Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Josh's Georgia Rule - Ep 15

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

Josh's Georgia Rule - Ep 15

The pork-loving ginger competes in Alaska while his wife gives birth back in Oklahoma.

Hello my little, torchons! This is an exciting time in the season. All the Save a Chef votes are in, this week's Last Chance Kitchen episode is the digital series' season finale, and after this week's episode, there are only two episodes left before we crown our tenth Top Chef! Ahhh! Kristen knocked out Lizzie in last week's episode, continuing her winning streak. Now, only two chefs stand in her way of making it to the finale.

We're down to two men and a lady... with another lady on the way; Josh's wife is a week overdue. Oy! 

The chefs get a note from Padma and head to Eaglecrest, where they're greeted by a helicopter. Brooke starts crying because she hates heights, enclosed spaces, etc. She sucks it up though (and grips on to her competitors for dear life), and the chefs arrive at their destination -- Norris' Glacier at the base of Guardian Mountain -- for some dog sledding.

"I would die for some good reefer," declares Sheldon. This reaction surprises no one.

Padma and Tom are already there waiting for the chefs to arrive, looking winter wonderland chic, and explain to the chefs that they're at the site of an Iditarod training camp. Everything I know about the Iditarod I read in a Malcolm Gladwell book (if only I could remember which one.) For their last Quickfire Challenge before the finale, the chefs have to create dishes using ingredients found only in the training camp.

Josh -- one half of Team Husky, which is apparently what Sheldon and Josh have called themselves all season (since when?) -- makes breakfast. Shocking. Also shocking is that Josh had to make a scramble at the last minute because his original desired method wasn't setting correctly. Unfortuntely, the scramble didn't really either. I wonder what else Josh would scramble if it didn't work out. I think the possibilities may be endless. Sheldon's halibut is good, but his sauce is a little one-note. Brooke -- who also made halibut -- wins. No immunity, though.After the Quickfire, Padma hops in the chefs' car to drive them to their next destination. I honestly don't know if I would let Padma drive me anywhere. Her beauty would distract other drivers on the road. Yeah, that's it. Seems dangerous. They arrive at a house where Emeril and Roy Choi are cooking in the kitchen. I love that Emeril needs to only go by one name, while Roy Choi always needs two. He's always Roy Choi. Never just Roy. Brooke and Roy reveal their past culinary history in L.A. and you can tell Roy has a lot of respect for Brooke. Thankfully this wasn't a case where Roy applied for a job at one of Brooke's restaurants and she didn't hire him. Did I mention I'm eating at Son of a Gun on my trip to L.A. next week? Can't wait!

As Roy (Choi) cooks his rice, he explains his cleaning process, specifically how he transfers all his ancestors into the rice. I wonder if they sell ancestors at Whole Foods. They'd probably be organic. Y'know, add a little texture to the rice.

As the chefs sit down to eat, Roy (Choi) and Emeril describe the dishes they prepared. Roy (Choi) made traditional braised short rib and shares a really moving story about how he was in a bad place in his life -- how much of a troublemaker, I have no idea -- and how watching Emeril on TV changed his life. He knew he wanted to be a chef. Man, any time Emeril tells a story or someone else tells a story about Emeril, I get teary-eyed. Emeril talks about working in a Portugese bakery. He makes cornbread the traditional Southern way -- no sugar. He bonds with Josh over this little detail. 

Finally, the chefs are issued their challenge -- to create dishes that represent the definining culinary moments in their lives. They'll be cooking for the Governor or Alaska (no, not that one) and the state's First Lady. 

When the chefs get home, Josh gets a call from his wife -- her water broke and she's heading to the hospital. Ahhh! It may have seemed weird to some of you when his wife says she hopes her hubby is still competing. You must remember how confidential Top Chef is -- the chefs literally can't tell anyone how far they get in the competition, so his wife didn't know if he's been eliminated yet! Oh, man. Brooke keeps asking Josh if he wants to go home and I'm sure she means well, but it feels a little like she's trying to psych him out. Or maybe I'm just a terrible human being and think the worst of people. 

During Tom's walk-through, Brooke reveals that she still doesn't quite know what she wants to do, which could be trouble. Josh reveals that he's making foie gras torchon in less than 24 hours, which is apparently impossible. This could also be trouble. Tom psychs Sheldon out a bit by warning him not to plate his fish too soon. "I don't want to screw you up. If you don't get plated, don't blame me." Oy. Guess what? This could be TROUBLE!

Back at the house, Josh gets THE CALL. He is now a father to Georgia, named after Josh's father. Ugh -- I love this so much. Mazel tov, Josh!!!

"How can you concentrate?" asks Brooke.

Lay off, Brooke!

The chefs are ready for the their meal down memory lane. Sheldon is on top of his A-game. I'm mean to point this out, but I am so amused when he combines these two expressions. Don't worry, Sheldon -- our Housewives concoct their own idioms all the time. Sheldon took Tom's advice and waited till the last minute to plate. HIs fish were perfect, but his broth was too salty because he let it reduce too long. 

Brooke's chicken and quail dish is well-received as well, although Wolfgang's quail is overcooked. 

Josh's torchon is just not set correctly. In fact, he had to put it in the freezer while he was preparing it to speed up the process.

So, after 28 challenges, Brooke wins, and Josh goes home to his wife and new baby girl. I think those are pretty sweet prizes. Josh mentions that he wants "revenge" in Last Chance Kitchen. On whom I'm not so sure, but good luck in there, Josh!

And we have our two finalists. To find out who they'll be competing against, watch the Last Chance Kitchen finale HERE.

Until next week, Have a Nosh!

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!