Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Tesar Speaks the Truth, but Sides Win the Race

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

Tesar Speaks the Truth, but Sides Win the Race

Hugh Acheson would like his own "Canlis Restaurant" one day.

I am on this one. Look for a fine Gucci suit with a nervous man inside. 

It’s getting all tense. The Stew Room has its place and that place is to get people a little on edge. It works here exactly as it’s supposed to. Tesar, the man with no filter, calls out whole states in his vindictiveness. Oklahoma, which really doesn’t need to be maligned like this, has a fired-up defender in Josh. He puts on his chaps and challenges Tesar to a showtunes showdown. 


“We know we belong to the land

And the land we belong to is grand!

And when we say 

Yeeow! Ayipioeeay!

We're only sayin'

You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!

Oklahoma O.K.”


Tesar’s musical response is “Texas” by Soulja Boy. Odd. 

“I'm on that ATL s---, I'm on that MIA s---, 

I'm on that Chi-town s---, that Houston, Texas s---, 

that screwed up s---, that purple s---…” 


He crosses his arms and makes strange gang signs but his is a gang of one. A--holez with a Z: Dallas. 

Tesar zaps us with this explanation: “I am not a prick, I’m truthful.” Wise words bad Yoda. 

Sleepy time. Maybe things will be sunnier with some shut eye? Nope. Pretty much everyone gets out of their wearable blanket all angry at the world. But not Stefan. He loves wartime in the condo and takes advantage of the time to fondle Kristen. Kristen loves it. 

Is CJ taller at breakfast? Does he shrink during the day? Naomi Pomeroy in the house. She has brought animals. Beastly butchery from Portlandia. “Land-roaming animals,” someone says, as opposed to that flying squirrel challenge that never happened. Memories of Naomi screaming at her dad in Top Chef Masters; this type of memory makes every family get-together more memorable.  

“We would like you to think of these slabs of beef as a blank canvas”, says Naomi. Bart begins to paint a picture on the side of the cow, taking the instructions very literally. Carla has memories of cold meat lockers where stoolies were dealt with. Stefan is still mentally smelling Kristen’s feet. 

CJ is worried about no one. I am worried about him though because he looks six inches shorter than his morning self. Sheldon is not a surgical butcher but he’s gonna get 'er dun. Tyler is his own worst enemy. He’s literally going to whittle himself down with anxiety. “I just need to shut the f--- up and cook.” Self therapy in the house.  

There’s a lot of beef dishes in this rodeo. Some good, some not so good. Sherry and asparagus do not please Padma. Oxtails are great or undercooked. Hangar steak makes Naomi happy but she’s a medium girl. I would have so thought she’d be a rare beef lover. 

Alas, John Tesar wins. They clap. Why would you all clap for a guy you all hate? Show that man who’s boss. No clapping. John wins immunity and gets to continue his quest to be completely condescending to everyone in the room.

The Canlis brothers introduce the Elimination Challenge which is to recreate classic dishes from the opening Canlis menu. You know, a menu that was resplendent with “a la Louis” and other descriptives. 

When you talk about iconic restaurants there are very few that would be higher up on the scale than Canlis. It’s a stunning restaurant with great views of planes landing on the water from all vantage points. The service is so authentic and real and the content is top notch. Though the challenge was to recreate some of the more storied dishes of a past era, Canlis is thouroughly in the modern food world thanks to the skilled hands of executive chef Jason Franey. Jason was the executive sous chef for Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park in NYC. The new menu is a beautiful melding of the history of the restaurant and Franey’s food, evoking brilliance and not relics. You should eat there if you are in Seattle. Sometimes I dream of just having that one restaurant like Canlis, an old BMW 2002 tii, some model boat kits, and a small garden. I would live a stress-free life in the apartment above and study up on the parking/valet methods of Dick Sprinkle, the revered parking boss of Canlis years ago. Check out their fine website for more stories like that. The fear was that we would be served Jell-O salads and pineapple chicken. Well that didn’t happen. We got some pretty good food. The really difficult dish to pull off is the Caesar-like Canlis Salad. It’s a difficult one because it is revered by the customers and owners. They have loved it for decades and it’s crazy popular. It’s like challenging Trader Vic’s to a Mai Tai challenge. You’d lose.

Lizzie’s herring was like an ode to Prune in NYC, saltines and all. John did make good clams, and sadly Josh’s soup was a salty, cold mess. Wrong vehicle for a hearty soup? If that bowl isn’t hot, you have a loser of a dish. Puck-like croutons did not help at all. This paled in comparison to the train wreck that was Carla’s squab. I love rustic Italian food but this was not that. Rare to a fault for some, and well-done on others. 

Sheldon’s mahi mahi was great but uninspired. Simple simple but in that era that’s what win the game. Stefan’s liver was well-executed. Kristen’s sides really did rock, and if you think that you can’t win just with making some simple things sing than you’re wrong. Those mushrooms were perhaps the best mushroom side I have ever had. CJ’s lamb was error-filled and as Tom accurately diagnosed, a sous-vide stumble. Steak a-la-Bart was a middlin’ protein attempt. Josie’s “Potato as Big as your Head” was a baked potato. Not much way to screw that up or make it phenomenal. She calls them “Mamajamas” which makes me want to curl up in the corner and cry myself to sleep. I am actually in that position still. If I just listen to Tyler’s self-affirmations, everything will be OK. 

Desserts are of an era, meaning not great and kind of melting. They were having issues with the ice cream machine. It was fine. Just fine. Some people loved them but they just weren’t my bag. 

Lizzie, Kristen, Tyler, and Stefan take tops with Kristen’s sides winning all. She deserved it. They were rocking ‘shrooms and crispy onion rings. 

