Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Wherein Stefan Finds a Horse’s Head in his Waterbed

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

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. 

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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 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!