Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Clucked Up

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

Clucked Up

Tom Colicchio doesn't understand why the chefs had such a hard time with the fried chicken challenge.

If you’re confused by what you saw tonight, you’re not alone. Me, too. This was one of the single most confusing challenges I’ve judged in my 10 seasons on this show. We asked the chefs to do one of the simplest things imaginable: make fried chicken. What did we get? Everything except fried chicken. We couldn’t believe it. We were so disappointed -- we’d all really gotten our hopes and appetites up for some good fried chicken. Sometimes you have to leave well enough alone, as was the case here, where the chefs were asked to “go simple,” but this group of chefs just can’t seem to do that -- they tend to overthink what’s asked of them. 

Some challenges ask for chefs to flex their creative muscles; others, such as the one in Episode 4, in which the chefs were asked to recreate dishes from Canlis’s original 1950s menu, ask less that they show culinary genius and more that they show culinary acumen – good, solid food knowledge and technique. This challenge fell squarely into that second camp. Just fry up some delicious fried chicken, please. A good side would be appreciated, too.

So why they didn’t just do that was mystifying to us. As was the recurrent refrain that they didn’t have enough time. Fried chicken is FAST FOOD. It doesn’t take long to make, and to make well. The idea that the chefs didn’t have time to fry up chicken… I don’t quite know what to say. OK, let’s just do this. Let me give you my recipe for fried chicken, so you can see for yourself what I’m getting at:

· Take a chicken.

· Cut said chicken up into eight pieces. Oh, and remove the skin. For crispy chicken, you must remove the skin. The chicken will never crisp up with the skin on. BUT LEAVE THE BONES. DO NOT REMOVE THE BONES.

· Soak the chicken overnight in buttermilk and a little cayenne pepper.

· The next day, take the chicken out of the buttermilk, drain it a little but not a lot.

· Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

· Dredge it in flour.

· Fry it until it’s just crispy but not brown.

· Take it out of the fryer and let it cool down, and then

· Fry it a second time.

· DONE. 

Yes, some people use half potato starch/half flour for crispier skin, some add corn starch, some fry it three times… fine. But the bottom line is that there’s nothing difficult about it, or time-consuming. And yet most of our chefs felt the need to get complex, and, in doing so, they screwed up what could have been a simple and satisfying dish. We couldn’t believe they were using boneless chicken breasts. If you hand most chefs chicken breasts and ask them to make fried chicken, they’ll turn around and tell you, “I can’t make fried chicken with this!” And they’d be right.

Lizzie almost gets a pass (note the “almost”), since she’s been in the States for the least amount of time, but Stefan? Did you hear Wolfgang mention his Austrian mother’s Sunday fried chicken, so near and dear to his heart?  Not to mention that Stefan, by his own admission, eats buckets of KFC all the time. I can’t understand why he gave us a lame rendition of chicken cordon bleu. And all I’ll say about Brooke is that she simply should have known better. 

Their thought processes baffled us, but Josie’s “I didn’t have time to put my chicken on paper towels to get the grease off before serving it to you” was neck and neck with her “my fellow contestants loved my fried chicken” comment for the wackiest thing we heard all night… and her chicken the poorest dish we tasted, by a lot. Had she not served that up, we’d have had other contenders for bottom dish, but she saved the others by serving us something far, far less appealing.So, to all of you who gave me such a hard time last week, you have finally got your wish: Josie’s been sent home. (And if you watched Last Chance Kitchen, you know that she dropped the ball, or, rather, the salmon, and overcooked it to boot, so she’s not coming back. Kristen is holding on to her chef’s coat for the second week in a row.)

On the other end of the chicken-challenge spectrum, Sheldon’s chicken was very tasty, I loved Lizzie’s peach slaw, and Josh not only had a great idea in smoking his chicken, but he actually gave us fried chicken, which, ironically, was refreshing.  Let’s see what our chefs serve us up next week…

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Hugh Acheson wonders about the health of the kids at Emerson College and debates the cost of roasting that much foie gras.

In this, the tenth episode of this 12th season, we open in the kitchen of the chefs super secret lair. Katusji has taken his wit, wisdom and wherewithal back to his Kosher Japanese Cal-Mex empire to work on a masa matzoh ball taco. He is described as "the most loveable dick in the entire world," which seems pretty on point. These remaining five seem saddened because Katsuji provided respite from the drudgery of competition. They mourn as well, because all understood, though it was never talked about, like a solemn vow, that they could all beat Katsuji in this cooking game. He was the San Diego Padres of Top Chef, the team that all the other competition knew would be an easy beat when the time came.

So the quintet of Mei, Gregory, Dougeeeee, Melissa and George remain. They are all have the stuff that could allow them to win the dough, but Mei and Gregory have really shown that if we must have hierarchy then they are the top two contenders.

