Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Crumpet Burger: Simplicity Gone Awry

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

Crumpet Burger: Simplicity Gone Awry

Hugh Acheson makes the case for throwing a curve ball.

Stefan wakes up and he’s feeling older. Not wiser and sharper, just older. There’s a crick in his neck and he’s all mad about those pesky kids in his yard again. Stefan is having his birthday and thinks it’s a cursed one. He still wants you to pay attention to him; he wants that a lot, but he also feels like you should not be sentimental about it. 

The Quickfire is led by Daisley Gordon, a very nice chef who wants breakfast on a stick. They are at Pike Place Market and Padma is admonishing everyone who recognizes her, like it’s a matter of national security. Pike Place is a wonderfully busy market known for great food and that fish-tossing thing.  

John and Josh get paired up because they don’t want to be paired up together. Karma-rific. This on-a-stick thing is a curve ball, but should be challenging…. Before you jump on that “They make great chefs do silly things” bandwagon please realize, a) I don’t write these ideas, and b) You gotta throw curve balls now and again. It keeps the batters on their toes. Me, I just do what I am told. 

Lots of wrestling for panini presses that look like they would last about a minute in a commercial kitchen. Strategy is key here and there will be no tears over spilt milk. But there is spilt milk. Brooke knows Stefan and is patient with his birthday boy self. The Bart Knight runs funny. Wheee. The Belgian strength is in things like judo and tennis, and definitely not regal running. 

Eliza is a Spreadhead. I did not see this coming. Widespread Panic are from my town, and their fan base is referred to as Spreadheads. Don’t say you never learned anything reading these missives. She sold vegan sushi (Grassy Roll, LLC) in the parking lots next to that Seitan’s Little Goulash stand. 

Tesar is being very agreeable and wants this tenuous union to be for the best. Jimmy Sears may have a short fuse but he’s not about to implode because of a bad partnership. He’s in this to win it. 

Bart is falling down, but will thank you when he falls... every episode Bart becomes more like Monty Python’s Black Knight. “Alright, we’ll call it a draw.” I have no doubt Bart can cook -- we’ve seen him excel, but he is the most affably goofy chef on the planet. I think he’s great. CJ is morning tall but shrinking. He thinks I have it out for him as this episode progresses, but I don’t. I like the guy. I just don’t like bad burgers. But, alas, I am jumping ahead.  

Gotta say I would have sucked at this food-on-stick idea. I love the curve ball, but this was a knuckler. I get ornery when I have to do something I don’t think is interesting and food on a stick has nothing to keep me focused. Tesar and Josh’s breakfast taco is skewered up and gets good comments. Josie and Eliza have made cake on stick. Micah and Kristen are here to win with a waffle. Waffles are hot right now, so who knows. Looks busy. They look good as a team. Team “I am Beautiful but Look at My Skillz Not My Beauty.” 

CJ and Tyler are crepe-ing bricks, but that salmon torpedo may be good enough to win. You can taste the confidence and self-loathing in every bite. CJ reminds the judges that they really want this win, as opposed to the other challenges when he thought it was OK just to show up and look tall. Tyler on the other hand just doesn’t want to lose. Interesting. 

Look, The Bart Knight and Sir Spam-A-Lot are putting up a good fight here. Their food is looking good, thanks to Bart beating back Brooke for proper equipment at Sur La Table (Freedom Fries language for “on the table”).

Berries on stick gets good accolades for Lizzie and Danyele but the judges seem to really enjoy the birthday boy’s Croque. 

Verdict: The Bart Knight and Sir Spam-A-Lot win and get immunity. CJ thinks this sucks and shrinks to 6’10”. Sheldon says “boom” and will be contractually obliged to never say “boom” again. 

A bunch of artisan stuff appears from the market. Same teams and they each get a product that you would get in a locavore gift basket. I do love cheese curds and bitters, but some of the other products leave me a little confused as to how to incorporate them into dishes. Evidently I was not alone. 

Cooking progresses, and the teams are pained to get along with each other. John and Josh have such obvious hatred of each other, but are going to make this marriage work for the kids. Josie and Eliza are saying that they are putting their egos aside, but Josie is having trouble with that. Stefan and Brooke have rose petal jelly which makes everything it touches saccharin sweet, but Brooke is so darned nice that their team chemistry is tight. 

What would you make with salmon candy, rose petal, jelly and cardamom bitters? Sounds like a failed episode of Chopped. Well the results turn out to be less than stellar, and Tom makes the decision to confront the chefs and tell them that ain’t nobody winning the moolah in this showdown. The chefs are saddened and go back to the Olive 8 to sulk and bark at each other. Josh antagonizes Tyler because no one else will. Tyler looks confused as to why he is being attacked. Tyler is a frantic man. Dishes with my mental notes:

CJ & Tyler: Pork Crumpet Burger with Spicy Dill Pickles

Soggy bottomed burger that was a complete failure. 

Beautiful Ones! Micah & Kristen: Cheese Curds Three Ways: Bechamel, Raw & Fried

Everything tasted like cheese dip. Not very exciting, but not a loser. 

Bart Knight & Sheldon Spam-A-Lot: Candied Salmon with Sweet & Sour Salad

Weird dish but again, not weird enough for losing. Definitely the most complex of the meal. 

Lizzie & Danyele: Coconut Curry Chocolate Mousse Tart

Strange flavors, but technically quite good. Chocolate work is never easy. Not as bad as CJ thought. 

Jimmy Sears-Tesar & Josh: Pan-seared Pork Tenderloin with Truffle Popcorn Grits

Just not a smart dish. Two very accomplished chefs who made many mistakes in their dish. Grits were horrible, and the pork was tough as can be.

Eliza & Josie: Curry Cardamom Broth, Manila Clams & Seared White King Salmon

Not shabby. Probably would have won if TC hadn’t taken away that chance. 

Stefan & Brooke: Rose Petal Glazed Muscovy Duck with Braised Cabbage

Sweet sweet sweet. I have a problem with really sweet savory food and this was a glaring problem. Judges' Table was utter hilarity with CJ trying to convince us that a dish we hadn’t picked should have lost. He shrunk even more. 6’9” now. 

The losing team was Tyler and CJ. Their burger was just not good. Crumpets are tricky business in that they are designed to soak up butter, and so when ours hit the table they were a soggy mess with really basic pickles and not much else. It was losing material. 

May they succeed. Tyler, go home and relax and enjoy life. CJ, you too. 


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

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