Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Gail Simmons: Kristen Has "That Magic"

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

Gail Simmons: Kristen Has "That Magic"

The judge breaks down each course.

Bravotv.com: What did you think of the finale format?
Gail Simmons: I still can’t believe it’s already the Season 10 finale! It’s more intense than it’s ever been. We decided to completely change the way we do things and this time we’re in front of 300 people, and half of them are actually eating along with us. Usually, our chefs cook for a table of anywhere from eight to 20, but this year they were cooking for 160, an enormous task. Just to be clear, the challenge was to make the best of five dishes, head-to-head. The only qualifications were that the second dish needed to be scallop and the fourth needed to be snapper, so that there was a little bit of consistency in terms of how we were judging, but there did not need to be trajectory of the courses. I believe they didn’t even have to do dessert, if they didn’t want to, but in this case both chefs chose to, even though neither was plated and served. They could have done five appetizers if they wanted, they could have done five desserts if they wanted. We just asked them to bring us their five best dishes possible. I hope it was liberating for them to just cook their hearts out. I guess sometimes that can also paralyze you too.

I just want to say up front that I could not be more pleased with the final two chefs. I was devastated to see Sheldon go, since he really was a favorite of mine throughout the season and of all TC seasons combined; I think he’s so smart and so kind, a great chef with a lovely spirit. But, I believe Brooke and Kristen are truly exemplary as TC contestants. They have very different styles, but they both have such strong foundations, distinct points of view and super strong cooking skills. I was really excited for this final meal.

Bravotv.com: Let's go through the dishes.
GS: All of the courses we ate from them were strong. There were very few major gaping flaws with any of their dishes, but we needed to choose which one we preferred, and that’s based on a combination of technical finesse, as well as flavor combination, presentation, creativity—these are all the things that go through my mind. I am not just judging arbitrarily on which one tastes better, although of course, that’s part of the equation too. We started with Kristen’s liver mousse and Brooke’s crispy pig ear salad. The chicken liver mousse that Kristen made was technically faultless. The mousse felt silky and velvety, although it was quite a big scoop… the presentation of Kristen’s was the only thing that I felt was slightly strange. The mousse was underneath all the frisee, so when I went to look for it, I couldn’t find the mousse, I had to dig through the lettuce for it a bit. But the flavor of hazelnut and prunes and chicken liver to me was sublime. Rich, with that nutty-toastiness from the hazelnuts, and the sweetness that cut through the fat from the prunes, and then that bright, dressed frisee just gave it a bit of freshness and bit of crunch. It was delicious.

Brooke’s dish was equally appealing. That six-minute egg was the most perfect it could possibly be; it was just set. The yolk wasn’t too runny, but it was loose enough to still create a little bit of a sauce. The chicory was so well-seasoned and so bright, and the pigs' ears were a fun, smart  and tasty addition. Mine weren’t as burnt as other people’s, but Emeril’s and Tom’s were significantly burnt, to the point where you could not overlook it. My issue with that plate was that the candied kumquat and apricot jam were with the egg, and the crispy pig ear and chicory were together in the salad, so the egg was totally separate from the pig ear on the plate. They just weren’t talking to each other as much as I wanted them to; they looked like two separately plated dishes. They ate well, so it’s not that it was wrong to separate them, but I didn’t know why she needed to do that. Why not place the egg right on top of the pig ears; so that when you cut through it, it dripped into the salad? Isn’t that’s what she wanted you to do anyway? I think when I asked her, she might have said it was do-it-yourself a little, but I don’t want it to be left up to me, I want it to be a fully-composed thought, orchestrated and controlled by the chef who made it. I was looking for a little more of a point of view. That’s why, for me, Kristen took the first course.

