Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Keep it Moving - Ep 1

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

Keep it Moving - Ep 1

Pride hurts some chefs competing for the chance to compete in Seattle.

Welcome back, my little Belgian knights! It's been a little over a month since I"ve had the pleasure of recapping for you (Masters), and much longer than that since Top Chef 9. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself! My name is Monica, and I'm Senior Editor here at I'm also a huge Top Chef fan and a total foodie (for lack of a better term.) I'll be recapping this season of Top Chef: Seattle.

I'm so excited about this new season of Top Chef, and I kinda loved this premiere. Last season, we aired casting, which we've done again, but switched up the process a bit. This time, the contenders faced four of our judges in challenges created by the chefs. As a viewer, I loved seeing Tom, Wolfgang, Emeril, and Hugh in their natural habitats, and seeing the chefs put in a real kitchen right away.

First, we find Tom at Craft in Los Angeles, where his chefs had perhaps the toughest challenge of them all -- to perform in the kitchen during a real service. We've got tortellini, butchering, sweating! We learn quickly to never "nick a breast." Heed these words carefully, men!

We meet John, who is apparently the most hated chef in Dallas. He's been in the industry for quite some time, and at the age of 54, has a reputation for being hothead. He does not look 54. 

We meet Micah Fields, chef at The Standard Grill. I love The Standard. Not only is the food great, but the ambiance and servers are awesome. I actually enjoyed a lovely Autumn Bramble the other night in my attempt to patronize downtown restaurants in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and met a lovely group from Denmark in town for work and the marathon. They asked me about my cocktail (brambles are one of my favorites), and we bonded. It was a true New York moment, and I'll just thank Micah for that, even though he had nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, although Micah might be bringing people together on the East Coast, he's tearing fish apart in Tom's West Coast kitchen. In fact, Tom has to instruct Micah on how to filet a fish more efficiently (effishently?) Then there's Anthony who's fileting duck with a paring knife -- a choice Tom quickly questions. Jorel is butchering chickens, but doesn't ask Tom how'd like them and cuts the meat off the bone -- something Tom didn't want. Whoops!

Next, we head to one of Emeril's Vegas restaurants, Table 10 at the Palazzo. First thing I notice is that we already have two chefs with handlebar moustaches. In case you weren't counting. Emeril's challenge? To cook soup, saying, "It's a true test to see if you're a great chef." If this doesn't show what a student of Escoffier Emeril is, I just don't know what does. Auguste Escoffier is quoted as saying, "Of all the items on the menu, soup is that which exacts the most delicate perfection and the strictest attention." Try to think back to some of your most memorable amuses or dishes, and they very well may have been soups,. I'm thinking of one right now -- John Besh's cucumber soup at August in New Orleans. One of the best things I've ever consumed.Anyway! Tina goes for a "layered" soup with seafood, chorizo. Although I'm all for anything with chorizo, her soup sends her home. We learn that Kristen and Stephanie are really close -- they live in the same apartment building and have matching tattoos, but they make sure to tell us they're not lesbians. Kristen reminds me of Jenny Shimizu. Is it just me? We also learn about boob sweat -- apparently a real issue for female chefs. We also learn that if he makes it to Seattle, Josh may miss the birth of his daughter. Wow. We meet the adorable Jeffrey Jew whose chilled soup first gives Emeril pause. "You got a chiller in your pocket?" To which Emeril laughs at his own joke, and I subsequently laugh at Emeril. Emeril is a sweetheart, so him laughing at his own comments just cracks me up. But, Jeffrey pulls it off, and gets ta ticket to Seattle. The girls are separated. Kristen stays. Stephanie and Tina go home. 

We head back to Tom's kitchen. I just want to give a real kudos to Tom's regular staff for really teaching the Top Chefs what to do and not getting annoyed with them -- signs of true chefs. John gets a coat!

We head to Wolfgang's kitchen where he asks his chefs to make omelets. Two things about omelets: 1) everything I know about making one is from Jacques Pepin on PBS. Always use a whisk rather than a beater. 2) I still remember the best omelet I"ve ever had, and it was on Cape Cod years ago, sooo omelets aren't only harder than they look, but they can really stay with a diner.

We meet firecracker Carla, who was married to the owner of Rao's. She has a sort of early Janice Dickinson look going on, and she's loud, sooo predict she will probably ruffle some feathers in the kitchen. We meet Tyler Wiard whose omelet goes brown pretty quickly. Wolfgang assures the chefs that he's "an easy guy as long as you do it exactly the way [he wants.] Ha! And, "The stove is like a woman. It never does what it's supposed to." HIlarious, Wolfgang. Ahem. Tyler isn't the only one who has problems with his eggs. Daniel who has already told us how well his Washington-based restaurant is doing has a layer of grease on his. "Accept, adapt, move forward," he says. Perhaps instead of moving forward he should remake his dish. Carla doesn't like the look of hers so she covers with garnish. Wolfgang tells Eliza to add red meat, she does, and she moves forward. In fact, everyone moves forward except for Daniel, and he is not happy about it. I almost forgot Kuniko, who was a banker in Japan before coming to America to pursue her culinary career. I'm fascinated by her already.

After they earn their coats, the chefs are treated to an omelet tutorial by Wolfgang -- a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Next we head to Hugh's kitchen at Empire State South in Atlanta, Georgia. Hugh tasks the chefs with making salads, something Hugh apparently lives on -- look at him! We meet Bart, a Belgian knight. As we saw in ther previews, Hugh asks him if he wears a suit of armor in the kitchen. No? That's good. Belly laughs. Bart's a looker. Gina describes herself as a "ferocious tiger." We'll leave that alone for now. Danyele is flaring her tomato and Gina the Ferocious Tiger thinks she should know better, that it's "ridiculously amateurish." The Belgian is making a mess with the blender and Hugh calls them out on their messiness. As Hugh offers his final critiques, Gina says "You'll make me cry -- stop it." Hugh retorts "Well, no, we could make you cry." Then tells her her salad looks nice." Ouch. Hugh is feeling saucy. Aaand Gina goes home. She goes to the Land of Overly-Proud Chefs with Daniel. Gina, of course, insists tha Hugh has made a mistake. She's not a chef. She's a movement. Wellll, then she won't mind moving on out of the kitchen. Oh! Maybe I'm feeling saucy too.

We're back with Tom where he makes his final decisions. Lizzie impresses from the start with her tortellini-making skills, and makes it through. Micah moves forward because he entered that kitchen like a boss. Everyone else goes home.

And so, we have our 15 chefs moving on to Seattle.

The preview of the rest of the season looks great. We've got Chris Pratt and Anna Faris making hilarious jokes, we've got the gorgeous Curtis Stone in a flattering sweater, we've got Kristen getting a foot rub from an anonymous chef. It's going to be a good season.

Who are your early favorites?! Let me know in the comments below! 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!