Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Oy! Ster!'s Senior Editor's heart sank when the judges figured out what was wrong with Ed's dish.


Hello, my little mentees! Boy, Gail was not lying in her blog -- this episode was a tearjerker, but we'll get to that in a moment.

First, the crazy Quickfire Challenge! Sometimes, when I see Quickfires like this I just shake my head and smile. Oh wait -- I almost forgot a really important development! The Last Chance Kitchen winner re-entered the competion. And, in the end, who walks into the kitchen? BEVERLY! Who saw that coming? I know many of you will be disappointed it wasn't Grayson, or still haven't gotten over Nyesha's loss. Don't worry about Grayson, though. She's doing just fine though -- she'll be with the First Lady this week after all! (How amazing is that by the way?) Also, if you still want to watch Last Chance Kitchen, you can! Right HERE!

Anyway, Beverly's back, and no one's too thrilled about it, but to be fair, I don't know that they would've been happy with anyone coming back. As Edward not-so-graciously pointed out, the remaining chefs thought they were the final four. Oh well. Padma announces the Quickfire Challenge -- the chefs will gather their ingredients blindfolded and then have to incorporate all the ingredients they grabbed into a dish. At least they had Tom and Padma to usher them into the pantry, but Edward brought up a really good point that the proteins are in sealed bags, sooo the chefs' sense of smell was fairly useless in that case. In the end, they all grabbed enough ingredients, and the only chef who seemed genuinely baffled by something grabbed was Edward with his pork casings, which he very wisely made into a broth. Ultimately, Sarah took the win for her soup. She was then faced with an option: a car or a trip to the finals. While all the chefs kind of weighed in on what taking immunity would mean -- basically calling it a cop-out -- I would like to say that had Sarah taken the car and then got eliminated, they'd all have said she made the wrong choice. Seemed like a pretty damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.Onto the Elimination! Into the kitchen, come the chefs' mentors! And suddenly, the cheftestants burst into tears! Even Paul, which only made him more adorable. The chefs' task was to make a dish to make their mentors proud. So, they got to cookin', except Sarah, who got to go out and enjoy her night with her mentor, Tony Montuano. A common sentiment in the kitchen was the desire to not disappoint one's mentors. Not only are the chefs putting their names on the line, they're putting their mentors' names on the line. I think that's honestly true of all chefs competing on Top Chef. I really think that the realization that not being able to cook in the Top Chef environment doesn't necessarily mean you're a bad chef is a hard one to come by. These chefs just put so much pressure on themselves. Fortunately, in this scenario, it really raised their dishes to a new level.

Lindsay made a seafood stew that looked pretty delicious, with the main complaints being about the use of cream, which she knew was a mistake, and dried herbs. Beverly made eight wok dishes essentially to-order, and although she wasn't happy with the plating, she knew her flavors were good. And although I couldn't taste it, Bev's dish just looked like a hearty one I would've loved to try. Then there's Paul. His dish was so delicate and -- as Tom lauded -- restrained. I thought Tom gave Paul one of the nicest compliments at Judges' Table by mentioning that it takes a truly mature chef to know when too much is too much. This characteristic of restraint is something that reminded me a lot of one of my other favorites, Bryan Voltaggio. And then there was Ed. He was doomed the moment he selected smoke oysters at Whole Foods. I mean, canned seafood?! No. I think mentally he tricked himself into thinking he couldn't taste the difference, but the judges could. I really thought maybe they'd never figure it out, they were so confused by the flavor, but then suddenly Hugh says meekly, "Were those canned oysters?" And my heart just sank for some reason. Yes, Hugh, they were. All the judges agreed that Ed's dish would have been leaps and bounds better without that oyster sauce. Ugh. Bye, Ed! I dug Ed, so I'll miss him, but we now have our final four!

And next week the chefs head to sunny British Columbia for the finals. Ahhh! I can't wait! I leave you with an exclusive and free excerpt from Gail's new book! I'm just so proud of her! So enjoy that, and until then, Have a Nosh!



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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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