Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Slow Your Roll, Josie - Ep 7

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

Slow Your Roll, Josie - Ep 7

Oh, and Micah, you too!

Welcome back, my little tayberries! Let's start this week by looking back on the latest episode of Last Chance Kitchen where reigning champs CJ and Tyler compete against newly-eliminated chef, Eliza. This time, though, CJ and Tyler break up, and CJ couldn't be more happy about it. I was amused by CJ saying he could now do what he wanted to do because he wasn't on a team. Well, CJ, that pork burger was your idea. ("Touche, Monica!") The three chefs have to cook using the two ingredients that kicked them in the arse, respectively, pickles and carrots, in 30 minutes. I actually kinda hate carrots, so the thought of these dishes didn't appeal to me at first, but the three chefs were inventive with their offerings. Eliza redeemed her carrot disaster, but not enough to pull her through. Tyler makes a desconstructed ceviche, which also isn't enough for the win. In the end, CJ won with his Pan-Roasted Trout, Carrot Puree, and Charred Pickles. Roasted Pickles! Who woulda thunk it? 

Back to the Top Chef Kitchen! This week's Quickfire is presented by Padma and Season 4 winner, Stephanie Izard! Hi, Stephanie! The last time I went to Chicago was prior to Stephanie's win, so I'm very excited to finally eat at Girl and the Goat when I return this April. Stephanie is here to issue a very cruel challenge -- the chefs have to create a dish using pantry items wrapped in Reynolds Wrap. If they grab a product and unwrap it, they have to use it. I want to give a huge shout-out to our production team for wrapping everything in foil! I don't even want to know how long that took. The most obvious way to cook with only aluminum foil is to make a papillote, which traditionally uses parchment paper, but doesn't have to. Bart says this challenge is like "fun and game." Yes, Bart. Yes, it is. Obviously the chefs have some idea of what's where in the kitchen, and they can obviously see the shapes of their items and somewhat feel the texture, see if the product has any "give." Oh, remember when Stefan almost fell on the floor while asking, "Where's the Reynolds Wrap?" Good one.

Kristen goes for the gold (or is it silver in this case?) and decides to make a cake. John makes a soup! Micah is making lamb with panzanella -- an idea that just came to him. "It's almost a gift and I can't describe it," he says with no sarcasm whatsoever. Easy, Micah. Back with Bart, he's shaping bowls on his head (very sanitary I'm sure), but we later discover he has fashioned a strainer. Did I read this man all wrong? Do I want to be stranded on a desert island with Bart?! Maybe. Stephanie and Padma go around foiling everyone's plans. Hehe. Stefan lucks out with salmon and potatoes and ends up in the top group. As does beautiful Bart. Danyele, StefanSheldon and his smokiness, and Josie also impress Stephanie. Kristen's cake is the winner though. Yay, Kristen! Micah's dish was deemed too raw, and you could tell it was by simply looking at it. He scoffed at the idea. EASY, MICAH! Brooke's dish wasn't seasoned enough, and Josh's was "uninspired." Way harsh, Steph.For the Elimiation Challenge, the five runner-up chefs select one chef from the bottom five to compete head-to-head. The challenge is to create a dish highlighting a specific berry for 150 festival goers. The festival is the Remlinger Farms Berry Festival. I looove berries, and I have it on good authority that Gail Simmons does too. We caught you red-handed (literally) swiping those raspberries, Gail! Sheldon selects Micah and gets strawberries. Danyele selects Josh for an Oklahoma vs. Texas blueberry showdown. Stefan wants John since they're both so old (just kidding!) and cook with gooseberries. Josie gets LIzzie and raspberries (my fave.) Finally, Bart gets Brooke and blackberries Brooke is flattered that she's the last one chosen, as she should be. My real question is: Where are the snozberries?! Different challenge I guess. 

A couple key things happen while the chefs are cooking. First, we see a sarcastic and ballsy side to Danyele. Maybe her top spot during the Quickfire gave her a little more confidence, and I'm digging it. Secondly, Bart and John get into a little tiff over a blender. Bart needs one and John has one. John doesn't appear to be using it yet, but that doesn't mean he won't be using it shortly. I honestly could go either way on this argument. I guess the best way to squash it would have been for John to say he would be using it in a moment, but give Bart a timeframe on when he'd be done, rather than just denying him the blender. But I will say it was odd seeing Bart get aggressive. He and Danyele must have drank the same thing before the challenge!

And perhaps the most important moment occurred during Tom's walk-through. John drops the frozen fish bomb on Tom, referring to Stefan's dish. John basically defended this "throw-under-the-bus" moment by saying that Stefan started it. Hmmm, I don't know, John. Stefan madea joke about your age to Tom, which affects nothing. Doesn't quite seem like the same thing. And although his purchase of frozen fish may have seemed like a death wish from the get-go, it didn't have to be. The reason this seemed different than other times on the show where chefs haven't used fresh or non-sustainable items is that 1) it wasn't part of the challenge, 2) Stefan claims (and honestly I don't know enough to check it) that his fish was of extremely high quality, and also, usually the chefs' dishes are so bad because they don't know how to use the product. Stefan's dish wasn't bad. 

Oh, also, Micah reveals his children's names are Sage and Saffron. Not cinnamon cause that sounds like a stripper name. I obviously go through the spices in my cabinet to see which are stripper, which aren't. Fun new game alert! Cardmom? Not stripper. Nutmeg? Total stripper. 

I won't go through every single dish, but I will say that Josie really had a rude awakening this week. It's obvious she knew she got in way over her head. The minute she said she'd be rolling the sushi a la minute, I said "Stupid" aloud. Sorry, Josie! Not sure if she thought her little show would detract from the slow cooktime, but it didn't. I think if her roll had been worth the wait, the judges maybe could have overlooked it, but it wasn't. Fortunately for Josie, Danyele's dish was worse. Danyele made a rubbery almost bologna-like terrine with a thick, too-crunchy crostini. I would also like to note that although the judges weren't in love with Micah's offering, I wanted to eat the shit out of that. 

Back in the Stew Room -- or is it Boiling Room now? who can keep track -- the chefs start turning on each other. Stefan tells John to "Suck it hard." sSuch vulgarity, Stefan! Josie says something about her kitchen being a van and the chef being the drum. Methinks it's time for Josie to join Eliza on a Widespresad Panic tour. Josh says Josie's laugh makes his soul hurt. Ouch.

The top go before the judges and Kristen wins again with her tayberries -- a berry I honestly don't think I've ever consumed. Kristen is two for two! Stefan kisses her on the cheek and refers to her as "wifey." Awww?

The bottom group goes before the judges and make excuses. When they return to the Stew Room, just as Josie is putting on a show, er, talking about how the jduges don't want to see a show, Stefan cuts her off and they start arguing. Josie tells Stefan he's acting like a 30-year-old. Since i'm only 29, should I not take offense to that? Oh well. Ultimtely, Josie is safe, and Danyele heads to Last Chance Kitchen to compete against defending champ CJ! I guess Danyele wasn't far off when she revealed last week that she wasn't cut out for this type of competition. What a sad self-fulfilled prophecy.

Next week -- yes, the day after Christmas -- is an all-new episode, so until then, Have a Nosh, and have a berry (hehe) Merry Christmas to those celebrating!

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!