Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Hugh Acheson: We Are All Chefs

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

Hugh Acheson: We Are All Chefs

The judge explains why we shouldn't dwell on the finalists' gender.

 

I ain’t gonna lie and say this was easy… for anyone. It was a slog. Kristen battled through umpteen Last Chance Kitchen’s slaying dragons and giants (literally), and Brooke had to endure hours of ukulele and having to make up songs with Sheldon. To Sheldon, making up songs is easy as long as they rhyme with "munchies." Brooke also flew in helis, mushed dogs, voyaged on large boats not named Triumph, and generally had to endure her own customized version of Dante’s purgatory. Down to the wire it went, and on the semi-finale they both poured their hearts and souls into dishes and came to the finale. Sheldon poured the heart and soul of some guy named Henri into his food and disappeared into his own “Where’s Sheldon” line of postcards. He’ll be laughing first when he owns his own Relais Chateaux hotel on the North Shore with the finest medicinal pot shop in the island world. Chez Menehune, a chill resort. 

So this live finale thing was completely different and wild when we first stepped into it. Wacky. It felt like a culinary Olympiad, which actually just happened about a month ago and the USA did a pretty darned fine job. Proud of Chef Rosendale and all he accomplished. Plus it was the most fun I had ever had live tweeting from a L.A. hotel room as the sun came up. I was beat for days… tweeting culinary commentary that is humorous in 12 languages is exhausting. 

Kristen has a potty mouth. Swearing like a sailor. They have picked teams and Brooke has CJ, Kuniko, and Stefan. Kristen picks Josh, Sheldon, and Lizzie. They have to use scallops in the second round and snapper in the third. Some sadist was called for advice on both, and that guy suggested scallops be live and in their shells. He has been described as a youthful Canadian with one eyebrow. If you see him, give him a hug, but one of those hugs where you don’t actually touch the other person. Air hug?  

At first glance, I think that Team L.A. looks pretty strong. Kuniko is quietly very talented and left too soon, Stefan is an old master in dealing with the duress of competition after being on for 103 episodes over 45 seasons of the show, and CJ is tall enough to see into the bottoms of all the pots… WITHOUT BENDING OVER. This must give them favored status. 

Then again Kristen’s team has two chefs who have worked really well together all season: Sheldon and Josh. If they are making Filipino breakfast then this thing is OVER. Plus they have the one chef who actually wanted to leave the show about eight weeks ago, but kept on hanging on: Lizzie. She’s very talented and looks like she got some needed rest in the break. Kristen has picked them over her T.V. husband and the other two because of their lack of egos. OK, I can see the egos in CJ (hipster glasses) and Stefan (copious amounts of Drakkar Noir), but Kuniko? Has she secretly been calling the other chefs “useless ding dongs that I could mop the floor with” in Japanese? If so, this all makes sense. 

ASIDE: Kuniko and her fine mentor chef David Myers have opened a very hot new restaurant in Century City called Hinoko and the Bird… you should go when you are in the area. Cause they both rock. 

OK, I’m back. Stuff is being cooked. Kristen has brought two sheets of torn paper that she is calling a “menu.” This worries all of America. We then get to meet the whole grouping of all Top Chef winners. The very loud whooper is Ilan. Watch his new show on G4/Esquire… coming soon to your local cable provider. 

Kristen makes chicken liver in her sleep. This involves a blender, a stove, and a fry pan, so I am pretty impressed. Can she make a toasted rye sandwich with chicken liver mousse, pickle shallots, and fleur de sel in her sleep? I doubt that, big-game talker. As that thought floats away, CJ is caught burning the pig ears, even though he has the highest perch in the show. LOOK DOWN, CJ. LOOK DOWN. In his defense my ears were pretty tasty. But you riled up the old guys, CJ. You know better… once you get them started they won’t back down. In this episode I did feel like Sam the Eagle, looking down from my opera box on the show at hand. Sam and I have a lot in common. He’s a regal bird. My problem is the lights are making me look less than regal and all crazy in my grey suiting. It was a long day, a very long day. 

Dish One comes out:

Kristen's 

Chicken Liver Mousse with Frisee, Mustard, Prune, Hazelnuts & Pumpernickel

Brooke's 

Crispy Pig Ear & Chicory Salad, Six-Minute Egg, Apricot Jam & Candied Kumquats

Judgment gets passed and winner winner chicken mousse dinner goes to Kristen. I really did love Brooke’s salad, and my ears were a good CJ batch, but Kristen’s was a showstopper. Ilan goes nuts. When you need an ally in a cheering contest, consult Ilan. You will not be disappointed. 