Second dish… both were incredible. But for me, Brooke absolutely won the scallop course. The scallops they were given were so pristine and fresh, they actually came in their shells, so part of the task was opening, cleaning, and preparing them, before you even could cook them, which was an enormous task, and both chefs did very, very well. But it did add a lot to the use of their time and their sous-chefs. The dishes were both brilliant, and I would be right at home in any of the finest restaurants in the country, I mean that truly. Kristen served hers raw, just slightly cured, with citrus and lavender, and she made a Meyer lemon and apple garnish. The contrast of its tartness with the sweetness of the scallop was really outstanding. Her preparation showcased the raw scallop’s beautiful texture. I really appreciated that she held back, and didn’t feel like she wasn’t doing enough by keeping it raw and clean. She presented us with flavors that were so fresh, bright and clean. For me though, there was something about Brooke's dish that proved why she is such an excellent chef. In the same way that she impressed us when she combined squid and sausage in the Anna Faris and Chris Pratt episode, or mussels and frogs legs on the ship -- Brooke can take very disparate ingredients and work with them in such a way that you can’t believe you’ve never eaten them in that combination before. That to me is just exceptional, and this scallop dish was another example of it. The scallop and salt-cod were a great combination. But then she added speck a healthy dose of mustard seed. Somehow they didn’t overpower anything, but instead balanced it all out.  The mustard gave her dish a tang which really elevated the richness of the salt-cod and contrasted with the sweetness of the scallop, and then she added romanesco – a cauliflower hybrid, that was just slightly charred, and served in perfect bites. Everything else on her dish was very soft in texture, and very muted in color, but the romanesco brought it all together. It was an unusual dish and the flavors really worked! it inspired me, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen or tasted before. Whereas I couldn’t help but feel with Kristen’s dish that, although beautiful, I’ve eaten it in some combination or variation before.Bravotv.com: Brooke said she made sort of a fatal error by going with the chicken wings for her third course. Do you think it was a mistake?
GS: I hate to say this, but I do think it was a mistake. Let me assure you that chicken wings are my number one favorite food of all time, and I’m not exaggerating. I love a chicken wing any form; even better if it’s a spicy, Asian-inflected chicken wing. And this probably was the best chicken wing I’ve ever eaten. However, as much as it was delicious, served simply with yoghurt tahini and pickled kohlrabi salad, it was still just a chicken wing. In one of our previous challenges it may very well have won, but for the finale.... I know she wanted redemption, I know she wanted to do it to prove herself with chicken from our fried-chicken challenge in Seattle, but she’s already redeemed herself! She’s in the finale! This is just not the place to settle old scores. We wanted to see her stretch; we wanted to see her put all of those challenges behind her and just bring us her best possible food, which she did with the scallop. Yes, it was an amazing chicken wing, but this wasn’t a little chicken wing challenge! We expected something more complex, more original more from her. Perhaps it would have won if Kristen’s was not as good as it was, but Kristen’s bone marrow with celery root was outstanding. Judging them side-by-side, Kristen’s was much more layered, much more imaginative, and was technically flawless. The fact is, Brooke made that dish to compete against herself, not to compete against Kristen. I think she simply lost track of who she was competing against, and that is where she lost us. 

Bravotv.com: Both chefs seemed to have made their fourth dishes before and felt really confident in them.
GS: And you know what’s interesting? I liked both of the dishes, and again, if Brooke’s hadn’t been right beside Kristen’s, if I had been served only Brooke’s at a restaurant, I would have been very, very happy. You don't get to hear it, but I actually said when I was critiquing this course that both Brooke and Kristen made the same mistake: they both served their greens in a long stringy fashion, which I found difficult to eat! Brooke had a collared green slaw; the strips of the collared green were very long and covered and saucy, so when I ate it, it slapped against my chin and was messy. But Kristen did the same thing with her leeks – a very long and stringy vegetable. And yes, Hugh, I know you can use a knife, but actually, leeks are often hard to cut, because they are so stringy and filmy, like an onion is, so I found that to be an issue with both dishes equally! 

I loved the pomegranate with Brooke’s red snapper; I loved the pork cheek which was so tender and flavorful, but Kristen’s addition of uni and charred little gem lettuces just made the dish feel more whole, more connected, more cohesive to me. And so, I enjoyed the flavors as they all melded together just a little bit more. It was such a narrow margin, but that is why Kristen took the fourth course as well. And by doing so she won Top Chef!What an extraordinary, historic win. Kristen literally battled her way back from elimination and took it all, which is why Last Chance Kitchen was made: to give people that final chance. It’s unconventional I know, but like any challenge we need to change and grow. Starting in our ninth season, we wanted to do something new, and I am so proud of the result. Not only did I think we got better food than ever because of it, but also because I think Kristen truly deserved it. I believed it back when we eliminated her from Restaurant Wars, and I believe it now more than ever. I have no doubt that Brooke, Sheldon, Lizzie, Josh, CJ, Kuniko, Stefan and the rest, will all go on to do great things, and I expect great things from all of them, I’m so proud of all of them, especially Brooke. In a way, Brooke accomplished something beyond just competing through the finale: Brooke conquered an enormous amount of challenges and fear this season. That really can’t be overlooked or underestimated. Planes, trains, boats, automobiles, helicopters, Brooke has proven that she is one of the strongest chefs I have ever met, and I mean that truly. 

But Kristen, she just awes me. I think she is such a strong cook and such a strong leader. I know when she is ready she will go from being Barbara Lynch’s protégé to becoming a great woman-leader, and a great chef regardless of her gender, in this country. She has that magic. She understands food, how people want to eat, she has patience, grace and undeniable focus. I think that is what makes her so special.  

Congrats to them both! And hooray for a second woman Top Chef winner! Now we have two of 10, or 20%, which I will say is probably higher than the restaurant industry average. After 10 seasons, I think we have a pretty great overall track record for talent. Something to savor indeed. 

 

 

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!