Quickfire begins with Andy and his college roommate. Andy just told the roommate that those "games" they played late at night in their bunkbeds WILL be talked about in his next book, so Dave, you have some explaining to the wife and kids. Andy, we are told, is "known for his antics." That he is.

Andy exorts the contestants to hook up with each other and I immediately think of Dougie spooning with Georgie. I then have to wash my eyes out with steel wool and bleach to remove the image. This hurts and still the image remains.

Padma gets Andy back on task and she introduces the Quickfire. It is a collegiate showdown of ramen proportions but the catch is that they must use the contents of the fridge of some poor frosh. Out come the stoner, the nerd, the sorority girl, the lady who should have graduated in '05 and one other innocuous soul. Their fridge contents make me worry about a scurvy outbreak at Emerson College.

We are regaled with stories of the craziest things they all did in college. Melissa built a 24-story beer bong. I went to school in Montreal so my craziest times were hanging out at Biftek on St. Laurent and getting drunk playing pool. Oh wait, I DID THAT EVERY NIGHT until I dropped out of college. Luckily I had some cooking skillz.

Gregory concocts a bacon, Doritos, leftover pizza broth, and I am immediately worried about the future of our country. Dougie has made a Cobb salad ramen with a "coconut-pineapple" broth, and I start looking for my Canadian passport. George, who has no idea what ramen is, 'cause Mike Isabella has never let him out before, is cobbling together a version of SpaghettiOs 2.0s. It has a hint of hot dog, but so does Andy, so this may be well liked. Melissa is making a "Crunchy Carbonara Ramen" which is probably already dispensed out of a coin machine in Tokyo and actually sounds pretty tasty. There is hope. Mei makes a smoked tomato miso with upcycled sushi. Sounds okay, so I stow the passport back and the "go bag."

There is no immunity but the winner gets 5K. Not bad for fifteen minutes of work/fame. Bottoms are Mei and Dougie. Tops are Gregory and George with Melissa winning this murky challenge.

They go to the little room of stewage and watch Julia Child. Then Jacques Pepin stops by and everyone gasps in amazement. I do too because if you don’t love Pepin you are not a nice person. He da bomb.

The Elimination Challenge is to come up with a dish inspired from Julia's cooking. Three hours to cook and one hour to finish on site tomorrow. They chat with Jacques for a while to learn the secrets of Julia, other than the fact that she was totally a CIA spy.

Doug is silent because of where he comes from. Texas shrugs as he says, "I grew up in East Texas and here I am meeting Jacques Pepin." Then he follows this ode to the state of Texas with, "I am from Texas so I can't pronounce things very well." C'mon Doug, your state gave us that Rick Perry character! He's fun to watch!

Doug is insistent on making a whole roasted foie gras. George is braising some veal and presenting it with some vegetables and pommes puree. There is some French going on around here. Melissa is challenging herself with shortribs. Mei is making duck a l'orange but you know it will show off some of herself. You can't spell Mei without ME. Gregory is making Coq au Vin. Tom wanders in during cooking to advise them to channel Julia and then they all try to sound like Julia. None of them will ever be known for their impersonation abilities.

We eat. It's outside. It's beautiful. The diners, or the we, are Dana Cowin, Jacques, Alex Prudhomme (related to Julia), Tom, Padma, Boston chefs Barbara Lynch, Joanne Chang, Mary Dumont, and little old me. I am hungry so don't talk much.

The food is really good overall. There were some issues like drier ribs, monotonous veal, raw foie, and maybe some flabby duck skin, but pound-for-pound they did the dishes well. Tops are Gregory and Mei, and the verdict is an interesting one. Gregory nailed a classic, but it was like he channeled Julia too much and did a textbook version, while Mei nailed a riff on a dish with her duck a l'orange. It is arbitrary who should win but Mei pulls it off and wins a just decision.

Not so arbitrary but still close is the bottom trio of Melissa, George, and Doug. Melissa erred in rib cookery. George cooked stunning veg but it was the veal that was a yawn. Alas, Doug bows out with his dish, a dish that he had never done but dreamed about. You don't just do roasted whole lobes of foie at the restaurant you work at, cause the owner chef would probably stab you if you ruined the 300 bucks in product. But this is TV money so he took a chance. The problem is that cooking whole foie is tricky. You can''t sear it too much or you will render away the beauty, and then you need to temper-roast it in a medium heat oven. Then it comes out and you rest it on a wire rack. It is pretty much served just warm. He did all of those steps, but over-seared it and then cooked it a hair hot, and not long enough, resultingin a greasy, yet raw internal. Funny thing is that the rest of the stuff on the plate was awesome. Well Doug, you were a favorite of ours and I wish you much success in Last Chance Kitchen.

And now we are four. Until next time.

For a good time, follow me on Twitter @hughacheson

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