Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Auditions

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

The Auditions

Tom Colicchio explains what he expects from a potential Top Chef.

 

I don’t know what it is about the number ten that feels more momentous than nine or eleven, but whatever the reason, it feels like a milestone to have reached Top Chef’s tenth season. It's been great to have traveled not only the country but the globe with this show and with the talented and energetic chefs who have competed so hard over the past several years.  Whether you’ve been with us from the beginning or have just begun watching, thank you for tuning in --I’m excited to be going to Seattle for Season 10 with you.

Seattle’s a great food town. I remember back in the '80s -- it might have been ’84 or ’85 -- as more and more stuff was being written about how the Pacific Northwest was becoming the new San Francisco, food-wise. I was between jobs (and girlfriends), and came so close to packing up my car and everything I own, and just going there and figuring it out when I got there. I was so close -- I had a whiff of what the city was on the verge of becoming and thought it would be great to be a part of it. While it’s all worked out just fine for me back East, it has taken me nearly 30 years to finally get there. In the interim, with all the great restaurants that have been established there, the promise that Seattle would become a food mecca has definitely come true. 

So I was pleased with the producers’ decision to go to Seattle. But first we had to settle on just who would be coming with us. A chef’s resume is certainly important, and those of the would-be contestants made a great first step in screening the applicants, but it was great last season to actually have the chance to ask the chefs to show us what they were made of, and to select as the season’s competitors only those whom we felt had a true chance of winning the title.  I think I speak for all of the judges when I say that we wanted the opportunity to do so again this season.Every chef is different, and every chef has different criteria for hiring new cooks.  I think all the challenges our contestants faced in this first episode were good ones. But for me, I didn’t want to ask the chefs to create a particular dish like soup, a salad, or an omelet -- not only will we be doing that throughout the competition, but also I think you can easily find a good home cook who could make a great omelet, soup, or salad, but that person wouldn’t fare well in the competition. I was looking for someone who showed that s/he knows the ins and outs of and could handle the rigors of a top-flight professional kitchen. And so I put my five contestants through the same tasks I would have them perform were I looking to hire them to work in one of my restaurants.

When I’m assessing potential cooks, I look at their resumes to see their pedigrees, which matter to me. For those people with resumes I like, I invite them into the kitchen to observe. I then have them prep food; I want to see, for example, that they have the dexterity to roll out some pasta. I look to see how they wields a knife; I want to see that they can butcher deftly and correctly. Then, as you saw me do in the show tonight, I ask my staff what they thought of the people. My staff’s answers are particularly important to me. 

Some applicants are nervous at first, as Jorel was. But I didn’t dismiss him for that -- he might yet have earned a jacket had he not oversalted the beurre fondue. It was unusable. In fact, even though he oversalted it, I might even have given him a pass had he said, “Oh, I overseasoned it. Let me get another pound of butter and see if I can fix it.” But instead, when I asked him what he thought of it, he said, “I think it’s fine.” I’m not altogether sure that he didn’t realize it -- it’s entirely likely that he himself could tell that it was oversalted but just tried to fake his way through the challenge without fixing what he’d done. Anthony was very tentative from the get-go and remained that way throughout. When I am hiring, I look for people who are confident in their ability and who are going to jump in. This is important to me for two reasons: 1) because it shows me that with this confidence, they will get involved in the kitchen in a meaningful way; and 2) because some of my cooks go on to become my sous-chefs and maybe even one of my executive chefs, and they have to have the maturity born of experience to be able to handle whatever arises. I think Top Chef requires this maturity and corresponding confidence in the kitchen as well. I sensed that Anthony did not have the kind of experience that would win the day for him in a tough situation. Since I didn’t think he could actually win the title of “Top Chef,” he, like Jorel, did not move on to the actual competition.

I will not speak to the decisions my fellow judges made, since I was not there to participate in the judging process. They have always made thoughtful decisions when judging in past seasons.

Given all that the weather has wrought here in the Northeast this week and last (there’s a Nor’easter right now, and I know you don't need me to tell you about Sandy), I’m more than glad to say, “On to Seattle.”

 

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!