Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

My Idol Has a Last Name -- It's M-E-Y-E-R

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

My Idol Has a Last Name -- It's M-E-Y-E-R

Hugh Acheson lauds this week's guest judge, Danny Meyer.

The tall man is still a champion in Last Chance Kitchen. If you don’t watch LCK, you should. It’s a fun 12 minutes or so. 

John Tesar is gone but not easily forgotten. He is now carefully tending to his favorite flat-bottomed risotto pot, plotting a burger chain, and building a nefarious weapon that will make all the pickles in the world his and only his. 

Not everyone is always happy to see John go though. Stefan misses his morning smoking buddy, but everyone else is ebullient. Josie is all excited about all Asians this morning. It’s either headbands, football, or Asians -- the days just revolve around the topics with that one. 

Wolfgang Puck is in the house. 

Ginger QF. They are cooking redheads. Stefan tells us the basics of ginger, and it really does sound like he’s reading from the Finnish/German translation of the Wikipedia page. Canada Dry ginger ale is stacked high in this challenge, but I don’t think you have to use it. Ginger is pretty versatile in the kitchen, but this challenge is a new one for me. They could make anything. I would probably make a shaved beef salad with ginger/citrus vinaigrette, pickled ginger, and crisp rice. Or a bourbon and ginger to drink and just quietly nestle under the table and hope that no one would notice. I do that sometimes. 

Meanwhile, Micah is being a p---y about the time constraint. The real test to whether you are a p---y is starting off the chat with,“I am not a p---y, BUT….” It’s like losing a swim race and sayin’, “I am not a sore loser, but is this a Olympic-approved pool? Cause I can only race well in those.”

This is a speedy showdown, so remember what I’ve told you in the past: finding your bearings and getting a plan, 5 mins; cooking, at least ten minutes; two minutes to plate up. See, already you’re out of time. Sheldon is swearing at his Chinese fast food because he saw that once at the food court at the mall. He’s also feeling the pressure of Josie making this a race-related day.  Meanwhile Josie and Josh are trying to procreate by bumping into each other. In nine months there will be an awkward celebration with everyone in headbands that say Chef Daddy, Chef Mommy, Chef Baby.

Josh has made a white chocolate thing, Josie a busy scallop, and Brooke squid with caramel. Lizzie has made a watermelon soup with Canada Dry. Micah has artfully arranged a shrimp salad with plums. Kristen has made a Thai-inspired ginger salad with brie. Weird. Sheldon has made No. 14 on the left side of all takeout Chinese joints. Stefan has appealed to Puck with a California tuna plate. He and Wolfgang converse in the language of love, German. 

Bottoms are Sheldon and Josh. “Now Josh, what is the opposite of overwhelmed?” Wolfgang is making up for the soft mittens approach he had in the first episode and just slaying these chefs. 

Tops are Brooke, Stefan, and Lizzie. Micah is lost in the middle again. Brooke wins with her squid deliciousness. 

Out comes Danny Meyer. Danny owns all of the fine dining restaurants in the world that Wolfgang doesn’t, plus the Dubai-headquartered Shake Shack (Sheik Shack LLC). I digress from shenanigans to say that I look at these two restaurateurs as awe-inspiring mentors who have taught the world so much about hospitality and authenticity in restaurants. One day when I am looking for a dishwashing job at Spago or Gramercy Tavern I hope they remember the kind words. 

Josh does correctly say that Danny is probably not coming out to OKC anytime soon, so this may be his only the time to make an impression. I dunno, Mr. Meyer likes him some BBQ and has been known to wander in Texas looking for it; who knows-- maybe his compass will point North to OKC one of these days. But if this season is any indication of the Josh’s porcine skillset, Danny has a one in four chance of enjoying great pork on the visit. 

It’s a quasi Restaurant Wars, but it’s a little different from normal, as it's in two parts. Each person is doing a dish from their on-the-fly restaurant concept. There will be two winners and then Part 2 of Restaurant Wars will be the next episode. They get to shopping and Sheldon is in heaven, because heaven is a suburban Asian foods super-store. He and I feel the same way because I think I saw god at the Super H mart in Suwanee, GA. Micah is finding his raw food niche, making damn sure you know he lives in L.A. Kristen recounts how she’s really lived through a crazy couple of years and she deserves to be here.

