Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

To Thine Own Self Be True

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

To Thine Own Self Be True

Tom Colicchio explains why Sheldon was obviously going home.

It’s always great to bring back our finalists after a few months’ hiatus, and this season was no different in that regard. These are talented young chefs, and I was looking forward to having them in my kitchen and, believe it or not, to expediting for them, which I thought would be fun. I was keen to see what they’d been doing to hone their skills and further their creativity over their time away…

While I think there was much to commend, I will admit to being disappointed by various aspects of their performance, but most of all with Sheldon’s choices. He didn’t cook his own unique food, the very food that had brought him all the way to the finale.

Everyone who creates does so with in their own particular way, hence the term “signature style” -- each person’s work is as identifiable as had s/he actually signed it. You identify the musical sound of your favorite band within two measures of a song’s introduction, you recognize your favorite novelist’s writing style, you know a Rothko from a Rauschenberg.  

It’s no different with food, which is why the suggestion that we judge the food “blind” in our competitions wouldn’t accomplish anything -- very early into a season, we judges come to know which chef cooked a dish just by seeing it and tasting it.  

Sheldon’s bold flavor profiles and innovative takes on Filipino food are exciting. Just because he wanted to plate his food differently and do something visually new upon his arrival at the finale was no reason to abandon the style he’d developed over the arc of his career to date. He could have done his food and just plated it in the more modern way he was now going for -- he might easily have knocked it out of the park.But instead, everything Sheldon did in this challenge was so bland. There is no comparison between the broth he did for Restaurant Wars, with its depth of flavor, and the one he gave us here. He failed to season the prawns, simply pouring the broth over them. His first course was such a bland dish, when it didn’t need to be -- it could easily have been every bit as soulful as everything else he did all season long.   

It was the same with Sheldon’s quail dish, which had very little flavor (not to mention the fact that I’m not quite sure why he thought he had to sous vide it and then cook it -- quail is so small and cooks so quickly). Yes, the plate looked pretty, but a pretty plate will only get you so far as a chef… and in this competition, it won’t get you to the end zone.

As for Sheldon’s dessert, he was on the right track, but he didn’t complete the job. Maybe had the fennel been candied, for example, the dish might have cohered, since other parts of the dish kind of worked, but the dessert just didn’t work as a whole, as presented. Overall, as I began saying above, everyone had a sense that Sheldon’s three dishes were such a departure from what he’d done all season long. They were not well-seasoned and not very interesting, and they missed the mark.  

As for Brooke, her prep was a disaster -- I knew she’d have problems as soon as I walked into the kitchen. Her station was totally upside-down, she was clearly stressed, she was even slicing and cleaning sweetbreads to order... and you know someone’s in trouble when they’re doing that.  If you’re not organized, your service is going to suffer. Brooke just wasn’t ready. I’m not sure why -- she had three hours to put three dishes together, and many more of her components could have been prepped and ready to go by the time patrons walked into the restaurant.

Everyone else thought Brooke’s dessert was great, but I thought it was at best OK. It was a cake topped with sauce and berries that I thought any decent home cook could have prepared. Overall, Brooke’s food, once presented, was flavorful, but her lack of preparedness could have hurt her. Had Sheldon stepped it up a little bit, Brooke could have been sent home.

And as for Kristen’s food, she had errors throughout, but none bad enough to surpass Sheldon’s weak presentation and Brooke’s disorganization. The chestnut veloute she served for her first course was really flavorful, though I didn’t care for the texture of the rillettes in that soup.I found Kristen’s second course lacking a bit; it was a little short on flavor. The only veal item in the dish was the sauce. I personally would have chosen to play up the meat aspect of the dish a bit more than she did. If she didn’t want to go all out with a braised veal breast, for example, she could still have done something short of that to bring out the veal a bit more. We do a seared tuna and veal sweetbreads that works beautifully, for example. There were interesting components in her dish, and it was well-plated, but we’re used to seeing Kristen manage to pull that off while also delivering on flavor.

Kristen’s dessert was flavorful and interesting. It wound up being a bit simple in presentation, but not enough to hurt her much. She realized that she has tended to overthink things, so she held back… a bit too much. As with Brooke, though, she was so clearly safe from elimination because Sheldon’s dishes were so obviously getting him sent home. If only he’d melded what he was doing with Filipino food with a more modern presentation, we might have been having a very different conversation about the mistakes all three made this week…

And so here we are, approaching the final head-to-head in what has been an eventful season. There’s only one thing we know for certain heading into the final challenge: this season, a woman will take home the title of Top Chef.  

Oh, P.S. To the guy who tweeted, “Based on the comments in Last Chance Kitchen, it’s obvious that Kristen isn’t going to make it to the finale. Horrible judging.” Just couldn’t hold off on tweeting long enough to watch the episode, could you? Ready, fire, aim. Thanks for your tweet, guy.

And P.P.S.  For all those wondering why pictures of Andy Cohen keep popping up on the set on Last Chance Kitchen. I have no idea why. Honestly, I have no idea.

 

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!