Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Staying Well While Eating Well

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

Fin, Found, Floundering

What Danny Meyer Taught Gail Simmons

'Top Chef' Goes to Hog Heaven

Gris Gris Boucherie Ya Ya

Brian and Travis' Dud Spuds

Staying Well While Eating Well

Tom's had enough of the chefs' excuses.

I liked this week’s challenge: asking the contestants to make healthy dishes inspired by dishes from the prior nine seasons was a great way to both push the chefs creatively and to acknowledge this tenth-season milestone that Top Chef has reached. This was a great challenge: moving beyond snarky soundbytes that might make for dramatic moments here and there, the challenge asked this season's chefs to focus on the food from seasons past, which is where I believe the strength of this show lies. At the end of the day, I am proud of what the show has brought out in the chefs season after season, and I would like to think that the show’s longevity is due to the food it has inspired. I know that this is what the challenge intended to capture, so I would prefer to keep the focus on the dishes, not the drama.

Along those lines, I am sorry to see that people still believe that Alex stole Ed's pea puree he used in Season 7. We clarified in that season’s reunion episode that he had made his own pea puree. There were six cameras running in that kitchen that day, I was there doing my typical rounds, and producers abounded. Not only was it impossible for Alex to have swiped the pea puree, but it’s clear from footage that he did, in fact, make it. I hope that this week’s episode did not perpetuate the fallacy that he didn't. Alex was wrongly defamed by his co-contestants in Season 7 -- his integrity should not be further maligned now.

Looking at what came out of this week’s challenge, there was a lot to be pleased with. I can’t say enough about Kristen’s winning dish -- it was beautiful. I’m always excited to see a young chef conceptualizing food in new ways. Most people faced with making a healthier pot pie would stay stuck in the notion that they had to make a pot pie with a crust. Kristen said, “I don’t need crust,” and yet she managed to make a dish that hearkened without question to chicken pot pie. Her chicken was cooked perfectly, her sauces were seasoned nicely, and, when taken as a whole, the dish delivered on its promise -- it was a healthier dish inspired by the pot pie from Season 8. This type of approach separates the chefs who rise to the top from those who don’t. They are willing to think about food differently… and they have the chops to execute their vision.As for the bottom dishes, you might think it’s unfair that Lizzie was on the bottom when she’d been assigned a scallop dish but was sold inferior scallops. You might say that she had no choice and did the best with what she had. You might even ask what she might have done differently. Here’s what: any number of things.  

Lizzie’s first mistake was made at the market. She needed to check her scallops before purchasing them. If they weren’t good, she could have gone to a producer and said, “I have to make a scallop dish, but the scallops today aren’t OK to purchase.” And if the producers couldn’t -- or wouldn’t -- find her better scallops, she could have gotten creative without them. She could have made scalloped potatoes, for example, endeavoring to make the very best (and healthiest) scalloped potatoes in her power, and then explained to us why she had chosen to do them. Maybe she’d make win-worthy scalloped potatoes, and maybe not. But she certainly would not have landed in the bottom two. Lizzie had no idea that there was a problem with the scallops she’d bought until she got into the kitchen, and she should have known. So she landed herself in the bottom fair and square.  

As did John. Yes, as a general rule, good equipment’s important, and if the pans have aluminum in them, they can get bowed. But a flat bottom is more important when you’re searing or roasting something than when making risotto. With risotto, you’re constantly moving the rice, so it shouldn’t matter if the bottom is slightly bowed. So .I just don’t buy John’s excuse.  [And, for the record, never in all the past seasons of Top Chef did I say that the contestants should not make risotto, as one of the diners in this episode said. If they screw it up, they screw it up. I think risotto can be tricky because it should be eaten right away, which creates a timing issue. But that’s not a reason not to make risotto. It’s just a factor to consider, so that the chef can get it right.]

I also don’t buy John’s gripe that he should not have had to do a cook-off with Lizzie, since her bad scallops were clearly worse than his uneven risotto.  What he failed to realize was that he and Lizzie were not doing a cook-off because we just couldn’t figure out which dish was worse. Rather, the cook-off between the bottom two dishes was built into this challenge from the get-go.  Remember Padma waving a Kindle when they were first handed out and saying that Season 10’s memorable moment would make an appearance later in the challenge? No matter how close or far apart the bottom two dishes were, the chefs who made them were going to find themselves facing off to make a healthy dish based on CJ’s burger.One last thing John said that I don’t buy: his claim that he was being magnanimous by sharing the pickles with Lizzie. This was a pickle-and-burger challenge. It’s tacit that we expected them to share the pickles, so no, he could not have put the extra jar of pickles under his arm and won by keeping them from Lizzie. That’s just silly. John mentioned that he’s seen all the seasons. He, more than any of the other contestants, seemed to be thinking that he was supposed to be engaged in some sort of gamesmanship, rather than just being expected to make great food. But that is the game. Chefs win by repeatedly cooking the best food they can. Period. As I wrote above, if they think about food inventively and have the skill set to execute their ideas effectively, they set themselves apart… and can win. It’s really that simple. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

P.S. Yes, Bob Kramer’s knives, with their rare wood handles and great blades, really will set you back $4-5,000 each… if you can even get one. There’s a long list of people who have ordered them, and since Kramer makes them so slowly, he has a lottery system, sometimes randomly selecting people off the waiting list and sometimes selecting those who have been waiting the longest (he feels it’s fairest to mix it up that way), so it can be a long while before your order is filled. He has begun making some knives for Henckels, though, so you can invest less money and time in getting one now.

