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Halftime Special

Richard Blais urges the chefs to use their backgrounds and histories in their cooking. It just might help them win.

By Richard Blais

So it has only been a few weeks since our last episode, but it feels like a month, at least. It's halftime during the competition. Maybe not literally, but we are down to a small enough group where every eliminated cheftestant will be somewhat of a surprise. Every week, someone talented will be asked to PYKAG. The proverbial fat has been trimmed and it's anyone's game now.

How to Watch

Watch Top Chef Season 21 Wednesdays at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

Of course, there should be favorites, those predestined to make it to the final four. But as I watched this episode it really struck me that maybe there aren't any? Who has consistently represented? Who has the spark to come out of nowhere and put one in back of the ol' onion bag at the 90th minute?

Stefan's strength has not been winning, but playing good enough. It's a smart, calculating strategy. And maybe it's enough to get him the prize, but is the prize the only thing that counts? Are you vying for the egg or the chicken? Is anyone going to reach out to Stefan after this show and seek him for braising red cabbage or making pot pie? (Well, maybe pot pie.) What's his style? Personally, I'd love to see some Scandinavian stuff. More creativity. A risk or two. He's heading to the finals, but does he have anything else up his sleeve?

Jamie is a bit more of a risk taker. I like that. She's confident in her skills. But she absolutely, at this point, needs to cook something besides scallops. I'm concerned that her driving force, her confidence, could also be her downfall. Again, who's going to invest in Jamie? It's another level of this game. It's the show after the show. How well do you play the part? Hosea and Leah? They are on their way to a Bravo spin-off show if they keep up the romance. Leah seems a bit less aggressive lately -- is it due to this blossoming relationship? Hosea's too nice. Nice guys choke. (smirk)

Rhadika has the cultural background to deliver some exciting flavors. She consistently points out that she doesn't want to be the Indian girl who only cooks Indian food. Bad call here.

I'm not an expert in Indian cuisine, but I don't think she's doing super traditional stuff, even when she sways into her culture's cuisine. She needs to keep on that road if she's going to get to the end. Remember Hung? The judges wanted to know about him. They wanted to know what made him, well, him. It wasn't the French training -- that's what made him a good cook. His culture, his life, his upbringing. That is what turns a good cook into a chef.

When I left the French Laundry I knew I was a chef. It was very clear to me. I went back home and worked for Daniel, and then years later got my first head chef position. For that first year, I instinctively cooked what I had learned. Torchon, butter poached lobster, tight canapes, reduced vegetable juice, butter it out. Baste you fish, rest your meat, cook your veggies in water that tastes like the ocean. Truffles, foie gras, caviar. Yada, yada, yada. It wasn't me. It was my training.

Yes, Blais is a French name, but I'm not. I was adopted. Long story. I was an American kid. Sorry, I am an American kid. My mom was not a good cook. I ate out often. Growing up in New York, I ate Jamaican beef patties and great pizza. My neighbors were Chinese, Cuban, Haitian, Italian, and Colombian. At home I ate out of cans and we used microwaves and toasters, and whatever new gadgets were out there. I even ate at Mcdonalds, a lot. Often enough, that it became my first job. I could talk to you about "the McRib" like it was an experience at Alain Ducasse. That's my background. It was Willy Wonka and Star Wars, Hot Pockets and ketchup. And when I realized that was me, then I was ready. I could make fresh soup, using my classical training, and then serve it in an aluminum can. I could figure out how to use a toaster to cook fish. I could relax, and be me.

C'mon Rhadika, Stefan, Jamie, Fabio, Carla, et al.

In the spirit of my favorite sport, English Football. Who are you? Who are you?

Maybe I'm wrong. It is possible that Jamie grew up on a scallop dredger and she's revealing what makes her tick. And even Fabio, more pasta please!

So, everyone left has shown us that they have the talent to be great cooks, but who over the course of the final few months here will show us their soul. Hopefully someone.

And I'll mention one moment of this week's show that really struck me and I wanted to see if anyone else noticed. It was when the new judge Toby and Tom disagreed over one of the dishes. I think it was Jeff's dish. I've never seen that face from Tom before when speaking to a fellow judge. There was obviously much more to that discussion then we saw. But it was the type of look Tom usually throws the way of a contestant who he feels just doesn't get it. I'll be watching for more body language next week.

And in a random coincidence, this week had me working with Ted Allen, Toby's predecessor on one of his new shows. I also had my new burger boutique, FLIP, receive 4 stars from the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. Here's a link and come visit if you are in town. One down, 199 more to go! Happy New Year and see you next week.

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