Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Salmon Fishing in the United States

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

Salmon Fishing in the United States

Everyone's full of hilarious one-liners. Maybe it's the crabs!

Hello, my little Jonah crab claws (my personal favorites!) Kristen is kicking arse and taking names in Last Chance Kitchen. Her last defeat is over her own hubby, Stefan! I'll miss Stefan, but I won't miss another awkward kiss on the mouth between these two. Back at the chefs' digs, the remaining four chefs -- Brooke, Josh, Lizzie, and Sheldon -- are talking about how good-hearted Stefan is. I know they mean it, but it sounds so insincere. Sheldon does admit that he thought Stefan was the front-runner for the win. Interesting. Josh also reveals that his wife's due date is fast-approaching, and he wants to tell his wife not to have the baby until he's back. Good luck to you, sir.

The chefs head out into the cold, and Sheldon drops this bomb on us: "I better throw on a couple extra underwear, just so I can keep the package nice and warm, y'know?" Oh, we know, Sheldon. We know. 

The chefs are greeted by Padma and Chef Sean Brock -- someone I've heard Hugh Acheson laud many a time -- at Tracey's King Crab Shack. I love, love, love crab. I'd rather have crab than lobster. Whenever I just need a quick fix in NYC, I usually go to BLT Fish Shack. Our very own Harold Dieterle also held Crab Mondays at his restaurant, Kin Shop, this past year, so hopefully he'll keep them going next year. 

Our chefs are tasked with creating a dish highlighting Alaskan Crab. Literally five seconds after I think about how I would eat all the crab in sight, Brooke echoes my thoughts: "I'm not going to have any crab to use cause I can't stop eating it," she says.

Brooke makes crab toast, deemed "easy" by Chef Brock, but I think he was going for the word "simple." Making a good compound butter is not easy. That being said, he loved the dish, despite himself. I would literally buy Dungeness crab compound butter by the boatload, so start sellin' it, Brooke! 

Josh serves succotash -- or "suckertash" as Brooke calls it -- which made Sean feel like he was at home. So, Josh thought he "nailed it. 100%." Unfortunately, Sean is a "succotash snob," and didn't care for the unnecessary bacon or broken sauce. Fair. So far, Josh has unsuccessfully served succotash to Sean Brock and grits to Hugh Acheson. Eek!

Lizzie's crab got lost with all the other flavors going on in her fritatta. Got to be careful with those capers!And so, Sheldon wins with his "miso." Aaand, Sheldon's got his groove back!

On to the Elimination Challenge: Salmon and Sourdough! I use an exclamation mark, but I actually don't enjoy hot salmon (as my loyal readers already know), and sourdough is probably my least favorite type of bread. (Geez, who invited the Debbie Downer?!) The chefs are given a 30-year-old starter and start baking in their home. 

Oh, wait! I forgot the most important part! Sheldon scares the s--- out of his competitors back at the house, and it's amazing.

Some of the chefs go traditional while others try to add other elements to it. I love when bread has little surprises in it (besides raisins!), so I'm down with the idea. Josh promises he won't use bacon. "I'm done with bacon apparently," he declares. I don't believe him.

The next morning the chefs head to get their salmon. I don't think I've ever seen salmon that color in my life, and I will probably never eat salmon that fresh... unless I visit Alaska, obviously. Fishing and cleaning fish reminds Lizzie of her father, so we see heartbreaking photos of the two of them together. I cry for maybe the first time this whole season, which is rare for me, but my heart just breaks for Lizzie. 

We learn that Josh's wife is dilating, and that Sheldon yells "Yahtzee!" a lot. Equally important, obviously.

As Tom does his walk-through, some of the chefs start to get nervous. First, there's Sheldon who doesn't understand why Tom thinks his dish idea is funny. He is less nervous after Tom explains that he's been craving pea soup. In fact, he yells "Boom!" And I giggle.

While Tom is excited that Lizzie is roasting her fish whole, he has some pause about Brooke poaching hers on-site. I actually think Brooke's nervousness was based more on Tom's tone when he asked why she was poaching her fish, rather than him necessarily thinking that was a horrible idea. But, who knows?

There are bears at the site where the judges are and Tom makes a joke about them being his fanbase. Has Tom gotten funnier, or is it me? I'd like to think that Hugh's off-beat humor might be rubbing off on Tom. Either way, I love it.Brooke serves her dish, and despite Hugh commenting that her mustard seeds were unappetizing-looking, everyone loves it. She wins.

Sheldon serves chum, which he deems "pretty cool," but is apparently what locals serve to their dogs. I don't know if we can state that fact in a negative way anymore. Have you seen what people feed their dogs?! They eat very well! But, Sean wasn't thrilled with how Sheldon handled his fish -- he kept grinding the salmon, to which Hugh hilariously demonstrated the grinding of the salmon. Also, Hugh thought his soup was like baby food. Uh-oh, Sheldon.

I interrupt this recap to present once again that beautiful story Emeril told about his chef saving his restaurant's mother dough. You can watch it again HERE.

Next up is Josh, and although his components are cooked correctly, it's a ltitle off-balance.

Finally, Lizzie offers her salmon sliders. Her bread looked delicious, but it was just too much for the salmon on it. Because she didn't marinate the salmon in her beet-citrus sauce, the flavor was lost. We'll later learn that she never tried her composed dish. Top Chef Cardinal Sin No. 1! 

Despite Josh's balance issues and Sheldon's creation of a "world of bitterness," ultimately, LIzzie heads home. And in her own words, all I say is "shucks."

Lizzie heads to Last Chance Kitchen in its penultimate episode before the Last Chance Kitchen finale. Good luck, Lizzie!

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!