Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Big Easy to Ocean Breezy

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

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

Big Easy to Ocean Breezy

Hugh discusses the way chefs unwind, the gaseous properties of breadfruit, and the penultimate Elimination Challenge.

After a slog of a competition in beautifully storied, but wildly humid New Orleans, the chefs find themselves in Maui, Hawaii. You would be hard pressed to find a more stunning place to have this all come to a conclusion. Maui is beautiful. We stayed at the Andaz Wailea, and I would recommend it to anyone without hesitation. Absolutely beautiful.

Nina, Nicholas, and Shirley are living it up on the beach, waiting for the LCK competitor to emerge. The last LCK is a duel between Carlos, and Louis but Louis is the man who comes out of Tom's playpen victorious. He will live to fight another fight. There will be no Mexican food infiltrating these semi-finals. Carlos will bide his time swimming in the pool and drinking daiquiris.

Sam Choy is having a luau. Shirley is confused. A bunch of people they don't know clap on the chefs arrival to the beach front. Padma says "Aloha" a lot to get the chefs in the spirit of things. Nicholas is hell-bent on winning this thing and reminds us a lot. "Chee-hoooo. That's how you get yourself not nervous." Actually in the world of hospitality, a Percocet and a bourbon is much more common.

Louis emerges from his leaf ghillie suit, white clogs and all. The white clogs always make me think he is secretly a nurse. Whatever he is, he just won like nine LCKs in a row. Beastly.

Spam challenge. I have never even tasted Spam and had no idea it came in so many flavors. Spam cakes. Wow. Like wow.

Louis has been excelling in the privacy of LCK, and this public forum is bothering him. He has to listen to the Plebeians pepper him with questions. "Look man, just back off a little bit." Re-entry into the pack can be difficult for some lone wolves.

Louis: Spam Mousse, Chives, Scallions, Snap Peas, Beech Mushrooms, and Togarashi. He was going for a torchon but it looks like he will settle for a blob/quenelle of mousse. Padma says it is very silky in her mouth.

Nick: Spam Broth, Pancetta, Seaweed, Dried Shrimp, Clam Juice, and Quail Egg. He is trying to get past the lack of seasoning that has dogged him this season so far. The judges like it. This makes Nick nervous.

Shirley: Deconstructed Spam Masubi, Spam-Infused Rice, Nori, and Cucumber Slaw. Sam likes the crunchiness of the Spam.

Nina: Breadfruit and Teriyaki Spam Croquette with Sour Orange and Mango Slaw. Nina pleases people again.

We get a Hawaiian history lesson from Sam, Tom, and Padma. We learn about canoe crops. The chefs rush to the boat to grab some supplies, and obviously they step all over Shirley in the recreation of a Black Thursday sale at Walmart.

They start to prep in the Andaz kitchen. There is some fish problem that I don't really understand. Nina seems very stressed. They pack up and the timer goes off. They move into their sleeping quarters, which are pretty swank. They wander the island. They chase a waterfall. There is a song that tells people not to do this.

They are off to Merriman's, which is one of many restaurants under the culinary direction of Peter Merriman. The chefs have two hours to cook and get all setup before service begins. The weather is overcast and rain is in the forecast. Tom comes down to check on the work so far and to make them really nervous.

The diners are coming! The diners are coming! Emeril and Gail waltz in to judge this semi.

Louis: Grilled Opah with Sweet Potato and Coconut Sauce. It is loved by most but the cooking is erratic.

Nick: Opakapaka with Jalapeno and Crispy Chicken Skin. Nick is on a seaweed kick. Everyone seems to love his dish. He celebrates by making a "white guy in the sun" joke.

Shirley: Honey-Glazed Pork With Sweet Potato and Turmeric Puree. It is a sweet dish. Well executed, but maybe too sweet.

Nina: Grilled Opah with Taro Root and Coconut Puree. Fish is perfectly cooked and the spice level is high with good acidity.

We have a break and learn about the gaseous properties of breadfruit.

The chefs are micro managing their hindsights when the portal into the judges minds opens up and they begin to understand where they stand. As always the TV feed is a little non-committal and vague.

I don't think this chef lineup is about to throw each other under any buses. They have gone beyond that point. It is actually the rosiest of judges tables.

Winners are Nicholas and Nina. Bottoms are Shirley and Louis.

 

Dear Louis,

You are a very adept tactician in the kitchen. Your clawing back in LCK was a test of your skills and patience and you prevailed. I ain't worried about your rise in this industry. Keep being the great dad and stellar chef. Massive success is right around the corner.

Onwards,
Hugh

 

Dear Shirley,

You show everything about yourself in your food, a tribute to your security with who you are and how you cook. You are a badass. Continue being you and cooking your heart out every single day.

Sincerely,
Hugh

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Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Gail schools us on the science of innovative cooking and explains why George Pagonis' octopus didn't have any legs to stand on.

Bravotv.com: Let's talk about the Elimination Challenge, which was to create an innovative dish that pushed culinary boundaries.

