Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

May the Best Chef Win

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

May the Best Chef Win

Hugh Acheson was impressed with Brooke's food for how deep in the weeds she got.

Our semifinal episode begins in Alaska, whose state bird is the Willow Ptarmigan. Two chefs remain, and they have mushed, cooked, flown, boated, and smoked their way into this near-end of the competition. Josh has left the state to join his family and his newly-minted daughter, Georgia. 

Juneau at sundown and Sheldon and Brooke are dancing and jamming on the ukulele. Brooke is not entering a freestyle rap competition anytime soon. Sheldon, powered by Pre-98 Bubba Kush, is just coming up with hooks and lines left and right. 

Hold up -- we are fast-forwarding to a future time in some island nation. It’s like Lost with Sheldon. I am hoping that he is allowed to bring Ben Linus on as a sous and that they will cook on the wreckage of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815. Alas, he is back at his restaurant in training and has been stage-ing at the Dharma Initiative in his free time, learning how to handle tweezers, Xanthum gum, and anti-griddles. Back at his noodle joint, he does seem like a very calm leader as his legion of cooks crumbles under the bright lights of fame. Spoons are dropped, tostadas and buns are made, signatures are signed, shirts are sold. Off to a family BBQ with his family of super-cute Hawaiians. Vittles and brews beachside. Keepin’ the Menehune spirit going. 

To L.A. where Brooke is homesteading Cali’-style. She is raising a family and their robots, plus she’s a chef and restaurateur. She pays the bills and gets the pig ear salad prepped, cooked, and socially-documented. She hints to the cameras that pig ears for the finale would be handy. When would pig ears not be handy? Brooke narrowly averted a lawsuit by marrying her sous chef. They decide to celebrate life with Sang Yoon and Roy Choi at A-Frame, Roy’s kickass restaurant in Culver City. Y’all should go there. Great food. It’s a Toyota ride to Craft, L.A. In attendance are Tom, Emeril, Padma, and some guy who is dressed like he won the Masters… oh, that’s me. Sheldon and Brooke line up and wait for the arrival of the Last Chance Kitchen winner. We hear many shrieks and learn the following:

1. Carla is crazy, calls a squab “that bitch,” and butchers like she’s blind. 

2. Kuniko swallows live butterflies and keeps them alive in her stomach.

3. CJ’s burger still isn’t any good, and he has nightmares about crumpets.

4. Tyler is still my favorite enunciator. “OK, Freako.”

5. Tall people, short people, beautiful people, anyone can win in LCK.

6. Josie is still looking for her niche, and her salmon is on the floor. I picture the whole salmon wearing a headband, cause that’s how I roll.

7. Stefan grows on us daily. That is meant as a compliment, not like it’s a case of shingles. 

8. Kristen reigns supreme and comes back from her strange departure on Restaurant Wars. Reminder: I wasn’t a judge on Restaruant Wars. 

So the three-headed hydra of finales has been born. It’s a Shelbrookrist, genetically represented by Hawaii, East L.A., and Southie, Boston. 

The challenge is to cook a three-course meal at Craft with Tom expediting. Sheldon mentions that he is pretty on edge cooking at Tom’s house, like Tom has a bunkbed in the Craft L.A. kitchen where he lives throughout the year. The Menehune then threatens to set the place on fire. Tom tells the chefs that his customers expect a lot and not to let them down. This is called “foreshadowing.” Their menus are set and they get cooking. Sheldon changes hats and this is a curveball we are all trying to figure out. Brooke says she’s happy to see Kristen back, but her therapist is saying otherwise. Sheldon brings in da sexism and wants the best "man" to win. He is installing a glass ceiling in the kitchen. 

They pick proteins and Sheldon counts spot prawns, a popular skit on Sesame Street in Hawaii. I check on Brooke and she seems frantic and really, really happy to see me. We chat about sweetbreads, something I revel in cooking and I give sage advice on cleaning them. Blah blah blah. Brooke really has excelled this season and to now get as weeded as she is about to get is odd. The rest time before finale has left her a bit rusty. 

Tom checks on Kristen’s French, non-boring menu, which finishes with a chocolate "thing." She is desperate not to overthink the next few hours. Emeril checks on Sheldon and his Sheldon is feeling quail tonight. 

The Craft kitchen is a beauty, but to find a sheet pan you must make up a song, and then the sheet pans appear. Brooke burns nuts and is behind on her prep. She is flummoxed. Sheldon decides this is the perfect time to bother her. Dessert apparently is an afterthought for all of them, save for Brooke who is so weeded it don’t matter. 

We start eating. Tom mans his station. Martin Yan and John Besh have joined Padma, Emeril, and I for dinner. The tickets start pouring in. Tom is calmer with these chefs than he would normally be. 

Sheldon’s spot prawn is beautiful but underseasoned. Kristen’s veloute with duck rillettes needs acid but is overall a nice dish. Brooke’s sweetbreads is pretty darned fine in the modern American vernacular. The sweetbreads have a bit of sinew still though, contrary to my sage advice. Tom is now getting on the chefs and demanding more and more. They are barely keeping up. 

Kristen’s tuna and veal with lemon curd was interesting but needed more synergy. If it’s a play on Vitello Tonnato, I want more veal… I want something to bring it together. Kristen says she peed in her pants a little while Tom was expediting. TMI, but she is one of the only people who can say that and make it sound sexy. 

Brooke’s ribs are good, real good. If this is how she cooks when weeded than she has even more skills than I thought. It’s a fine plate of food. Sheldon’s quail, the smallest main course ever, is just anti-Sheldon. It’s like Sheldon was kidnapped by a Michelin chef with fancy tweezers. I wanted his flavors to shine, but they were muted, like a pine nut puree that can’t tell a story. 

Desserts are a mixed bag of melancholy. Sheldon’s weird fennel and white chocolate thing had no reference to Robin Thicke and was just odd. Kristen’s chocolate pot de curry crème was just not very inventive or skilled. Brooke had the best dessert but Tom found it wasn’t restaurant-worthy…. I thought it was pretty awesome. 

In the end you need to cook with the flavors and power that got you to this point. You need to cook with panache and zeal and intensity. We loved the old Sheldon with his ode to Hawaii and to the Philippines. It was food from the heart, not food from the latest Art Culinaire. 

That said, Sheldon rocks. He is a fresh voice for food in this country and brought such a warm and nice personality to the show and to the cooking. Godspeed. 

Best of luck to both Kristen and Brooke next week. May the best chef win.   

 

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!