Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Wherein Stefan Finds a Horse’s Head in his Waterbed

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

Wherein Stefan Finds a Horse’s Head in his Waterbed

Hugh Acheson weighs in on Stefan's sexist comments.


I have to be honest with you about the chefs and sleep: they don’t get much of it. This has never been the industry for enjoying ten hours a night, but at this point in the competition you are making friends, grating on enemies, working really long days, and tipping a martini glass upside down when you should be slumbering. 

So sleeplessly the chefs rumble in to be greeted by Dana Cowin, editor of Food & Wine and a mover and shaker in the world of restaurants. This is going to be a worldly dumpling challenge, which should be very interesting. How hard can a disc of flour and water with some filling be? Well, we are about to find out. 

Dana claims to have eaten her weight in dumplings, which is actually not much more than a couple of happy meals. She ain’t tipping the scales to hefty.  

So on to the challenge. They get outfitted with Kindle Fires to do this research, but Carla? She’s more of a classic book girl. They pick their countries and Micah doesn’t think Kazahkstan is real, but if it is, he is putting it into his “Middle Eastern file.” Sure, it’s a mostly Islamic state, but it ain’t in the Middle East. Even with this geographic illiteracy I am still hoping for an “Arab Spring” dumpling which oozes freedom from its crisp shell. Carla’s hand is “kind of useless” which will further hurdle her chances of success, as she has to make the fufu dumpling, kind of like a massive plantain-flour gnocchi.  

Josie explains the dumpling as “love in an envelope.” I am temporarily enjoying her TV company. Brooke has no flour. Carla is freakin’ out. Stefan was born with a silver dumpling nestled in his Germanic palm. Pictures are shown when he had hair, before the accident we never talk about. He is exuding confidence. 

Less confident is Kuniko. You can be an awesome chef who will not excel in the reality environment. It’s happened before. For right now, she’s having her ups and downs. Comme ci comme ca. 

The timer gets to her this time and she has no dumpling when it comes Padma’s feeding time. The other chefs do put up product with varying results. Stefan kills it with a German dumpling. Lizzie rocks a Hungarian dessert dumpling. Carla has just decided to wing it. CJ has a nice pierogi and I friggin’ love pierogies. The dumplings fling on by, with Bart making regal fried hair dumplings and Kristen making Nepalese momos. Tesar makes something unpronounceable that my kids keep repeating in a potty humor marathon: “Kroppkaka. Kroppkaka.” This word should not get into the hands of a third-grade class in the USA, as all cultural understanding will be lost and be replaced with fart jokes. Nudie or Gnudi dumpling from Brooke, named by Dana. Alas, Brooke has no wrapper. I have no filter. All good. Micah went all out and is very confident again. He is consistently confident. 

Josie wins with her Korean Mandu dumpling. I could eat that. Immunity is granted from the immediate further proceedings. 

Turkey day meal for charity. Gray team vs. Red Team. Emeril and Tom are going to be leading the teams and guiding them on their versions of the holiday spread. For Tom that means Italian fresh, and for Emeril that means Nawlins’ delights. Padma quotes Arnold and everyone is giddy. 

Carla tells about struggles with sexism in the kitchen and Stefan classily responds with, “That’s why I left Europe… European women.” He insinuates that Carla’s ex is a mafiaso, and naturally a national T.V. show is the most anonymous place to do this.

The judges help the teams out for a while cooking and planning, and then the teams pack up for the meal leaving their judges to dress in civilian garb to pass judgment. 

Gumbo, dressings, raviolis, whipped potatoes, spicy turkey, Bam powder, and desserts abound. Stefan is on a landgrab mission and doing his thing. He’s aggressive until you actually defend, and then he recoils.  

Josie’s turkey gets all burnt, up but it’s like a blackened turkey, pink and raw in the center. Yummy. Kuniko is running behind, and we hear about Tyler’s battle with alcoholism. In all seriousness, I wish him the best of luck and strength in that battle. It’s a malaise in our industry and has taken out many a great chef. I had a soft spot for him before cause he just speaks his mind, but now I find myself holding pompoms and cheering whenever he comes on-screen. 

Tom and Emeril come in and conduct a turkey inspection. Tom spits out the gumbo. Emeril does the spice dance. DO NOT TASTE CARLA’S SOUP. She’s a little defensive and tries to attack Stefan’s hairless head. 


The dinner starts up and Thierry is in the house. The hat is on. Love the FareStart charity involvement. Timers go off and its time to eat. 

Gray Team first. That turkey does not look great. Sashimi of seasoned gobbler. Dressings are great. Kristen’s veg is good, but has a crème fraiche addition that is deemed unnecessary. Tyler’s gumbo is not terrific, and Kuniko’s pave is undercooked. Potato pave and gratin is another classic failure dish on Top Chef and took out Whitney Otawka last year. Sheldon’s greens are a little underdone, which is not good for the Southern style. Biscuits rule by Brooke, and desserts are judges to be quite stellar, yet a touch grainy. 

Carla has a strange way of delivering a really good point about sexism in the kitchen. It’s rampant and needs to be stamped out. Stefan is not helping to remove that glass ceiling from fine kitchens. He actually is building a stronger roof of machismo. 

Red Team brings the Tom thunder. Stefan takes the reigns in the German prince role that he revels in. CJ’s turkey looks great with it’s traditional stuffing of Italian foie gras. Carla’s soup is killer. Bart’s greens look fresh and light and enjoyable to me, but Padma wants some refinement. Josh’s raviolis are a little off. Thick outer dough makes them tough. Brussels need salt. Whipped potatoes rule. Thanks, Joel Robuchon. Desserts are sweetly contested, but are a letdown in the end. 

Tom’s Red Team wins. Someone on Twitter is chalking that up to socialism. 

Tyler, Kuniko, Josie, and Sheldon in the bottom tier. Kuniko is done. 

Kuniko has no regrets and is well-loved by the fellow chefs. That’s the nicest way of leaving the show you can ever hope for. Just to keep it real, Tesar rips her good reputation as the door closes. Classy John, classy. Maybe there will be a Last Chance Kitchen and Kuniko will make amends. Happy Thanksgiving to all. 

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!