Gail Simmons: I was really happy that Wylie was there for this challenge, of course. But I think the set up was a little anti-climactic in honesty. As a viewer, you didn't get a full explanation of how and why they were given this challenge. It was specifically because there are so many people pushing these boundaries, many of whom are in Boston, and particularly Michael Brenner. He is innovative for a lot of reasons -- he’s a physicist, but what he’s become known for in the culinary space is teaching an in-depth course at Harvard about the science of food and cooking, incorporating people like Wylie and as well as a long list of exceptionally talented and renown chefs from around the world, like Ferran Adrià among others. It is exciting and extraordinary, and having him there allowed us to present our chefs with this challenge. We always think about how the dishes taste and look, whether the meat is cooked well enough or the appearance of knife cuts are appropriate. All of that stuff is in affect science -- cooking is all chemistry and biology, reaction of cells to knives and fire essentially. Everyone has their own definition of innovation, and I think there was a lot of pressure to "innovate" in this challenge. Our chefs did well, but I wish they had been given more time to really push their own personal boundaries more.

 



Bravotv.com: Let’s start with the winner, Melissa, who had the seared duck breast with farro, walnut miso, and pickled cherries.

GS: Melissa really has stepped up her game and soared in the last two challenges; she won the last challenge (and a spot in the finale in Mexico), and now she’s won this challenge, too. Her duck was beautiful, though not necessarily the most groundbreaking dish I’ve ever seen in my life. But she was innovative enough that we felt her flavors were new, but the dish was at the same time beautiful, delicious. Here’s the tricky thing about being innovative, which I think George touched on when he was talking about the challenge too: is it takes time and practice to truly innovate. I can only assume that someone like Wylie tries a dish fifty times before it goes on his menu as a full formed creative work, that changes how we all perceive food. Innovation takes patience and some serious brain power. To come up with something in a few hours is a tall order when it needs to be totally delicious AND have a level of innovation that surprises and impresses us. Melissa knew her strengths and perhaps was more relaxed then she would’ve been otherwise, so she made that walnut miso pesto and incorporated it in a really creative, unusual way. It made her dish stand out, and by far it was the most delicious.

Bravotv.com: And then we had our runner, Mei, with her duck curry with vadouvan and yuzu yogurt.

GS: There was something about Mei’s dish that made me think it was the most innovative of the day in a number of ways. However it wasn’t the most successful, and that’s why Melissa took the win. Mei’s dish was not only breathtakingly stark and beautiful, looking so modern on the plate, but she also combined several unusual ingredients, which made for a very untraditional, very modern curry. It was innovative and it stayed with us. You could even see in Tom's reaction that it was a dish to think about. When you tasted it, you weren't sure it worked, but there was something enjoyable about it; the dish didn't simply come together in your mind. It wasn't straight forward. You needed to take a pause, then a second bite, and by the third and fourth bite you started to understand all the different parts, which were very exciting. I think with a few more tries, Mei would’ve really nailed that dish. I was proud of her for pushing us all that way.

Bravotv.com: Then in our bottom two we had Gregory and George. Gregory did the salmon in tom kha broth with roasted tomatoes, crispy chicken skin, and crispy salmon skin.

GS: There were a lot of fun, tasty components to Gregory’s dish. If this challenge had been to show us an interesting representation of salmon or Thai flavors, he would’ve gotten it right. The thing with Gregory is that as skilled as he is, we were really hoping that he would come out of his comfort zone. The flavors he used were what we have seen from him previously. We didn’t really see a lot of innovation from him. That doesn’t mean we don’t think he worked hard or didn't do a good job. He gave us something that he felt was different in presentation, but the flavors were definitely in his usual wheelhouse. As he said himself when cooking beans in the Quickfire, he felt uncomfortable because he's more accustomed to using Asian flavors and ingredients. So here he was in the Elimination Challenge using Asian flavors. On the other hand the dish tasted great! We loved it, we just didn’t think he fulfilled the challenge of being innovative like we know he could have. And then there was George. . .

Bravotv.com:  Yes, he had the charred octopus, yellow split pea puree, and green apple harissa.

GS: George also stayed in his comfort zone in some ways -- he's cooked us octopus before, so charring octopus did not feel innovative at all for him, I actually felt disappointed when he told us that's what he had made. However, there were probably twenty other components of that dish that did make it feel somewhat innovative. The green apple harissa was one of them for sure. The fact that he called it harissa may be taking some license, but that's OK. I loved it, it went so well with the octopus, and it was something new that all of us had never seen. That said, the rest of the dish didn’t make sense all together. At least three or four of the garnishes he added didn’t serve a purpose on the plate, rather, they detracted from the dish. He spent his time making too many components. They may have shown technique, and you could tell that he was really pushing himself, but it all still has to be one cohesive plate of food, first and foremost. I think it didn’t work because he let himself get preoccupied with all the other pieces instead of focusing on doing one thing really well in an innovative way.

Charring octopus did not feel innovative at all for him, I actually felt disappointed when he told us that's what he had made.


So George's was the dish we least enjoyed eating and thought was the least successful, that’s why he went home. I think George did a tremendous job. He came back once already, and he could come back from Last Chance Kitchen again. He’s a great cook, has a great attitude, and I think he absolutely gave his best throughout the competition, which made everyone better. I don’t always say that, but I think when he came back, he really changed the game and the whole season was better for it.

Now, onward to Mexico!