Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

Episode 9: Who knew BBQ incited so much sexual innuendo?

I'll wait till I get to end of the recap to go into it, but were there a lot of sexual and slightly creepy moments in this episode, or was it just me? Maybe just me, but stay tuned.

First, let's start with the Quickfire Challenge where the chefs are forced to do homework. They're handed -- and by handed I mean, gently presented on wheels -- a copy of Modernist Cuisine. Uh, yeah, that book is not only heavy, but expensive, so that was kind of exciting to see everyone -- and by everyone I mean Chris Jones -- get so psyched to see it. The chefs would study up on the techniques in the book and then create a modern dish for the author, and former Microsoft chief technology officer, Nathan Myhrvold. If you have a moment, you might want to look at his Wikipedia page -- the dude's amazing.) While my mind and apparently many of the chefs' minds jump to molecular gastronomy, some chefs just admitted they didn't know much about it, or that wasn't how they cooked. Also, that's not necessarily what modern cuisine means. While the chefs were cooking, I literally said out loud, "Please let Chris Jones win this." I didn't want the judges to "let" him win -- that would be unfair. I was pleading with a higher being. Unfortunately, although Chris was in the top, he didn't win. Ty-Lor did with his delicious-sounding watermelon/oil dish. I felt really bad for Chris Jones, though. This was his challenge, and he was so passionate about it. Unfortunately Ty-Lor's execution was just better. And Ty-Lor not only wins the book volumes, he also picked up immunity.Sidenote: I was stoked to see Edward's salmon belly sashimi because I just had a delicious salmon belly sashmi dish at Catch on New Year's eve courtesy of Season 3 winner Hung Huynh. I also recently enjoyed a dessert tasting at Nougatine by Johnny Iuzzini before his last day on December 31st. I'll be posting a separate blog about my foodie adventures over the holiday break later in the week, so keep your eyes on this space.

Padma tells the chefs that they'll finally be cooking BBQ! In Texas! And they'll be doing it at The Salt Lick. I was first introduced to The Salt Lick on an episode of Man vs. Food. I honestly can't remember what Adam Richman's challenge was, but I remember the establishment's giant smoke pit. The chefs were separated into three teams of three and told they'd be cooking all night. We're obviously not kidding around with the "slow" part of "low and slow." The cooking process became an interesting one when weird tensions started to arise between Edward and Sarah. After some comments back and forth, their relationship came to a boiling point when Sarah was forced to go to the hospital for heat exhaustion. Edward certainly was concerned, but when Sarah finally came back during service, Edward was, well, salty (pun intended) towards her. Sarah didn't feel guilty for taking it easy, and she shouldn't. From everything I've heard from everyone who was down there, the heat was unbearable. And as someone who really can't handle heat, I probably would've been in Sarah's shoes too. From what we've seen from Sarah so far this season, and how much control she enjoys, I don't think it was easy or preferable for her to leave Ty-Lor and Edward in charge of the execution of her dish. Ultimately, though, their team was safe. Chris C., Chris J., and Beverly, not so much. Their dish was just too salty. I was actually surprised that Tom and Gail didn't embrace Chris' use of Dr. Pepper. I actually didn't know that till I did some state research at the start of the season. This isn't a plug at all, but I love Dr. Pepper. Love. And although Hugh posits in his blog this week that he thought the BBQ sauce sounded gross, I thought it had potential. A few seasons back, our chefs actually made quite a few dishes using Dr. Pepper, so it can be done! Chris was ultimately responsible fo the seasoning that made his team's dish too salty, so he went home. And then we have the winning team, led by Paul. I think it said a lot about what Paul's colleagues think about him that they allowed him to lead. I think Lindsay and Grayson have very strong personalities, but they trusted Paul's vision, and it worked! I know I've already said I have a crush on Paul, but this episode put him over th top. That cutoff shirt with the tattoos?! Sigh. Their team took a risk by using Asian influences in their flavors, and I couldn't help but wonder (sorry.) what Heather would've said about that idea…. I kid, I kid!

OK, now onto the part you've all been waiting for -- the part where I reveal that I have a mind of a 13-year-old boy! Here were just some of the hilarious/creepy quotes and moments from the episode.:

1. "I would love to visit your basement." We know you admire Nathan, Chris, but, um, let's keep that one to yourself.

2. "Did I put it in the right hole?" Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris. Sure, Crary was just making sure he was executing Jones' beer can chicken correctly, but still. (And, yes, I know -- I need to wash my mind out with soap.)

3. "It's gonna be like sex in the mouth." Oh Grayson -- we get pretty punchy when we've pulled an all-nighter too.But even with those three comments, Chris Crary still raised my brows the highest with the revelation of his naked painting collection in his home. Although, I don't think any of us were surprised with that one.

Anyway, let me know what you thought of the episode. Was Edward too harsh on Sarah? Until next week, have a nosh!

P.S. I forgot to mention Beverly's interesting fire prevention skills. I really wonder what would have happened to that mobile kitchen had the smoke detector not gone off.

P.P.S. I leave you with this because, well, it was awesome:

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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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