Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

So Happy Together

Make Melissa's Seared Duck Breast Dish

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Make Melissa's Mom's Egg Custard

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Make Mei's Inspired Duck a l'Orange

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

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!

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Hugh Acheson wonders about the health of the kids at Emerson College and debates the cost of roasting that much foie gras.

In this, the tenth episode of this 12th season, we open in the kitchen of the chefs super secret lair. Katusji has taken his wit, wisdom and wherewithal back to his Kosher Japanese Cal-Mex empire to work on a masa matzoh ball taco. He is described as "the most loveable dick in the entire world," which seems pretty on point. These remaining five seem saddened because Katsuji provided respite from the drudgery of competition. They mourn as well, because all understood, though it was never talked about, like a solemn vow, that they could all beat Katsuji in this cooking game. He was the San Diego Padres of Top Chef, the team that all the other competition knew would be an easy beat when the time came.

So the quintet of Mei, Gregory, Dougeeeee, Melissa and George remain. They are all have the stuff that could allow them to win the dough, but Mei and Gregory have really shown that if we must have hierarchy then they are the top two contenders.

Quickfire begins with Andy and his college roommate. Andy just told the roommate that those "games" they played late at night in their bunkbeds WILL be talked about in his next book, so Dave, you have some explaining to the wife and kids. Andy, we are told, is "known for his antics." That he is.

Andy exorts the contestants to hook up with each other and I immediately think of Dougie spooning with Georgie. I then have to wash my eyes out with steel wool and bleach to remove the image. This hurts and still the image remains.

Padma gets Andy back on task and she introduces the Quickfire. It is a collegiate showdown of ramen proportions but the catch is that they must use the contents of the fridge of some poor frosh. Out come the stoner, the nerd, the sorority girl, the lady who should have graduated in '05 and one other innocuous soul. Their fridge contents make me worry about a scurvy outbreak at Emerson College.

We are regaled with stories of the craziest things they all did in college. Melissa built a 24-story beer bong. I went to school in Montreal so my craziest times were hanging out at Biftek on St. Laurent and getting drunk playing pool. Oh wait, I DID THAT EVERY NIGHT until I dropped out of college. Luckily I had some cooking skillz.

Gregory concocts a bacon, Doritos, leftover pizza broth, and I am immediately worried about the future of our country. Dougie has made a Cobb salad ramen with a "coconut-pineapple" broth, and I start looking for my Canadian passport. George, who has no idea what ramen is, 'cause Mike Isabella has never let him out before, is cobbling together a version of SpaghettiOs 2.0s. It has a hint of hot dog, but so does Andy, so this may be well liked. Melissa is making a "Crunchy Carbonara Ramen" which is probably already dispensed out of a coin machine in Tokyo and actually sounds pretty tasty. There is hope. Mei makes a smoked tomato miso with upcycled sushi. Sounds okay, so I stow the passport back and the "go bag."

There is no immunity but the winner gets 5K. Not bad for fifteen minutes of work/fame. Bottoms are Mei and Dougie. Tops are Gregory and George with Melissa winning this murky challenge.

They go to the little room of stewage and watch Julia Child. Then Jacques Pepin stops by and everyone gasps in amazement. I do too because if you don’t love Pepin you are not a nice person. He da bomb.

The Elimination Challenge is to come up with a dish inspired from Julia's cooking. Three hours to cook and one hour to finish on site tomorrow. They chat with Jacques for a while to learn the secrets of Julia, other than the fact that she was totally a CIA spy.

Doug is silent because of where he comes from. Texas shrugs as he says, "I grew up in East Texas and here I am meeting Jacques Pepin." Then he follows this ode to the state of Texas with, "I am from Texas so I can't pronounce things very well." C'mon Doug, your state gave us that Rick Perry character! He's fun to watch!

Doug is insistent on making a whole roasted foie gras. George is braising some veal and presenting it with some vegetables and pommes puree. There is some French going on around here. Melissa is challenging herself with shortribs. Mei is making duck a l'orange but you know it will show off some of herself. You can't spell Mei without ME. Gregory is making Coq au Vin. Tom wanders in during cooking to advise them to channel Julia and then they all try to sound like Julia. None of them will ever be known for their impersonation abilities.

We eat. It's outside. It's beautiful. The diners, or the we, are Dana Cowin, Jacques, Alex Prudhomme (related to Julia), Tom, Padma, Boston chefs Barbara Lynch, Joanne Chang, Mary Dumont, and little old me. I am hungry so don't talk much.

The food is really good overall. There were some issues like drier ribs, monotonous veal, raw foie, and maybe some flabby duck skin, but pound-for-pound they did the dishes well. Tops are Gregory and Mei, and the verdict is an interesting one. Gregory nailed a classic, but it was like he channeled Julia too much and did a textbook version, while Mei nailed a riff on a dish with her duck a l'orange. It is arbitrary who should win but Mei pulls it off and wins a just decision.

Not so arbitrary but still close is the bottom trio of Melissa, George, and Doug. Melissa erred in rib cookery. George cooked stunning veg but it was the veal that was a yawn. Alas, Doug bows out with his dish, a dish that he had never done but dreamed about. You don't just do roasted whole lobes of foie at the restaurant you work at, cause the owner chef would probably stab you if you ruined the 300 bucks in product. But this is TV money so he took a chance. The problem is that cooking whole foie is tricky. You can''t sear it too much or you will render away the beauty, and then you need to temper-roast it in a medium heat oven. Then it comes out and you rest it on a wire rack. It is pretty much served just warm. He did all of those steps, but over-seared it and then cooked it a hair hot, and not long enough, resultingin a greasy, yet raw internal. Funny thing is that the rest of the stuff on the plate was awesome. Well Doug, you were a favorite of ours and I wish you much success in Last Chance Kitchen.

And now we are four. Until next time.

For a good time, follow me on Twitter @hughacheson

Read more about: