Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Totsiens, Lizzie

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

Totsiens, Lizzie

Gail Simmons explains her disappointment over Lizzie's elimination. So, now we’re in Alaska.
Gail Simmons: Alaska, wow. Alaska blew my mind. It was one of the most beautiful, lonely places I have ever been. I’m from Canada, so that’s saying a lot in terms of arctic tundra. Let me just say, a lot of crazy stuff went down for all of us in Alaska. We have Sean Brock as guest judge.
GS: Yes, I’m a huge Sean Brock fan. He’s such a talent. He’s a really loyal Southern boy who was brought to the most northern point of the United States.

Anyway, I loved the first challenge; we ate lunch at that crab shack there every single day. There are only a few places we could really eat in Juneau; we ate breakfast at a diner, lunch at the crab shack, and dinner at our hotel every day. The whole crew. We ate so much Alaskan King crab. And you just can’t get it in the rest of the country the way you get it there. I thought all four chefs did really outstanding job in the  Quickfire; they were creative, it was beautiful, and I’m sure it was hard for Sean to choose. Moving on to the Elimination Challenge: Salmon and Sourdough!
GS: The day before this challenge, Emeril, Hugh, Tom, and I went fishing, and it was on a salmon run and it was spawning season, but we weren’t fishing for salmon. It was this amazing river, and it really was one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever spent on Top Chef. Tom caught a lot of fish, just for the record. And the girl of the group caught almost more fish than anyone else. Apparently in fly fishing, women are better at it than men because they have a more gentle wrist because they’re not used to throwing footballs. I had a nice fish-catching day.

As for the sourdough, they had a 30-year-old starter, and I think they did a really good job  with the sourdough. It is not necessarily the most challenging bread, but making any bread is difficult because it’s dependent on the humidity and the temperature and the pan that you’re making it in. I think that they all actually did a pretty good job with their bread. This is the first time I can ever remember that we’ve asked the chefs to make bread. Besides just on the show, and it really is kind of treacherous. Making bread can be very therapeutic. Meanwhile, Josh's wife is almost ready to give birth, which made me so nervous the whole time. I can’t imagine how anxious he was and the stress he was under, and the thoughts that were racing through his mind, not being able to be with his wife. But, he was doing it for the cause. Let’s start with Josh’s dish, the Roasted Garlic Sourdough Soup with Sockeye Salmon & Black Olive Croutons.
GS: I remember thinking that the idea for the soup was perfectly wonderful, especially for the cold weather. I also have a very distinct memory of the dish being very garlic-y. If you put garlic in soup, that’s OK, but when you’re mixing it with something as fatty as salmon, it gets very aggressive and tends to overpower the rest of the dish. The black olive croutons were wonderful because they gave the dish a little texture, which balanced out the fat really nicely. It was a rustic dish, a dish to curl up with on cold nights with a fire. Josh’s cooking is very direct, which I like, but when you’re balancing soup with salmon, you need to really pull back and sort of restrain. Sheldon's bread didn't seem to work, and he got comments about the smokiness of his salmon.
GS: I really admire Sheldon for taking two ingredients that are so far from the ingredients that he usually works with and trying to infuse his own style and personality into them. Adding the matcha, too, was a valiant effort. I totally get what Sheldon was trying to do. That tea was already very tannic, and so it was too sour with the sourdough bread. I just think they didn’t really play well together. I just want to say, of all the breads, it was made very well, but the matcha wasn't a necessary choice.

We also gave Sheldon a hard time for using chum, because as we said over and over again, chum is what you feed the dog. But, you know what?! Lobster was something that they fed the dog for many, many years, until we discovered that it tastes good too. The type of salmon didn’t bother me. The smokiness really went well with the green tea and the salmon; it was really bright and fresh, and because it was warm, it felt appropriate. And the soup was so smooth and bright green and beautiful. Delightful overall. I really enjoyed eating that dish. And Brooke won with her Sockeye Salmon & Seafood Broth with Mustard Seed Caviar & Dill Sourdough.
GS: Whereas the matcha was a clash with the sourdough, using dill with the sourdough really enhanced it. I love dill and it really goes well with salmon, especially with that little hint of savoriness that the dill added. And her dish was just technically so finessed. The mustard  seed with salmon, obviously… the broth took a lot of time to reduce, and there was a lot of flavor in that broth. There were just a lot of beautiful little touches and detail in her dish, and I think she was nervous because Tom gave her a hard time. There was nothing we could say about Brooke’s dish that wasn’t complimentary because she did a really terrific job. For bread and for salmon, she nailed the challenge. And poor Lizzie went home.
GS: Lizzie! Oh, Lizzie. I think I cried three times, watching this. I have so enjoyed having her on the show with us, and she’s such a talented cook. She reminded me of Tiffany Derry or Carla Hall in that people underestimated her and she didn’t make a lot of noise with her food. Everything she cooked this season, she was never the boldest or the most outlandish or even the most creative, but her food was always so thoughtful and just the kind of food that I would be happy to eat all the time. It was delicious, it was heated well, she has clearly a lot of talent. But with this dish, she made some errors. Her bread was the best bread we ate all day, quite frankly. The problem was that the rolls were so large in proportion to the salmon that you just lost the salmon, and it just became kind of a salmon sandwich, and at the end of the game we were expecting more from her, first of all. And second of all, we didn’t get enough flavor. When she explained the dish to us, the citrus and the beets are great complements to salmon, but she glazed the salmon, and she should have marinated it to really infuse the flavors, and so it was just glazed at the end of the cook time and then put it on a very large roll that was very bready, it just sort of got lost. It was a great idea, but we just needed more flavor and more ambition. Very, very sad to see her go, and she will be missed. And to her I say Totsiens, which is Afrikaans word for "good-bye" and "see you later."


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. 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. 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. 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!