Two chefs pack their knives -- Carla and Chrissy. Onwards to Last Chance Kitchen

Follow me on twitter @hughacheson

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Gail schools us on the science of innovative cooking and explains why George Pagonis' octopus didn't have any legs to stand on. Let's talk about the Elimination Challenge, which was to create an innovative dish that pushed culinary boundaries.

Gail Simmons: I was really happy that Wylie was there for this challenge, of course. But I think the set up was a little anti-climactic in honesty. As a viewer, you didn't get a full explanation of how and why they were given this challenge. It was specifically because there are so many people pushing these boundaries, many of whom are in Boston, and particularly Michael Brenner. He is innovative for a lot of reasons -- he’s a physicist, but what he’s become known for in the culinary space is teaching an in-depth course at Harvard about the science of food and cooking, incorporating people like Wylie and as well as a long list of exceptionally talented and renown chefs from around the world, like Ferran Adrià among others. It is exciting and extraordinary, and having him there allowed us to present our chefs with this challenge. We always think about how the dishes taste and look, whether the meat is cooked well enough or the appearance of knife cuts are appropriate. All of that stuff is in affect science -- cooking is all chemistry and biology, reaction of cells to knives and fire essentially. Everyone has their own definition of innovation, and I think there was a lot of pressure to "innovate" in this challenge. Our chefs did well, but I wish they had been given more time to really push their own personal boundaries more. Let’s start with the winner, Melissa, who had the seared duck breast with farro, walnut miso, and pickled cherries.

GS: Melissa really has stepped up her game and soared in the last two challenges; she won the last challenge (and a spot in the finale in Mexico), and now she’s won this challenge, too. Her duck was beautiful, though not necessarily the most groundbreaking dish I’ve ever seen in my life. But she was innovative enough that we felt her flavors were new, but the dish was at the same time beautiful, delicious. Here’s the tricky thing about being innovative, which I think George touched on when he was talking about the challenge too: is it takes time and practice to truly innovate. I can only assume that someone like Wylie tries a dish fifty times before it goes on his menu as a full formed creative work, that changes how we all perceive food. Innovation takes patience and some serious brain power. To come up with something in a few hours is a tall order when it needs to be totally delicious AND have a level of innovation that surprises and impresses us. Melissa knew her strengths and perhaps was more relaxed then she would’ve been otherwise, so she made that walnut miso pesto and incorporated it in a really creative, unusual way. It made her dish stand out, and by far it was the most delicious. And then we had our runner, Mei, with her duck curry with vadouvan and yuzu yogurt.

GS: There was something about Mei’s dish that made me think it was the most innovative of the day in a number of ways. However it wasn’t the most successful, and that’s why Melissa took the win. Mei’s dish was not only breathtakingly stark and beautiful, looking so modern on the plate, but she also combined several unusual ingredients, which made for a very untraditional, very modern curry. It was innovative and it stayed with us. You could even see in Tom's reaction that it was a dish to think about. When you tasted it, you weren't sure it worked, but there was something enjoyable about it; the dish didn't simply come together in your mind. It wasn't straight forward. You needed to take a pause, then a second bite, and by the third and fourth bite you started to understand all the different parts, which were very exciting. I think with a few more tries, Mei would’ve really nailed that dish. I was proud of her for pushing us all that way. Then in our bottom two we had Gregory and George. Gregory did the salmon in tom kha broth with roasted tomatoes, crispy chicken skin, and crispy salmon skin.

GS: There were a lot of fun, tasty components to Gregory’s dish. If this challenge had been to show us an interesting representation of salmon or Thai flavors, he would’ve gotten it right. The thing with Gregory is that as skilled as he is, we were really hoping that he would come out of his comfort zone. The flavors he used were what we have seen from him previously. We didn’t really see a lot of innovation from him. That doesn’t mean we don’t think he worked hard or didn't do a good job. He gave us something that he felt was different in presentation, but the flavors were definitely in his usual wheelhouse. As he said himself when cooking beans in the Quickfire, he felt uncomfortable because he's more accustomed to using Asian flavors and ingredients. So here he was in the Elimination Challenge using Asian flavors. On the other hand the dish tasted great! We loved it, we just didn’t think he fulfilled the challenge of being innovative like we know he could have. And then there was George. . .  Yes, he had the charred octopus, yellow split pea puree, and green apple harissa.

GS: George also stayed in his comfort zone in some ways -- he's cooked us octopus before, so charring octopus did not feel innovative at all for him, I actually felt disappointed when he told us that's what he had made. However, there were probably twenty other components of that dish that did make it feel somewhat innovative. The green apple harissa was one of them for sure. The fact that he called it harissa may be taking some license, but that's OK. I loved it, it went so well with the octopus, and it was something new that all of us had never seen. That said, the rest of the dish didn’t make sense all together. At least three or four of the garnishes he added didn’t serve a purpose on the plate, rather, they detracted from the dish. He spent his time making too many components. They may have shown technique, and you could tell that he was really pushing himself, but it all still has to be one cohesive plate of food, first and foremost. I think it didn’t work because he let himself get preoccupied with all the other pieces instead of focusing on doing one thing really well in an innovative way.

Charring octopus did not feel innovative at all for him, I actually felt disappointed when he told us that's what he had made.

So George's was the dish we least enjoyed eating and thought was the least successful, that’s why he went home. I think George did a tremendous job. He came back once already, and he could come back from Last Chance Kitchen again. He’s a great cook, has a great attitude, and I think he absolutely gave his best throughout the competition, which made everyone better. I don’t always say that, but I think when he came back, he really changed the game and the whole season was better for it.

Now, onward to Mexico!