Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Texas Two-Step

The first two groups of three compete for a spot among the final 16 cheftestants.

Hellooo Top Chef: Texas fans! I should probably introduce myself. My name is Monica and I'm Senior Editor here at Bravotv.com. I'm also a huge "foodie" and Top Chef fan (been working here since Season 3.) I'll be your recapper for the season.

This is what I wore to work today, just so all my colleagues knew what time it was. It's Top Chef: Texas time! I'm finally recovered from a stellar season of Just Desserts, and am ready for a new season, new format, new judges! 

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So, let's get to it. 29 -- yes, 29 -- cheftestant hopefuls arrive in San Antonio, the Alamo to be exact.

Watch producer Chris Gallivan explain why we chose Texas:


Thanks, Chris!

The 29 hopefuls are greeted by Padma who tells them how the new season will work. They'll be broken into three groups, competing in different challenges.

I'm not going to go into what every chef cooked for every challenge (Hugh does in his blog if you want to check it out), but let's talk about the highlights, shall we?

Step 1: The first group were presented with a whole pig by Tom and new judge Emeril Lagasse. I don't know what it is about Emeril, but he's so calm and cool, it cracks me up. Can't wait to see him at the real Judges' Table. Anyway, the first group's chefs divvy up the cuts. This was a true nose to tail challenge. It actually reminded me of my recent trip to Animal in L.A. Both pig ears -- or "listeners" as the Magical Elves referenced them in the episode -- and pig tails were on the menu, and I opted for neither. I've had pig ears before -- they're just not for me; I find the textrue disconcerting. The main event of this group's challenge was Tyler. Poor, poor Tyler. He was just in over his head and didn't know how to butcher the pig. So, Tom eliminated Tyler right then and there. And Tyler continued to talk a big game post-elimination! He actually did more begging defense than we showed on-air. You can check out that exclusive footage here:

I couldn't tell if he really believed what he was saying, honestly. He's apparently already written a book and accomplished a lot, sooo I'm sure he'll be fine. Colin had some issues too. His soup got everywhere, and I mean everywhere, and the judges wouldn't even try his food. Eliminated. (He was adorable, and kinda reminded me of the lead singer of Band of Horses, Ben Bridwell, so I was sad about that one.)Now, in these first two episodes, in addition to the usual elimination, the chefs who the judges aren't quite sure about are put on the bubble and have the opportunity to compete again to earn a chef's coat. Crazy, huh?

 

Step Two: The second group had to choose one ingredient from among many that they all would cook, and they chose rabbit. I honestly can't remember if I've ever eaten rabbit, but I thought the fact that they were able to produce so many different preparations was really impressive. Chris Crary had the judges' favorite rabbit preparation of the day, and we meet Ty-Lor Boring. His name is only second in my mind to Work of Art's The Sucklord, but he seems way less, um, artsy. Note to ask him how he got his name.

Combined, the judges allow 11 through. Read their full bios, will ya?

Sooo, next week's chefs are all vying for the remaining 5 spots, and Hugh Acheson joins the judges. I must confess Hugh was one of my fave (OK, my fave) on his season of Top Chef Masters, so I'm pretty psyched.

What did you all (I won't be saying "y'all" -- I'm from New York!) think of the premiere episode?! Can't wait to read your comments.

Until next week, Have a Nosh, and, as always, let me know where you're eating and what you're eating.


 

 

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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