The scallops are getting to Kuniko. I know, I am evil, but those scallops were phenomenally fresh. Total beauties. CJ gets cheered for something -- I am not sure what. Sheldon is making a cure for all that ails everyone. We flashback to Brooke in the kitchen on the first episode, and then we go through the very long list of her fears. She has really come a long way through all this. She a veritable badass and is making her family proud.

Back to the cooking. Brooke’s family is into it but the little guy is falling asleep. Scallops are being plated and we have minutes to go. Ilan is very excited. Kristen calls out Brooke’s dish for being too complicated for such a beautiful ingredient. Come on now -- let’s let the food speak. 

Second Dish:

Brooke's 

Seared Scallop with Salt Cod Puree, Speck, Black Currant & Mustard Seed Vinaigrette

Kristen's 

Citrus & Lavender Cured Scallop with Bitter Orange, Meyer Lemon & Apple

Though Brooke can’t list all her stuff and Hosea has an overcooked scallop, my dish was bangin’. Crazy part was so was Kristen’s. Kristen’s had such utter simplicity when it came to the scallop that it was hard not to revel in it. So simple, yet so good. But, Brooke wins round two in a tight scorecard. That romanesco stole the show and just make a complex dish that much more refined and earthier. Wonderful cooking by both. Lizzie is tasked to pick parsley for a marrow dish and Brooke wants redemption from her fried chicken debacle earlier in the season. Kristen is going for super-unami and Sheldon totally understands. Josh wants another set of eyes for the marrow, but that man can only create new eyes every nine months. 

We look through the past of Stephanie (on the first episode) and Kristen, friends, co-workers, roommates, and NOT LESBIANS. Good to know. Kristen’s inauspicious exit is documented and then her rise to the top of LCK. She crushed it. And here she is in the finale. With the money she is going to Korea. Love the beauty of that. 

Gail does the family table visit. Nice peeps. You gotta love supportive fathers in our industry. I have one and it meant the world to me, still does. 

Chicken wings and marrow are going down on plates. Let’s get eating.

Round Three

Brooke's 

Vadouvan Fried Chicken with Sumac Yogurt-Tahini & PIckled Kohlrabi Fattoush

Kristen's 

Celery Root Puree with Bone Marrow, Mushrooms, Bitter Greens & Radishes

 

I have to admit that the choice of wings was interesting. I love wings. I just didn’t expect them to take center stage here. They were great. Really bright, refreshing, and truly ballsy. Contrary to TC, I got the salad. It was the refresher. It worked. Kristen’s marrow plate was awesome. The marrow sung with crispiness, and the puree was rich and the mushrooms beauteous. I loves it. Mine was hot. Padma breathes cold air a lot, so you have to make her food extra hot. Lizzie yells support from the shadows. Three votes to Kristen and she gets the win. Brooke yells to Jesus as she returns to her stove. Snapper cometh. Beautiful. Ilan has positive affirmation. Paul giggles. Michael says nothing. Blais molecularizes a thought, but not in a language we know. 

On Brooke’s side nothing is over yet. Cheek is on the horizon to pair with the fish. If Josh decides to make breakfast, Brooke may have a chance. 

We run through the accolades of some of the previous winners. Ilan is still looking for his heart, which is over there, somewhere. 17 restaurants between them. Awesome. 

This chatter about another female Top Chef winner is nice and all, but they are all CHEFS. The only thing different about it that I can sit with my daughters, point to the screen and say, “See, you can be like that. Nothing stands in your way.” The cooking world has come so far. Chefs like Elizabeth Faulkner, April Bloomfield, Traci DesJardins, Naomi Pomeroy, Jenn Louis, Mary Sue Milliken, and many others, kick ass not because they’re women but because they are great chefs who cook circles around most everybody else in the industry, men and women alike.

Round Four

Brooke's 

Braised Pork Cheek & Red Snapper with Collard Green Slaw & Sorrel Puree

Kristen's 

Red Snapper with Leeks, Little Gem Lettuce, Tarragon, Uni & Shellfish Nage

I loved both and my vote didn’t matter. Brooke’s dish rocked with perfectly-cooked fish and a great collard slaw. Kristen’s was bright: beautiful fish with uni, cooked lettuce, and a flavorful nage. I would have been torn, but probably would have gone to Brooke if I had been given a chance. 

Dessert, we will never know. 

Kristen wins. Godspeed to both of them. They both were amazingly inspiring this season and I personally took away a lot from watching them cook through the episodes. Much success.  

 

 

 

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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