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:

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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