 

Gail Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

So she's going to take more time shopping at Whole Foods -- and ask for the best of Melissa's basket and Adam's shrimp.

Bravotv.com: Let's dive right in. How did it feel to go shopping?
Gail Simmons: Shopping at Whole Foods was fantastic and hilarious. It made us realize that you need to be strategic, which was the point of the exercise for us. They gave us 30 minutes, but we took a little longer. We didn't let the producers push us around! We’re not contestants and we weren't going to stand for it! So, you realize how little time you have, and how big Whole Foods can be. You spend a lot of time running around.

 

My strategy with my pantry was to get a lot of fresh, delicious food that you can cook in lots of different ways. A good balance of proteins, fish, fruits, vegetables, spices, fresh herbs, grains. But I didn't want to get too much. Everyone has different strategies; Padma got a ton of different ingredients. Tom's pantry was very pared down. Richard and I were somewhere in the middle.

 

Bravotv.com: Let's start by talking about the two dishes that came from your pantry?
GS: Katsuji and Melissa. They used the same protein, but their dishes were very different. They both used shrimp which one of the proteins that I bought. I bought something else too, something that I know has given people trouble in the past (which is why I specifically chose it) -- chicken wings. And I really wanted people to use them. Instead, they chose the easy way out because shrimps cook quickly.

Melissa's used a lot of fresh vegetables, which I was hoping she would: dill, mint, artichoke. I was so excited about all of it. I think it was beautifully done, a lovely salad with that little shrimp on top with spiced yogurt. But it was just a salad with a quick-cooking seafood. It was so similar to what she had done in Restaurant Wars when she made a scallop with grapefruit salad. I believe she could have done so much more. Melissa keeps saying she wanted to focus on her knife skills, and, of course, your knife skills have to be precise. But I need to see more than just knife skills. I want to see cooking skills, I want to see roasting skills, braising skills. I want to see her hands get a little dirtier and her dishes not be as superficial. It was a light, lovely dish. I was happy to eat it for lunch. But when you're competing against six other really talented chefs, we all want to see a little more depth. Katsuji on the other hand went big. He used his ingredients in a really powerful way. The potato salad, the poached shrimp had bold seasoning and I loved how they went together. It was a great dish. It may not have been the best of the day, but I was actually really happy with what he chose to make.

 

Bravotv.com: So for the rest, let's talk about who was on top and who was on bottom.

GS: At the top there was Gregory who really was going for Padma's heart there. He did great with his coconut milk curry. A really balanced, powerful dish. But it's something we’ve seen from Gregory many times in the past. In fact, in the first challenge he made a similar spicy curry dish with chicken. As much as we thought it was a delicious bowl of food, it was so typical of what we expect from Gregory. George's food was really exciting for us. This was my first time tasting his food and meeting him on Top Chef. He did a great job. The kebab was moist, seasoned really well, and the lentils were beautiful too. My only small issue with the dish is I couldn't understand why he separated the lentils from the kebab in two separate dishes. Why not put lentils on the plate and the kebab right on top, with a dollop of the yogurt? It seemed a little bit disconnected to me. But all-in-all, a really strong dish. Doug had the winning dish of the night. He used Richard's crazy pantry in a way that I thought was smart, clear-cut, and creative. The chorizo and mussels and peppers, just how Tom said, go together well, as do the cauliflower and the garlic. There was sweetness, there was spice, it was light and fresh but had a soulful, rustic flavor we all loved. You could see use of technique. On the bottom were dishes that tried to stretch and didn’t come through. Mei did a great job overall, except her lamb was undercooked. You want lamb medium, medium rare, but the center of that meat was raw to the point where the texture was chewy and almost cold. It would have been better if she had been able to cook it five minutes longer. We talked about Melissa's mistakes already, which also landed her on the bottom. I totally applaud Adam for trying to make a quick-flash marinade. He's been in the middle for so long and he thought "I gotta go big or I gotta go home." He tried to go big and unfortunately, he went home because of that technique. I get the idea of what he was doing, I don't doubt that it could've been successful if it were perhaps done in a different setting, with a little more control. But the flash marinade of his shrimp did not cook it as needed. It was still grey, it was still raw, and the texture of raw shrimp is not appealing. It's squeaky, it's squishy, and it becomes sort of mushy. We wanted it firm and cooked through. It's not like fish that you can eat sashimi-style Unfortunately Adam's hard work, his big risk sent him home.

I will miss him. I think he's an incredibly articulate, clever chef. I think he has an extraordinary career ahead of him. I'm excited to see him back in New York City. I can't wait to eat his food again. Also I want to say of this entire episode that was it was thrilling to see our superfans in the kitchen. We've never let people come into the kitchen in that way before, even though people ask us all the time. It brought so much good energy to have basically a live audience with us for the day. Everyone was so psyched. It was amazing to be around people who really love the show, to let them eat food from our talented chefs. SO much fun!