Culinary graduate wins “Top Chef: Boston” title and $125,000 prize
BY LAUREN LUKENS
Some of the best chefs in the world compete on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” and this year’s winner did not only grow up in Dearborn, Michigan, but is also a Schoolcraft College alumnus. Being one of only three women winners in the show’s history, Mei Lin wowed viewers across the country after competing against three men with an all-female staff, using two previous female contestants from this season as her sous chefs when preparing her own meal, during season 12’s final competition on Feb. 11.
A four-course finale menu allowed Lin to mix her Chinese heritage with flavors from Mexico, where the final round of the season was held. Gregory Gourdet, her competitor from Portland, focused on Asian flavors for much of the competition, but risked comfortability to emphasize Mexican ingredients for his final meal.
Lin’s bowl of congee, garnished with Mexican carnitas, scallion puree, homemade hot sauce, peanuts and egg yolk, gained immediate attention from judges, who praised the dish for its bold flavors and relation to her family roots.
“My favorite dish to make is congee, which is a rice porridge. Not only is it easy to make, but it’s super comforting and very versatile,” said Lin. “You can put anything you want in it. My favorite version is with thousand-year-old egg and pork. Very classic.”
Though she gained notice early on, Lin and Gourdet were head-to-head throughout the competition. It was Lin’s stunning contemporary dessert of strawberry-lime curd with toasted yogurt, milk crumble with bee pollen and yogurt-lime ice that likely won her the title.
“It’s the best dessert I’ve ever had on ‘Top Chef,’ period,” said judge Tom Colicchio, who questioned Lin’s decision to attempt a dessert upon reading her menu.
Growing up working alongside her father at their family-owned-and-operated restaurant named Kong Kow, located on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, Lin learned the fundamentals of being a well-rounded cook and running a restaurant. After graduating from Schoolcraft’s culinary program in 2007, she spent time training with some of the most respected chefs in the industry, including Michael Symon, Marcus Samuelsson and Wolfgang Puck, in Las Vegas before moving to West Hollywood to join “Top Chef” season six winner Michael Voltaggio’s opening team.
“Working next to some of the best chefs inspires you to be better,” said Lin. “I’ve had a lot of mentors who have guided me in the right direction. I have learned a lot from all the kitchens I’ve worked in, but working at ink. has made me develop my cooking style.”
She worked her way up to a sous chef position at ink., Voltaggio’s critically-acclaimed restaurant in Los Angeles, but departed shortly after the show to focus on projects elsewhere. Lin currently does not have a formal job, but has been busy fielding calls, working on travel plans and deciding what to spend her newfound earnings on.
“With all of my travel lately, the best thing for me is to just continue to do pop-up dinners across the country. When that all dies down, I want to land as the Chef de Cuisine somewhere,” said Lin to the Los Angeles Eater. “Mostly, I’m just going to pay off some bills and help out my parents. I want to help them be able to retire.”
In the “Top Chef: Boston” season finale, Lin said she was there “to conquer it all … to win ‘Top Chef’.” Despite her parents’ restaurant, they did not want her to pursue cooking as a career. “My family wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer,” said Lin. “I just want to show everybody I chose the right career path.”
Ecstatic about her victory, she said at the end of the show, “My parents are definitely going to be really proud of me. Michael Voltaggio is going to be really proud of me,” said Lin. “But most of all, I’m really proud of myself and where I am right now.”
Lin has appeared at several pop-up dinners following to her win. Earlier this month, she went to Bacco Ristorante in Southfield, where she cooked at a Young Guns collaborative chefs’ dinner with Root Restaurant and Bar chef James Rigato, who is also a Schoolcraft alumnus and Season 12 “Top Chef” contestant.
Whatever Lin chooses for her next career move, she will certainly satisfy taste buds from around the globe.