination Challenge. Cattlemen’s Ball in Southfork. Heather can’t remember who shot J.R., but she’s pretty sure it's Beverly. The steak is meant to take center stage in a four-course meal. No one says anything about steaks having to be individual steaks, but that’s how Ty-Lor interprets. Big mistake. Would have been so much easier to cook whole eye of ribeye and then slice down to portions. The steak main course is setting itself up to be the disaster course. 

Ty-Lor has some pretty impressive eyebrows in his childhood pictures. And I know what I am talking about. Trust me.

Beverly, Dakota, and Sarah are doing tomato-watermelon gazpacho. 

Chris Jones, Paul, and Edward are making seared beef carpaccio.

Ty-Lor is the steakmaster with a “Whose Your Daddy?" apron, Malibu Chris has greens, Nyesha has a compound butter and a sauce, and Whitney has a potato gratin. This dish has been planned by Ponderosa in 1976. 

Heather, Lindsay, and Grayson are making a peach cake with stuff and generally being the executives in charge of the whole dinner. 

Heather hates Beverly. Hates. Heather wonders why Beverly always cooks Asian food. I want to ask Heather why she is always bossy while cooking white people American food. Beverly’s problem is that she’s a bit too soft-spoken and wispy. It’d be awesome if she just suddenly put Heather in a sleeper hold to stop the conversation.There is lots of fear going on about Whitney’s gratin. I can’t help but wonder why she chose something so basic, but if she can pull off something ethereal then my thoughts mean nothing. Good food can be simple. 

Has Lindsay channeled the voice of Slingblade? Her drawl has gotten much deeper when stress and a new Venza are involved.

Ty-Lor has stabbed himself in the hand which looks terribly painful. There may be no marrow tomorrow. Ty-Lor gets a medic. Then he goes to the hospital. The club of those who have shed blood is growing. 

Heather is getting angrier and angrier. Her chances of winning people’s choice are dwindling. She needs to go to a happy place. Tom visits and Heather turns on the charm while her team is back in the kitchen actually working. Dakota has no love for Heather. 

Whitney’s potato gratin is a beacon of early controversy. 

Ty-Lor is back. 

Busy time in the kitchen. 

And here come the judges. My hair is weird. Oh well. Kind of Mad Men meets Don Johnson circa 1985. That Billy Reid suit was sweet though. We love us some Billy Reid. 

Let me be clear on the diners. This was a great group of people genuinely into the charitable aspect of the event. That’s my type of people. Compared to the progressive dinner crowd from last week, it was like night and day. I still have Gummi Bear cake nightmares. 

First course comes out pretty well. The gazpacho, garnished with pickled shrimp, is very smart. It is pretty bracingly acidic though, but it was a pretty solid beginning. Second course looks fine. Maybe too simple. There is a wonderment to what Ed was doing the whole time. The meat was spot-on, but the rest of it seemed a little disjointed. The whole meal is a little discombobulated. 

The main course is a mess. Four elements piled on like it was your last meal on earth. Looked like a glutton’s delight. Looked like a dish where no one talked to each other along the way. Trainwreck. 

“Right Side Up” Texas Peach Cake, Whipped Mascarpone, Pecan Streusel is deemed pretty great by all of us. No matter how much Heather drove everyone nuts, this is about the food, and her dish was good. 

It turns out Beverly has been stalking Edward for years. Bev is a strange creature. Heather is trying to throw Beverly under the tenth bus of the day. 

Chris Jones, Nyesha, and Heather in the tops. This is all weird because it was a kind of best of the worst kind of day. I was not the biggest proponent of Heather ruling the day, but someone’s gotta win. 

It was really hard to send anyone packing, but there was a massive problem with the main course. It was a mess. Why they cooked individual steaks is beyond me. The whole group needs to talk more about the point of a menu. This was a bad example of menu planning.Whitney lost out. You need to put something great forward every week to stick in this. Undercooked gratin is not going to do it. She will prosper and succeed nonetheless, trust me.

 

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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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