Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

American Beauty

Gail Has No Problem With Blood

Make George's Cravable Breakfast Sausage

Gail Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

Make Doug's Winning Mussels

Tom Colicchio Answers Your Restaurant Wars Qs

Gail: It Wasn't Keriann's Day

Make Doug's Winning Braised Pork!

Gail: We Had a Tough Job This Week

Make Katsuji's Authentically Delicious Stuffing

Hugh: The Demise of Cornwallis and Aaron

Make Gregory's Winning Dumplings

Richard: Chefs Please Follow Instructions

Richard Tries Money Ball Soup

Make a Home Run-Worthy Popcorn Crème Brule

Hugh: Where There's a Will There's a Fenway

Gail: Keriann and Aaron Were Being ---holes

Make the Winning Surf and Turf

Gail: We're Taking No Prisoners

Richard Goes From Player to Announcer

Tom Talks Boston

Gail: There Was No Season 11 Underdog

Hugh Wants Nick to Be Kind to Himself

Gail: It Was Difficult to Let Go of Shirley

Big Easy to Ocean Breezy

Gail: The Final Four Are Like Our Children

Emeril Is Proud to Serve Shirley's Dish

Hugh: Enough With the Mexican Food Hate

Gail on Favreau, Choi, and Finding Yourself

Hugh on Poor Boys, Swingers and Food Trucks

Emeril: Nick's Choice Is Part of the Game

Nick's License to Immune

Hugh's Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Hugh Decides Eight Is Enough

Gail Talks OvenGate

Dookie Chase Makes Everybody Cry

Fin, Found, Floundering

What Danny Meyer Taught Gail Simmons

'Top Chef' Goes to Hog Heaven

Gris Gris Boucherie Ya Ya

Brian and Travis' Dud Spuds

American Beauty

Gail Simmons sheds lights on the greater significance of the Ellis Island challenge.

 

Bravotv.com: What have you been up to?
Gail Simmons: I'm just back from the South Beach Wine & Food Festival where I spent three days eating burgers on the beach and other delights. That's also why I had no time for anything. I'm just happy to be home for a short period before I leave again. i am heading to Napa for another event in a week.

Bravotv.com: With the Quickfire Challenge, the five remaining chefs were brought on a boat with Dan Barber, of all people, judging a concession challenge. What did you think about Dan Barber judging this challenge?
GS: Poor Dan Barber. I can only imagine what he thought! But it was kind of a fun challenge, and really stressful for all of them. It was interesting to watch what they came up with. I thought at first that they'd all come up with the exact same thing, but they ended up coming up with very different dishes. Some of it was sort of pedestrian, like Tiffany's nachos, but then there was Richard's really creative use of hot dogs. It was nice that Carla won. Dan Barber liked the one thing that was natural and fresh, which he got in Carla's dish.

Bravotv.com: Would you have eaten Mike's bread soup?
GS: I mean it looked disgusting, but that's my job, so yes. I don't have a choice in the matter, so I would have tasted it if I had to. It looked horrendous though.

Bravotv.com: For the Elimination Challenge, everyone got a  portfolio on his or her family history at Ellis Island. What did you think of that and the revelation that Mike and Antonia are related?  
GS: I remember the next day when we went to the dinner and they told us they were cousins. I was just blown away. I think it's sort of extraordinary, and it speaks to the fact that we all really have more in common than you assume, no matter where we're from, no matter where we're raised, or what are roots are. It really is a small world after all. It's amazing really, and so much about what America is, people who immigrated here from all over the world for very different reasons, but who all share a common dream of a better life. I think finding out where they are all from, whether it be Louisiana, Italy, or Ireland, and seeing such diversity in their backgrounds, proves there's no such thing as a purebred. We're all sort of mutts. I think that is why we're all unique and special and why this country has the energy and spirit that it does, because we all bring so much from our heritage to it. I think that it was really powerful to see that and see how food is so intrinsically woven into everyone's culture. When you think of all of these different places – the South, Italy, and Ireland -- you have such strong food associations because of this link between food and history.
Bravotv.com: The only other time you ate with the contestants' family members was Season 6. What was it like this time at the table with all the mothers and spouses?
GS: It was really poignant. The whole episode had this air of nostalgia to it, and having them there was really great for the chefs. It just re-energized them at the end of this very long race they've been running. They were exhausted, they'd been beaten down, and they knew that the end was close. They needed something to get them over that final hump, and having their families there really gave them the support and "juice" they needed to keep going. It was wonderful. We learned so much about them from their families. They're all really lucky that they come from families that really value and love them, and they were all able to find inspiration in that. Obviously we had to be on our best behavior because we weren't going to give it away if there was a dish we didn't like. But to be honest there wasn't really anything to worry about, because we loved everything and everyone did such a great job. It was an emotional, wonderful meal to be at and to share with the people that they loved the most.

