Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Why Jeffrey Went Home Instead of Stefan

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

Why Jeffrey Went Home Instead of Stefan

Gail Simmons explains why Jeffrey's crime against protein was worse. CJ, Stefan, and Josie return to the kitchen. What did you think when you saw them?
Gail Simmons: Well, obviously, we knew what they were coming back to do. At first, I had some reservations. But when I saw how it played out, it actually made perfect sense, and really switched things up for the show; I thought it was smart as it totally changes the dynamic. You'll see as the show continues, what that means—not only for the chefs who are new (the 15 chefs who were cast) but also for these veteran chefs. We’ll learn if having completed before gives them that advantage or not. The three of them have changed a lot since they were last on the show, so it’s great to see them back again, and see how they interact with the other chefs. They come across, on that first day, sort of feeling superior.  But I think the Top Chef kitchen is a great equalizer—everybody’s humbled. Quickfires humble you. For the Quickfire Challenge, they had to create a dish that highlighted the local shellfish. So, the chefs choose their groups. We’re kind of seeing this side of John that’s sort of nicer; he’s really into working with Kuniko.
Gail: John seems smart. He’s strategizing.  It’s kind of funny that he was like “She’s Japanese; she must have good knife skills.” That was ridiculous, but you know what? He turned out to be right. And, that team was really strong, whether they knew it before or not. What a crazy thing having to pick teams when you’ve literally just met people. You have no idea who is who, what their strengths are, so it’s a big chance. You have to learn to trust people very quickly, but you also have to fend for yourself, because at the end of the day, only one person wins; the good news is that with this Quickfire, no one goes home. What do you think of the Carla backlash that's starting to emerge?
GS: I don’t blame them. She is who she is, she’s larger than life. I don’t doubt of talent, but she’s a big character. And big characters are great to watch, but they’re not always great to work alongside in terms of just getting along. I think there’s a way of working in the kitchen that the other chefs are used to that she defies.  She’s very loud, she’s throwing things, she’s talking non-stop.  It can be very distracting, especially when you’re trying to work. She drove me crazy by the end of the episode too! As we focus on the local seafood in this challenge, do you recall one seafood moment in Seattle that was somewhat of a revelation for you?
GS: I had so many seafood moments in Seattle! I basically stuffed myself all season long with oysters, spot prawns, crab, and salmon. We’ll get to more of that as the season unfolds. But, it really is interesting to me that you’d think in this day and age of travel and shipping, no matter what coast you’re on, no matter where you are, that there isn’t such a difference in terms of quality of ingredients. But we tasted so many things this season that you just can never get of such high quality on the East Coast. Like spot prawns, I’ve certainly had them before, but God are they good in Seattle. And we’re there in perfect season for them. Sweet, delicate prawns that basically need almost no cooking. They’re really, really special to that part of the country. So that was sort of amazing.  OK, so on to the Elimination Challenge. Well first, you were saying the three returning chefs kind of changed a lot. What were the things you noticed since the first time you saw them?
GS: Josie was on Season 2; that was SIX YEARS AGO. Everyone changes. I’ve changed a lot in six years. She’s calmer, more confident; she’s just developed her own style. That’s what happens as the years go on. You work harder, you learn about yourself, you have different experiences that shape who you are as a cook, and I think she’s just really found her place. When we met her in Season 2 she was cooking at Marlow & Sons in New York, I believe, which is a great restaurant, but she has since found what her passion really is, which is globally influenced comfort food. She comes back to it again and again throughout the season.

CJ has grown enormously. I was always a CJ fan. I always thought he was a strong cook, but again, Season 3 was five years ago, and he’s had a lot of experience since then; he’s done a lot of hard work. He went to Copenhagen, and was really inspired by cooking at Noma there. He’s become so much stronger. I believe the CJ from Season 3 and the Josie from Season 2 could not have competed so well with the chefs in this season, at this level. Not that they couldn’t have competed; I should say that they just would have had a much harder time, they were less experienced, but we all were I guess...

Stefan has changed too. Whenever he was in front of the judges this season, he actually was a lot calmer, more direct, less arrogant to us. That’s not to say he wasn’t arrogant. But he was a little more thoughtful, a little more introspective about who he is as a chef, what he expected from himself. He wasn’t just saying how great he was, he knew he had to put something behind it. He’s always been a good cook, there’s no question that he’s talented.  But…well, you’ll see... What was it like judging at the Space Needle?
GS: It was a very foggy day, unfortunately. But it was great that we were rotating, and having Ambassador/Chef Tom Douglas with us allowed us a great tour of the city from above. By the time we got up, I felt like I knew the landscape of Seattle really well. I could point at landmarks, and Tom [Douglas] took us through all the major neighborhoods and pointing them out. Seattle is really a beautiful city, filled with water ways and lakes, obviously mountains; it’s very, very green. It was a great place to start the season, because it gave us a great sense of Tom Douglas is our guest judge. Can you tell us a little bit about him?
GS: Tom Douglas for President!

Tom Douglas is basically the default mayor of Seattle. He owns something like 20 restaurants, and he’s opening up a least 20 more this year... ha! Driving around town with him, he would constantly point to a random corner, and say "I’m opening a Thai place there. Oh yeah, I’m opening a pizza place there; I’m opening a donut place there." And he’s serious! He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. We spent a lot of time with him; he showed us such a great time all season long. He really was like our private ambassador to the city. And he’s beloved by all of Seattle, not just the food community. And is restaurants are fantastic, so he certainly knows a lot about food in that part of the country. Very appropriate to have him as our first guest judge. Everyone made fish except for the Veterans, who went with the quail.  Did you think that was a poor decision? Or if they had executed it well, would they have made a good decision?
GS: It was a good decision. We had no guidelines; we just wanted them to use local ingredients—we never said, "You have to use seafood.” I think it was smart of them to differentiate themselves, it wasn’t the risk of making quail that was the issue. You just have to cook it well. Quail is very small animal. You want to eat the breast medium rare, on the pink side, or else its very tough and dry because there’s very little fat in it. Stefan probably left them on the heat just 30 seconds too long, and that’s all it takes with such tiny breasts! I guess Stefan’s not so adept at handling breasts after all! Ha! And so the winning dish was once again the Blue Team. Have you ever had anything poached in chili oil before?
GS: Sure, in Chinese cooking… I’ve certainly had tofu with chili oil in it and fish. But I thought their version was modern and really inspired, really delicious." Lingcod is a beautiful, delicate, flakey white fish, it was the first thing we tasted that day, and it was the best. It had so much flavor, and balance, the fish was beautiful. It was a very, fresh, delicate dish. Jeffrey unfortunately goes home. What was the difference between him overcooking his fish and Stefan overcooking the quail?
GS: The difference was the degree of done-ness. Overcooking slightly is one thing. Yes, Stefan's quail was overcooked and a little dry, but Jeffrey’s halibut was pummeled, unfortunately. He had put it on way too high heat, on both sides. We kept referring in the episode to how it was hard-seared on both sides—with a fish that delicate you probably could have just seared one side, turned it over and it would have been done. And he could have monitored the heat a little better. There were pieces of it that were essentially burnt. It was really too bad.

I was so sad that Jeffrey was the first to go. He’s so cute, and I barely know the guy, but I know that it was a very difficult challenge, and overall the food was all very good.  For a first episode, I would say that it’s actually the best food we’ve ever had. Of all the things we tasted that day across the six dishes, Jeffrey’s piece of fish was the most flawed element. 


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!