The new Top Chef winner, Mei Lin, talks to judge Hugh Acheson about her perfect 4th of July menu, featuring spareribs and yuzu gimlets.
For anyone who watched season 12 of Top Chef, it was clear early on that Mei Lin, the no-nonsense acolyte of Wolfgang Puck and Michael Voltaggio, would be around for a while. Lin is intense, which is apparent from her notorious and much-spoofed “death stare.” “Anyone who has ever worked with me has seen it,” she says. That includes her brother, a college student and inexperienced cook who made a surprise appearance as Lin’s sous-chef for one challenge. “I’m scared that Mei is going to kick my ass if I mess up,” he said as she looked on in full death-stare mode. Her response: “I’ll punch you if anything happens.”
Ironically, Lin’s signature is a dish that is the essence of nurturing: congee. She locked in the win at the finale in San Miguel de Allende with a Mexican take on this Chinese rice porridge, topping it with peanuts, carnitas, egg yolk and hot sauce. “Making comfort food is hard because it’s so familiar; people have a lot of preconceived notions about it,” says Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson. “Mei’s congee would have silenced all critics.”