Bravotv.com: What were the highlights?
GS: There were highlights from all of the dishes. They all really did incredible jobs. The dishes were so diverse, even Antonia and Mike, who both chose to make Italian food, took really different routes in doing so. Michael's gnocchi was perfect; it really had a rustic feel about it. His grandmother's recipe obviously had incredible significance to him, because he was so close to her and he hadn't cooked Italian food since she passed away. It was like a rebirth for him. Antonia's risotto was just fantastic. It was loose and light and really captured the flavor of the fava beans and rapini. That veal osso bucco was also delicious. Tiffany's southern food told us so much about where she came from. Clearly her mom was a great cook and fed her all of this food that she was able to reinvent. She showcased her mother's flavors, but in a modern way. The okra was just awesome, and her short rib was flavorful. I was obsessed with Carla's cheddar biscuits. She did such a great job with the them, also the pork shoulder and that fried grits cake were so interesting. I had never seen it cooked that way before. The challenge is always going to be to give us flavors that taste good and have soul, especially for a challenge like this, but that also shows us their individual creativity. Richard's dish epitomized Richard to me -- it had classic flavors from England and Ireland, meat and potatoes with bone marrow and a taste of America in that corn puree, but he presented them in a way that only Richard can do, finishing the dish with the glassworts. I've never heard them called glassworts before. I used to work with them when I cooked at Vong in the '90s and we called them sea beans. You have to blanche them so that they're just lightly cooked and they're salty -- they're briny, they're like a seaweed. They have a great crunch, which really added to the dish and came as a surprise, tied it all together.
Bravotv.com: And what about Richard at Judges' Table?
GS: It looked like he was about to pass out. He literally was about to say, "How could you do that to me?" You could tell he was barely holding on, the poor guy. He needs a Xanax and a two-hour massage!

There were two things I noticed across all of the chefs' dishes. First off, every single one of them did some sort of braised meat. Mike did the braised pork, Antonia did the braised veal, Carla did braised pork shoulder, Tiffany did short ribs, and also Richard did short ribs. It begs the question why? I think there is a security and hominess to this type of cooking which offered them all comfort. When you think of your heritage and the way your ancestors cooked, this was a very typical way to prepare and preserve food. It also gives the dish soul, by braising you have the ability of infusing a lot of flavor, sauce, softness, spices, and powerful complexity. It's a very flexible way to cook too, because it's forgiving, and it adds rusticity to because it's an older way of cooking. It's not like cooking sous-vide, or searing, or frying, it's just old school. Secondly, I loved the familial touches they put into their dishes, like Carla passing her biscuits around the table and the way they all presented their dishes. You could tell they were really touched by the challenge. It made them all think about food in a way that they aren't used to doing. It became very personal. I found myself quite affected by it as well, because that's what food does. When it's cooked for the right reasons and you cook with love and dedication, it really does stir people's emotions. It's all about sense memory.

We were really happy that Antonia won and we were thrilled that, after much begging and pleading with our producers, we were able to convince them to let us bring all five of them to the Bahamas with us. At first when Antonia's mother asked if we could bring five chefs we laughed it off, but when we sat down at that Judges' Table, we realized they all were really deserving.

But rest assured, the Bahamas is where the madness ensues. As you can see in the preview, there's good food and bad food, there's bad hair, there are fires, there's drama – basically everything you could ask for from a finale and more... but only one of them will make it to the very end. That I can promise.

Gail Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

So she's going to take more time shopping at Whole Foods -- and ask for the best of Melissa's basket and Adam's shrimp.

Bravotv.com: Let's dive right in. How did it feel to go shopping?
Gail Simmons: Shopping at Whole Foods was fantastic and hilarious. It made us realize that you need to be strategic, which was the point of the exercise for us. They gave us 30 minutes, but we took a little longer. We didn't let the producers push us around! We’re not contestants and we weren't going to stand for it! So, you realize how little time you have, and how big Whole Foods can be. You spend a lot of time running around.

 

My strategy with my pantry was to get a lot of fresh, delicious food that you can cook in lots of different ways. A good balance of proteins, fish, fruits, vegetables, spices, fresh herbs, grains. But I didn't want to get too much. Everyone has different strategies; Padma got a ton of different ingredients. Tom's pantry was very pared down. Richard and I were somewhere in the middle.

 

Bravotv.com: Let's start by talking about the two dishes that came from your pantry?
GS: Katsuji and Melissa. They used the same protein, but their dishes were very different. They both used shrimp which one of the proteins that I bought. I bought something else too, something that I know has given people trouble in the past (which is why I specifically chose it) -- chicken wings. And I really wanted people to use them. Instead, they chose the easy way out because shrimps cook quickly.

Melissa's used a lot of fresh vegetables, which I was hoping she would: dill, mint, artichoke. I was so excited about all of it. I think it was beautifully done, a lovely salad with that little shrimp on top with spiced yogurt. But it was just a salad with a quick-cooking seafood. It was so similar to what she had done in Restaurant Wars when she made a scallop with grapefruit salad. I believe she could have done so much more. Melissa keeps saying she wanted to focus on her knife skills, and, of course, your knife skills have to be precise. But I need to see more than just knife skills. I want to see cooking skills, I want to see roasting skills, braising skills. I want to see her hands get a little dirtier and her dishes not be as superficial. It was a light, lovely dish. I was happy to eat it for lunch. But when you're competing against six other really talented chefs, we all want to see a little more depth. Katsuji on the other hand went big. He used his ingredients in a really powerful way. The potato salad, the poached shrimp had bold seasoning and I loved how they went together. It was a great dish. It may not have been the best of the day, but I was actually really happy with what he chose to make.

 

Bravotv.com: So for the rest, let's talk about who was on top and who was on bottom.

GS: At the top there was Gregory who really was going for Padma's heart there. He did great with his coconut milk curry. A really balanced, powerful dish. But it's something we’ve seen from Gregory many times in the past. In fact, in the first challenge he made a similar spicy curry dish with chicken. As much as we thought it was a delicious bowl of food, it was so typical of what we expect from Gregory. George's food was really exciting for us. This was my first time tasting his food and meeting him on Top Chef. He did a great job. The kebab was moist, seasoned really well, and the lentils were beautiful too. My only small issue with the dish is I couldn't understand why he separated the lentils from the kebab in two separate dishes. Why not put lentils on the plate and the kebab right on top, with a dollop of the yogurt? It seemed a little bit disconnected to me. But all-in-all, a really strong dish. Doug had the winning dish of the night. He used Richard's crazy pantry in a way that I thought was smart, clear-cut, and creative. The chorizo and mussels and peppers, just how Tom said, go together well, as do the cauliflower and the garlic. There was sweetness, there was spice, it was light and fresh but had a soulful, rustic flavor we all loved. You could see use of technique. On the bottom were dishes that tried to stretch and didn’t come through. Mei did a great job overall, except her lamb was undercooked. You want lamb medium, medium rare, but the center of that meat was raw to the point where the texture was chewy and almost cold. It would have been better if she had been able to cook it five minutes longer. We talked about Melissa's mistakes already, which also landed her on the bottom. I totally applaud Adam for trying to make a quick-flash marinade. He's been in the middle for so long and he thought "I gotta go big or I gotta go home." He tried to go big and unfortunately, he went home because of that technique. I get the idea of what he was doing, I don't doubt that it could've been successful if it were perhaps done in a different setting, with a little more control. But the flash marinade of his shrimp did not cook it as needed. It was still grey, it was still raw, and the texture of raw shrimp is not appealing. It's squeaky, it's squishy, and it becomes sort of mushy. We wanted it firm and cooked through. It's not like fish that you can eat sashimi-style Unfortunately Adam's hard work, his big risk sent him home.

I will miss him. I think he's an incredibly articulate, clever chef. I think he has an extraordinary career ahead of him. I'm excited to see him back in New York City. I can't wait to eat his food again. Also I want to say of this entire episode that was it was thrilling to see our superfans in the kitchen. We've never let people come into the kitchen in that way before, even though people ask us all the time. It brought so much good energy to have basically a live audience with us for the day. Everyone was so psyched. It was amazing to be around people who really love the show, to let them eat food from our talented chefs. SO much fun!