Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

So Happy Together

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

So Happy Together

Gail Simmons' behind-the-scenes take on Ted Allen's party.

Having Ted Allen as the guest judge this week definitely upped the ante for our contestants. Ted is an accomplished cook, and as we all know he has a great sense of style. He was also the first judge on the show who was not a professional restaurant chef. In some ways his dinner party Elimination Challenge forced everyone to work harder than they had before in order to impress him. I think they viewed Ted more as a discriminating critic than a teacher. And he brought with him a room full of San Francisco's most opinionated foodies, armed and ready to give their two cents as well! This was the challenge many of our chefs had been waiting for - a sophisticated, multi-course meal for a group of serious diners.

The twist of switching who cooked which course at the last minute was only one of the tests they faced as they entered the kitchen at Frisson. This challenge also required them to work as one cohesive unit for the first time in an upscale restaurant setting. They were forced to play off each other's strengths and weaknesses, share space and also share one single menu. Constructing a well-balanced meal of seven courses is no easy task, especially when each person is vying for his or her course to stand out from the rest. Overall, I thought they all did an excellent job, beginning when Stephen agreed to put his pretensions aside and act as pastry chef, since he could not be eliminated no matter how dessert turned out. Even though in the end it became Harold's responsibility, I was impressed with how well the two of them worked together. In fact, what stood out most for me through the entire meal was just that: the striking contrasts between our contestants, yet how unified they became.

Harold and Stephen could not be more contrary in their individual approaches to food. While Harold focuses on depth of flavor and simple, seasonal combinations, Stephen preaches style and sensationalism, cutting-edge creativity and fusion. To me, they are obvious products of their culinary backgrounds - New York vs. Vegas. And both have their place in the world of haute cuisine. The same can be said of Miguel and Andrea, a.k.a. Junk Food Champion vs. Health Food Guru. They may come from opposite schools of thought, but they ended up working together very well. Although in the past two episodes their partnership cost them both bottom seats at the Judges' Table, I was touched by their mutual respect and admiration. Last week, Andrea was willing to give up her immunity for Miguel. This week, when Andrea was eliminated, Miguel made a point of telling her how much he appreciated her friendship and was sad to see her go. Lee Anne and Tiffani have been at each other's throats since day one. Perhaps because they are both determined, talented female cooks in an industry still dominated by men. No doubt, they have both encountered their share of chauvinism and have had to push themselves harder than their male counterparts in order to get ahead.

I know I did when I worked in professional kitchens. We have all witnessed their claws come out in the past, but on this episode they were able to put it all aside. Lee Anne's winning course of Fig-stuffed Gnocchi with Duck Confit and Seared Duck Breast was exceptional. Even more so was hearing her credit Tiffani for its clever conception. And then there's Dave. Bundle of nerves, heart-on-his-sleeve, and totally volatile, Dave has become a sort of mascot to the group. Behind the scenes everyone commented on how eager he always is to jump in and help. He may have had the jitters in front of our diners, but backstage he was a positive team player, even if his fish course was forgettable. So what exactly is happening here? Why at the climax of competition is everyone getting along? (OK, almost everyone - Tiffani and Miguel are far from bosom buddies.) I believe the contestants are starting to learn that working together elevates them all. Just like in a "real" high-pressure kitchen where line cooks and sous chefs alike are often asked to take over each other's stations at the last minute, and they're also fighting to be noticed by the Executive Chef and get ahead.

At Frisson, the contestants seemed to realize that when service begins there is no room to think about sabotage. What matters is getting the work done to the best of your ability. Winning dishes will always speak for themselves. Of course, losing dishes stand out just as clearly. In each case this week the bottom three failed because their creators did not take the time to master them, and it showed. This was especially true regarding Miguel and Andrea. What bothered me most about Miguel was not his lack of concentration or calm in the kitchen, but that he was lazy in learning his ingredients. Chef jackets are actually designed for this type of situation! Those small pockets on the sleeve are made for holding pens and markers. All he had to do was use one. Write it down! I would much rather someone read correctly from a piece of paper than present their dish not knowing what it is.

Andrea put aside her usual conviction and copped out as well. Instead of owning her dish, she took a deliberate back seat, giving up on the challenge entirely. Why didn't she come up with a healthier alternative if she felt out of her league with fried latkes? She could have baked or roasted the potatoes and we would have been none the wiser. I was sad to see her leave. She is a kind, brave and very smart woman, but we all agreed it was her time. To quote our friend Ted, her dish was just not "Whiz-Bang-Decadent-Wow" -- and at this point in the competition, that is exactly how each dish should be!

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!