Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Gail: It Was Difficult to Let Go of Shirley

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

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

And Don't Call Me Shirley

Gail: It Was Difficult to Let Go of Shirley

Gail shares her feelings about this week's double elimination.

Bravotv.com: Why don’t we start by talking about Last Chance Kitchen? Were you surprised about who made it through?
Gail Simmons: I wasn’t surprised, because through the eight challenges before the finale while we were in New Orleans, Tom had been telling me about how incredible Louis’ food had been. He had been really talking about how impressed he was with him as a chef, and how great all his food was.

In fact after winning so many challenges, I would have been surprised if Carlos had been able to beat him at that point. He deserved to get back in, he really earned it. Tom said he cooked some of the best food Tom had eaten in or out of actual episodes.



Bravotv.com: And then immediately he was thrown into the Spam Quickfire. What did you think of how the chefs fared with Spam?
GS: I was amazed that Nick said he hadn’t thought of Spam, because Hawaii is the home of Spam!

But, I thought it was a really funny Quickfire. It loosened everybody up. They shot it really early in the morning, and I had arrived the night before. Because of the time change I passed out at like 4 am or 5 am that morning and I sat on my balcony and watched the whole thing from my balcony. I could see the hula dancer arriving, and I thought it was really funny. I thought it looked great.  The chefs were able to create really interesting and innovative things from cans of Spam, so I was impressed.Bravotv.com: How was it being in this completely different environment, coming out of New Orleans?
GS: It was a great change, I mean several months have passed clearly -- I was very pregnant all of a sudden. Almost four months, three-and-a-half months had passed since we had been in New Orleans, so I was suddenly seven months pregnant.

It was great to be in Hawaii, for all of us. Such a beautiful location we shot at. All of the locations we shot at for those two episodes were breathtaking and the weather was perfect and every one was just so happy to be there and really excited to make it the best finale we could.

I’d love to be there right now. It’s 12 degrees outside!

Bravotv.com: Now on to the elimination challenge, they are cooking with canoe crops. . .
GS: The canoe crops are basically all of the different crops and meat, protein, pork, etc., and fish that were brought to the island originally by the first settlers. They included things like all of these amazing sweet potatoes and fruits and vegetables that are really now what people consider the distinct bounty of Hawaii. They’re really unique to that part of the world.

It was a really smart Elimination, because it forced them to understand in a deeper way the local bounty and the local foods that the people there eat every day. They were really beautiful quality, and it was kind of fun to see what they did.

There were a lot of similarities between the dishes, because a lot of them overlapped ingredients like sweet potato and coconut, and the opah obviously, but ultimately they were still pretty solid dishes.Bravotv.com: So let’s go over their dishes.
GS: We liked all of the dishes. There were slightly larger flaws with Louis and Shirley, obviously, which is why they were sent home. That was a really difficult decision. We know that all four of them are incredible, incredible cooks. They all did an incredible job. They all really pushed themselves, and they were not easy circumstances. Clearly, it started raining in the middle of their cook time. They were cooking outdoors. They were cooking in unknown, temporary kitchen environments. But ultimately I think they were all really successful.

Louis’ opah, there were just really large inconsistences between the way the pieces of fish were cooked. Some were undercooked, some were over, partially because of the circumstances and the rain. But we couldn’t overlook that size and the portions, they just were not consistent.

And then Shirley’s dish was definitely unique. I loved the way that she handled her pork, it was cooked beautifully. The honey-glazed pork with sweet potato was very, very sweet and a little bit off-balance. It needed some sort of counterpoint, because those two pieces had so much sugar, so much natural sweetness, and so we all kind of felt that it was lacking in contrast, lacking in balance.

So that was how we chose who was going to go home that day.Nick and Nina made pretty perfect dishes, all things considered. Nick’s dish was the strongest dish I’d really seen from him all season. And clearly he won the Quickfire and the Elimination for this episode. I didn’t get to taste his food in the Quickfire, but I really loved his spicy crispy chicken skin that he served on top of the opakapaka with jalapeno. It was cooked beautifully.

It was just a lovely piece of fish; it was plated so nicely. This was Nick finally finding his rhythm I think and finally understanding that you don’t need to make it so precious. It can be a little simpler, it doesn’t need to be so fussy to be good.

Nina’s opah: Because Louis made opah and Nina made opah, we had a direct comparison. Nina cooked her opah so well. She grilled it with taro root and coconut; it tasted like the island. It tasted like her food, but also like the food of Hawaii. It was so concise and such a tight dish, such a thoughtful dish. It looked and tasted like the kind of dish you would think she’d been making for years.

It felt completely organic to come from her, that dish. She definitely had a little bit of advantage in being so familiar with the ingredients, because they are so similar to the ingredients in the Caribbean in a lot of ways. She pulled off such a refined dish using those ingredients, and we were all really impressed with it.Bravotv.com: How did it feel at this point losing the final two?
GS: It was really difficult, especially to let go of Shirley, because I got to know her so well. She’s such a fighter, such a strong contender, and such an extraordinary cook.

I love both Louis and Shirley, but certainly knew Shirley better through spending time with her and watching her grow so much. When I think back to so many other dishes she made I have such strong, fond memories. I want to eat her food again and again. The way that she seasoned her food. The way she made these incredibly rich sauces, and broths, and soups. The way that she seasoned her food was always so creative and always had her voice and point of view. And that’s something that’s really difficult to do as a young chef. She certainly grew into herself along the way. We love Shirley, we really do, and I have no doubt that whatever she does next will be extraordinary.

Bravotv.com: Anything else you want to spill before the finale?
GS:  Besides I love Hawaii and I wish I was there right now -- I think it is actually fitting Nick versus Nina. They have such different styles, but they both have been really strong throughout the competition in very different ways.  We were excited. We knew that when it came down to those two, we would have a really incredible finale. And we do -- and you’re going to have to stick around and watch it!

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!