Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Wedding Bells

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

Wedding Bells

Gail Simmons talks catering, weddings, and Stephen Aspirinio's ego.

Catering a large wedding is an entirely different challenge than cooking in a restaurant. As any couple's wedding day is likely to be the single most important and memorable of their lives, the entire experience of planning its details can be incredibly emotional. Expectations are always higher and clients are sure to be pickier than at any other event. Brides and/or grooms are looking to have their dreams fulfilled more than ever before and the job of a wedding caterer is to translate those dreams into edible reality. In order to do so, they must consider very carefully what their own limitations and capabilities will be. Furthermore, they must pay particular attention to timing, location, and mass appeal. Managing a client's expectations and making reasonable promises is vital to delivery of the final product.

Our remaining chefs presented "The Scotts" with five very different interpretations of a Pan-Asian wedding meal. Stephen, as usual, went high concept, complete with a menu requiring its own translator. Tiffani chose to present a simpler idea, featuring her signature clean flavors and an endearing twist on the traditional wedding cake. Humble Harold stuck to what he knew best with dishes based on his South East Asian travels, while Dave stayed true to his passion for flavorful, functional food. Lee Anne, on the other hand, went for the wow factor! She dazzled the Scotts with origami lovebirds and pretty painted sketches -- I would have been dazzled too!

Sitting down to eat, my first tip off that there may be cause for concern was that the menu did not contain a single cold course. Besides, Dave's last minute crab hors d'oeuvres and the single oyster in Lee Anne's trio of amuse bouche, every dish served needed to come out of that kitchen hot and fresh. Not an easy task with one hundred rowdy wedding guests, a different wine pairing per course and multiple, spontaneous speeches with which to contend. A beautiful salad or creative chilled soup could have made the whole ordeal much easier for the kitchen and the wait staff. The Top Chef team barely pulled it off and there were definitely a few hitches along the way. The shrimp toasts were greasy, the salmon was cold and bland, the seafood Lover's Nest was over sauced and under seasoned, there were eggshells in the cake -- made from a mix, no less! If memory serves, aren't eggs practically the only ingredient besides water that is added to a store bought cake mix? The fact that they could not get that right amazed us all! I specifically remember one wedding guest being so hungry and disappointed with her meal that she actually ran across the street for take-out between courses. There was no question in my mind that if Lee Anne had thought her menu through more carefully in the first place she could have avoided several of these problems.

Despite this lack of foresight, once in the Hotel Monaco kitchen, Lee Anne did manage to stay calm and organized. According to most of her fellow contestants, she was a strong manager and a pleasure to work for under the circumstances. The Scotts, although underwhelmed, left on their honeymoon happy and grateful for all her hard work in contributing to their special day. She clearly put her heart into this challenge and no one can find fault in that.

And then there was our beloved sommelier.

Last week Tom could not have been more serious when he warned that in the next challenge Stephen had better show up in his chef whites. And again (although dressed appropriately) he disappointed us by barely contributing to the workload while his fellow contestants scrambled to get it all done. Knowing that at several times throughout their prep he abandoned the others so he could direct wine service infuriated me.

I recognize how earnestly Stephen wants to share his knowledge. I appreciate his belief that he can "elevate" the industry and I applaud his lofty ideals, as without this type of ambition restaurants would not be challenged to move forward. But with each episode, his ego has clouded his focus. Time and again he has demonstrated that he is far more concerned with the location of Rioja, the acid balance of Rose, and the correct temperature of Pinot Gris than with getting his hands dirty in the kitchen. The irony of it is that he speaks about wine to diners twice his age as if they are children, when the kid has only been drinking legally for three years! I trust that one day Stephen will be the great chef, sommelier or even the award-winning restaurateur to which he aspires. He has the drive and the education. But until he learns that good service is less about hearing the sound of your own voice and more about tuning into the voices and concerns of your customers, he is going to have a very hard time finding anyone to listen.

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!