leave your inhibitions at the door
Every year Top Chef moves to a different location for the finals of the competition. Outside of the gratuitous shots of Padma in a bikini, I never really liked it. And the finals usually drag out way too long. So when I heard the finals would be THREE episodes, I was all set to hate this middle episode.
First, the editing and pacing was terrific. While I was expecting to hit the FF button on the DVR, I found myself thoroughly engaged and rewinding quite a bit. Since each chef was making two dishes for each challenge, the show packed with action.
Second, it helps that they were in Mexico. I absolutely love Mexico and Mexican cuisine. With all due respect to previous finale locales – Maui, Vancouver, and Los Angeles – none of them have as historic, rich, and diverse a culinary identity as Mexico.
Third, they had Eduardo Palazuelos as a guest judge –
Damn, he was sexy. But not as sexy as Padma in a bikini.
They went out to a farm in the middle of nowhere that grows produce for the best restaurants in the area. They had to make two dishes featuring chocolate – one savory, one sweet.
– Duck with bitter greens & chocolate mescal
– Chocolate yogurt with cocoa nibs and nasturtium
– Seared hen with onions, tomatoes, chocolate, & chilies
– Melted with chocolate mescal & white chocolate
– Seared lamb with white chocolate ancho sauce & green chorizo vinaigrette
– Baby carrots with turmeric, dark chocolate, ginger, rosemary
Winner: Gregory. Wasn’t even close.
As the winner, Gregory got first choice of sous chef for the Elimination Challenge. Mei choosing Melissa’s a no-brainer because they’ve become besties. I guess it’s no surprise that Dougie chose Katsuji as he’s familiar with the ingredients and Mexican palate. Plus he can help him negotiate the supermarket. Gregory’s choice of George, however, is a headscratcher. I thought Adam would be in the mix somewhere, but George has really executed well throughout the competition. Though they intended to pick partners based on compatibility, it also turned out to be the final 6 chefs in the kitchen.
All three finalists had to work together to create a six-course meal. Each course had to highlight one of six classic Mexican ingredients.
1st Course – Gregory, guava: Chilled guava soup with bay scallops, habanero, & roasted guava
2nd– Mei, avocado: Sushi-inspired Guacamole with Xoconostle, radish, Serrano, & tortilla chips
3rd– Dougie, escamoles (ant eggs): tortilla Espanol with escamoles & escamole aioli
4th – Mei, huitlachoche – huitlacoche agnolotti with roasted corn broth
5th – Gregory, poblano – pork & poblano stew with tomatillos
6th – Dougie, cheese – smoked queso fresco with spiced honey, squash chips, & charred pickles
Joining Gregory in the final: Mei
– That was a killer meal. I’d pay hundreds for that meal. Plus the plane ride to Mexico.
– Gregory absolutely scorched the other two tonight. In the Elimination Challenge, they didn’t even give it any suspense during the service or in the judges’ deliberation. Gregory’s dishes were superior. This is the first time I can remember where they flat-out say a contestant was going to win.
– Even though previews for next week show he’s around, I really liked Dougie and am going to miss him. Not taking away from Mei, but Dougie choked in both challenges. What I’m going to miss more are his interactions with Katsuji. Those two should really get their own show. They were responsible for the best exchange of the whole season:
Katsuji: When did you ever thought you were going to cook with ants in your life?
Dougie: I hope never again
Katsuji: Seriously?!? You racist piece of shit!
– Huitlacoche is a corn fungus that looks nasty but is delicious. Here in the US, it’s also known as corn SMUT. Check out my recipe for corn SMUT tacos.
– What’s the difference between agnolotti and ravioli?
– When they showed Mei making ravioli, I’m sorry – agnolotti, I thought for sure she was a goner. At least she would’ve been in my book, because ravioli is so pedestrian. But her broth was great and the judges ALWAYS love a good broth.
– Another thing Mei’s dish had going for it – Tom liked it. Padma favored Dougie to win and Tom favored Mei. Tom ALWAYS wins.
– I’ve never been interested in trying bugs or bug byproducts. But I’d love to try escamole.
– Both Dougie and Mei used Chocolate Mezcal in the Quickfire.
– I picked up some Coffee-infused Mezcal when I went to Mexico over Christmas. Seeing Dougie swig it down is just a stark reminder that I have to get my ass going on those posts.