The booted cheftestants are the sous-chefs for this challenge, including crazy Carla. Stefan welcomes her with a comment about her a--. Stefan doesn’t really play the closet sexist… he wears it with pride. Josie bowls over Kuniko with enthusiasm. Lizzie is dumping all her dumpling work on Eliza.

Tom does his walk-around, and finds that Brooke wants to show the world some Jewish sensibility while still serving very un-kosher food. He visits Kristen, and they realize Kristen is now officially rich from the show. Tom tells her to invest in old guitars and everything will be fine. The rest of them wrap up Josie in plastic wrap and hope for the best. 

Back at the Olive 8, Sheldon is 30! He calls his daughters. Great picture of his kids. Awesome. I mean that.

They are set up in some outdoor Ikea furniture lot. But it’s inside! Crazy! It’s Bite of Seattle! If I had jobs to dole out I would not let Carla handle the liquid nitrogen. She’s disposed of bodies this way back in the day. You freeze them solid and then they just shatter. I have just written an episode of Dexter in my head. 

Kuniko thinks this is a good day for Micah. Maybe this is opposite day? 

Pictures of when Tom had hair. Stefan celebrated this moment by spreading the joy of hot bisque on everyone in a ten-meter vicinity. 

The food goes on. Josh has steak, Lizzie has a Northern Italian/German dumpling thing.  Danny is a very serious man. I want him to make a fart joke, but he won’t. He just won’t. Sheldon has made a Filipino soup and Stefan has made a coconut milk soup and a frozen pop thing. Padma seems to think that Stefan has made that frozen pop thing before… for them…  on Top Chef. The pitfalls of coming on this show multiple times are numerous. They love Sheldon’s soup and kind of like Stefan’s. 

Micah’s raw sensory perception is busy. Kristen’s Onsen egg is delightful. As fancy as that sounds, it’s just a slow-cooked egg at a prescribed temperature. I like 63 C. Danny asks her, with his “Let’s get crazy!” zeal, “What will be the style of the restaurant, in terms of formality?” This type of calm and focused demeanor is why he wins, and I continue to refer to myself as an idiot. Must get more serious. Must get more serious. Stefan practices his sexism on Kristen, but I get the feeling she’s playing him much more than he’s thinking he’s playing her. She has outcooked him again and that has to weigh on the relationship. 

Josie has channeled all of the berry farm memories and is playing bad chef at the demo table again. She gets nervous with laughter when she gets in the weeds. It’s a tell. Not a good one. 

Brooke takes a really long time explaining her UnKosher dish but it looks cool. Josie staggers and talks about Miami, 2LiveCrew, area codes,and everything except for food. Sadly the matzoh is leaden and offends Gail’s whole tribe, but there is a shining light for Brooke, as Josie’s pork is way too done, no matter the amount of Magik sauce you apply.

The judges talk restaurant and there is some good wisdom in there. I could listen to Tom and Danny talk about restaurants all day long. 

Tops are Sheldon, Josh, and Kristen. The concepts from all three came through. Josh seems to have calmed down in this episode and is not so angry and whiny. He cooks better when rested and happy; we all do. 

Sheldon wins for his homage to his Filipino ancestry and Kristen wins for her egg. They will be the bosses for the next half of Restaurant Wars. They are charged with picking the teams for the next challenge. But the trick is that they will be splitting the folks up before the loser is called out for this part of the competition, meaning one team is going to be one person light. There’s a minivan in this for the winner. 

Kristen misses the chance to pick Stefan for her team. Ouch. Stefan is busy writing her one of those grade 4 notes, “Do you like me?” It just happens that it gets all split down gender lines. Should be exciting. But we still have someone to send home now and Micah, Josie, and Lizzie line up in front of the firing squad. All three have some big flaws. Is Lizzie all pissy? She seems a little mad that she wasn’t allowed to fully explain her dumpling. We do glean a poem by Danny though:

“The minute I tried to
Put my fork into that pork
And the pork fought back
I said, This is gonna be a problem.”

Micah goes home. He is sad but thankful. I thought he was a good competitor in all of this and wish him well. Godspeed.


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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