The long season of TOP CHEF: BOSTON ended on a high note. Chef Gregory Gourdet and Chef Mei Lin went at it and Tom Colicchio gushed about the future of cooking and one particular dessert.
There was only an Elimination Challenge in the finale which was to prepare a four-course meal and make it the best one the chefs ever cooked.
The two chose two sous chefs from among their fallen comrades and after Doug’s departure from the competition those of us who enjoyed watching Katsuji in action were disappointed we wouldn’t get one more shot at sharing time with him.
Greg chose Doug and George, and Mei picked Melissa and Rebecca, a surprise to all. It was immediately explained as a dessert strategy.
As a chef who is known for savory dishes, Mei was going out on a limb to serve something special and needed Rebecca for her pastry experience.
Both Gregory and Mei pushed boundaries and their meals were well thought out and executed with a minimum of errors. The judges agreed that each prepared two outstanding dishes and two that missed the mark.
Greg used all that he learned about Mexican ingredients and flavor and created a cohesive meal that could have been served in any fine dining establishment in the country.
Mei took to heart recent criticism that she needed to amp up the flavors and complexity of her dishes.
JUDGES’ TABLE COMMENTS
Gregory’s first course: Grilled Octopus With Prickly Pear, Xoconostle, Passion Fruit and Cashew Milk. Let the raves begin. “Gregory, I loved your first course. That octopus was tart, it was sweet, delicious,” Padma told him. Tom added, “Absolutely stunning. I was so taken aback by the maturity of the dish.”
Mei’s first course: Octopus With Fish Sauce Vinaigrette, Avocado-Coconut Purée and Herbs. Tom found the octopus a bit tough, while Gail noted that it didn’t bother her at all, but when measured against Greg’s octopus dish it was significantly less appealing.
Greg’s second course: Shrimp Broth With Green Chorizo, Pickled Nopales and Crispy Shrimp Heads. Padma expressed dismay. “I had a problem with the shrimp heads because I feel like I still have a little shard sticking to the back of my throat.” NEVER a good thing to make Padma uncomfortable.
Mei’s second course: Congee With Carnitas, Scallion Purée, Hot Sauce, Peanuts and Egg Yolk. Richard Blais gushed. Hugh told her, “It was a really great dish and it told your story through.”
Gregory’s third course: Striped Bass With Roasted Carrots, Radish, Pineapple and Tomatillo. Tom spoke for the rest when he said, “I got sweet, sweet, sweet then sour. The dish ate very, very, sweet.”
Mei’s third course: Duck With Braised Lettuce, Kimchi Jicama and Huitlacoche. Richard Blais summed it up. “A lot of wild flavors, not sure what the inspiration was.” Tom added, “Although I liked the dish it was your weakest.”
Gregory’s fourth course: Red Mole With Short Ribs and Agave Sweet Potato. Raves all around for the dish. “Your mole was outstanding,” Padma told him. Hugh added, “You want perfect cooking? That was it.”
Mei’s fourth course: Strawberry Lime Curd With Toasted Yogurt, Milk Crumble and Yogurt-Lime Ice. “Everything that’s right about modern food was in that bowl,” Richard Blais told Mei. “I thought this was THE best dessert I’ve ever had on TOP CHEF. I would say it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever had in my life. It was your best dish of the night.”
While it’s always difficult to glean the winner from listening to the judges addresses the Cheftestants, it was still unclear while listening to them in their private session.
“I think they both served two flawless courses, didn’t you Richard?” Hugh agreed as did Richard who added, “I found Gregory’s menu more inspirational.” Tom praised Mei’s dessert again, but seemed to be leaning a bit towards Greg for the same reasons as Richard.
Gail had to disagree, that while she loved Greg’s first and third courses, overall, “I don’t think ultimately it was as successful tonight as Mei’s.”
Mei and Gregory waited for the decision. Later last night on “Watch What’s Happening Live” with Andy Cohen, Mei said that she believed she lost. Greg told Cohen that he believed Mei had won.
After the final commercial break, the two finalists entered the room to applause from their fellow chefs. Tom led off the proceedings.
“All season long you guys have been surprising, stunning often. What really gets me jazz is watching this young talent emerging. I guess I can only equate it to watching the Ramones at CBGB’s or Springsteen at the Stone Pony. This raw talent…you guys are the future. Really.”
Here’s a question, what portion of the show’s demographic knew the venues Tom referenced? Nonetheless, high praise indeed.
Colicchio has gotten flak on social media from people claiming he favors male Cheftestants, particularly after last season’s choice of Nick over Nina.
He was interviewed a few weeks ago as he promoted his new show “Best New Restaurant” and defended himself. Meanwhile he must have been bursting as he held back the ultimate decision to choose Mei Ling as TOP CHEF.
Overall this season had less acrimony and more collegiality than others and it was a relief. Aaron’s departure early was a blessing and at least Katsuji used humor to blunt the worst of his digs. What was your opinion of the season and did you agree with the choice of Mei over Greg?
Image credit: BravoTV/NBCUniversal, used with permission.