Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Bloody Great Feast

Tom Colicchio explains the minute details that sent Beverly packing.


Shooting this week’s episode was one of the best experiences I have had in my years judging this competition. No, not because I was seated next to Charlize Theron, terrific as she is, but because the chefs delivered one of the finest meals I have ever had on Top Chef. From the first course to the last, they kept on bringing it. I know some viewers have wondered whether the chefs this season are as talented as many in seasons past. This episode finally answers that question with a remarkable seven-course yes.

The chefs’ high level of performance shows just how creative chefs can be when presented with an idea. Chefs can derive inspiration in so many ways, from seeing ingredients and imagining ways to play with them, from tasting the food of other chefs or from foreign locales, or, as here, from an idea. Here, the notion of playing off of evil and fear freed our chefs.  Look, for example, at the handprint Paul put on the plate -- that would never have happened without this challenge, and it worked. It was the right counterpoint to his beautiful (and delicious) enchanted forest, and if it made Eric squeamish, well, that was the desired effect, right? Grayson’s black chicken “slaughtered on the plate”--– whoa. Sarah’s blood risotto -- fantastic idea. The chefs’ food showed that they clearly relished the challenge. And as a result, it was all really great.

And so it came down to splitting hairs in order to figure out who won and who had to pack his/her knives and go. While this may feel unfair, stop and think about it: Isn’t this exactly what we hope for -- a competition in which the competitors are achieving at such a high level that it has to come down to small details? A football game that comes down to the last play of the fourth quarter because both teams have been performing incredibly? That’s a good game. An Olympic downhill race in which the difference between taking home the gold or the silver coming down to mere one-hundredths of a second? Exhilarating. I want more challenges in which the food was exciting, and the difference between flying to the world premiere of a film and packing one’s knives and flying home comes down to the smallest of differences in otherwise complex, innovative and well-executed dishes.

Beverly, Grayson, and Sarah all presented us with great dishes; each had minor challenges. I meant it when I said that if they kept cooking like that they’d have great careers and that they should serve their dishes at their restaurants (with slight reworkings….) At the end of the day, Beverly went home for a combination of matters: Her sauce was sticky… and she played it the safest in terms of the challenge. She went easy on the story; she didn’t run with the conceptual football as fast and far as the others did. In a competition in which all the food is as outstanding as these dishes were, that fact had to be taken into consideration. The chefs were not merely asked to make dishes; they were asked to make dishes that would have pleased the murderous Evil Queen Charlize plays in her upcoming film. We had to weigh how well each chef accomplished this task, and Beverly fell short of the other chefs in the overall concept of her dish. As for the evil Queen herself, while it was a fun conceit to have Charlize Theron join us as a judge because it gave us a chance to craft a fun challenge for the chefs, you may not know that not only is Charlize a huge fan of the show, but she’s also a good amateur cook. I’ve cooked with her before, and she knows her way around the kitchen.

All in all, this was a great challenge, in which I was served memorable food and shown a line-up of very fine chefs. Note, please, that we’re no longer cooking BBQ. The flame under this season has just been turned way, way up…. Stay tuned…



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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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