In the final part of its three-part finale, “Top Chef Boston” came down to the two most winning chefs: Gregory and Mei. Prior to the finale, Mei won or was in the top eight out of 12 challenges. Gregory won or was among the best seven out of 12 times.
The shift from Boston to Mexico seemed to trip Mei up, and she nearly went home twice. But when it counted, Mei delivered, and became only the third female winner in 12 seasons of the Bravo show.
Mei works for previous “Top Chef” winner Michael Voltaggio, and called him to tell him she won, and when she called him “chef,” he corrected her and said, “you're the chef now; you're Top Chef.”
This season was relatively drama-free but not boring, because there was such consistently strong cooking during the creative challenges. At the very end, Tom Colicchio said he was thrilled with the finalists' “raw talent.” That talent didn't emerge without a lot of effort, though. As Gregory said, “I got sober five and a half years ago, and that was easier than Top Chef.”
“Top Chef Boston,” which was not actually filmed in Boston, concluded in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The cooks were challenged to cook a four-course meal with the help of two sous chefs. Gregory worked with fellow Portland chef Doug and George, while Mei chose Melissa and Rebecca.
Mei described her meal as “reminiscent of who I am as a chef,” inspired by her Chinese heritage but also using some local, Mexican ingredients. “I'm giving them bold flavors that they've never seen from me before,” she told us.
Mei served octopus; congee with carnitas and a scallion puree; duck with huitlacoche; and strawberry lime curd dessert.
Gregory started with grilled octopus; a soup with shrimp broth with green chorizo, cactus, and fried shrimp heads; striped bass with tomatillo and carrot sauce; and concluded with short ribs with mole and sweet potato. “I definitely want to show you guys that I'm a versatile chef,” Gregory told Tom Colicchio when the head judge visited the kitchen.
Tom initially criticized Mei's decision to do a dessert, saying, “I wouldn't do one.” But after he tasted it, he said, it was the “best dessert I've ever had on Top Chef,” and later went even further, calling it “one of the best desserts I've ever had in my life.”
“I think they each had two flawless courses,” Padma said. Mei's octopus was dry according to most of the judges, though Gail Simmons loved it, and overall the judges seemed to dislike Mei's third course the most.
However, Gregory had issues with his soup and its flavors, which he acknowledged during the judging. He also had issues with his carrot sauce, which became too sweet, and his meal wasn't as cohesive as Mei's. But the judges loved his mole. “You want perfect cooking? That was it,” judge Hugh Acheson said of that final dish. But his other courses weren't equally perfect, so the $100,000 and title went to Mei.
Did the judges make the right call?