Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Gumbo for Leah Chase

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

Gumbo for Leah Chase

Hugh Acheson would have been more intimidated by the Quickfire Challenge than the cheftestants seemed.

If you had told me that I would be making gumbo for Leah Chase I would have been beyond nervous, not out of fear of failure, but fear of not giving proper respect to a historic dish. I would be fearful of Leah remarking that my gumbo was too modern, too risky, too indifferent to the history of food in Louisiana. Evidently the chefs do not fret in the same way I do. 

Leah is the chef and proprietor of Dooky Chase, a restaurant that speaks to the relevancy of food in Louisiana everyday it operates. It has been around a long time serving the best fried chicken and Gumbo Z’Herbs, with a painful sabbatical after Katrina. Katrina, the storm that changed everything, destroyed Dooky Chase, but through a lot of work and the dedication of a lot of chefs and volunteers the restaurant was rebuilt better than ever. It is the definition of iconic. 

No rest for the weary, and we pick up right where last episodes ejection happened. Padma enters into the Stew Room like a smiling dementor to steal the last breaths of air from the gasping young chefs. She announces that a gumbo challenge starts now at the cast house and they had better get their crock pots plugged in and the roux cooking. I get sleepy just thinking about this challenge. 

Gumbo to me means many things, and there are many types of gumbo you can make, but the chefs really like loose interpretations, and we see all sorts of stuff going on. Brian likes cat naps while stirring roux. Michael likes to do things twice and will be making a new gumbo, but he is really just competing with himself in all things. 

Beets, cabbage, soy are three things I have never seen in a gumbo before. I really hope that these chefs realize in hindsight that they just made gumbo for LEAH CHASE. 

Oddly enough, the two NOLA chefs make gumbo that fails to impress, and Michael actually makes it to the bottom. Jason says Leah Chase has no idea what she is talking about. I poke him with pins in my mind. Patty is getting no love either. She just doesn’t seem to be getting traction in the competition. 

Shirley makes a nice looking gumbo with pork belly. Aaron makes a thick gumbo that Leah loves. Carrie makes a green gumbo which reminds Leah of one of her famous versions. Though Carrie thought her gumbo was weird and badly received, the judges loved it. 

Carrie wins immunity. 

On to the Elimination Challenge: cooking for Habitat for Humanity volunteers. Susan Spicer is in the house. She rules. Food trucks will be used. Shirley has a roach coach for sale if you are interested. You could start your own Kogi empire if you are smart and understand the nuances of food truck by-laws. May you call it “What the truck?” May you succeed beyond your wildest dreams. 

Poor Bene. Why are they picking on him? Nothing he says is being listened to. We have the answer to that age old quandary: “If Bene talks in a group, does anyone listen?”. 

Teams have been named, but there are too many to list.

Michael is cooking crawfish at the house. He is that father figure who terrifies the family. It is decided that Casanova will be the model chef for this challenge and stand in front of the truck looking pretty. This was actually decided at birth, but I play along. 

Team Yellow has made a taco truck experience. Team Blue wants to have a truck spa experience. Team Red is not listening to Bene, unless he is their quiet servant. Bene must even experience badmouthing from Michael, which would drive anyone over the edge. We may have a runaway on our hands. Team Yellow is making wine bottle dough. 

Brian Huskey confesses to being born with a silver spoon. I am not sure where the family fortune comes from, but after much internet searching I am making up that it comes from holding the patent to the Flobee. Lucky man. 

Immortal words from Jason: “If it’s burnt, don’t use it.” Dude, if you condescended to me in a kitchen like that, I would cut that hair right off of your head. Daly Patty is just a lump of sadness in the first 48 of this season and can’t fight back. 

Michael talks about Katrina and the recovery. Such a tragedy. That city has some amazingly resilient souls. 

YELLOW TEAM/Work Site #1 Aaron, Carlos, Travis, Carrie, and Brian

Travis and Brian: Dorado and Shrimp Ceviche with Tomato

Carrie and Aaron: Beef and Pork Curry Empanadas with Watercress and Mango

Carlos and Aaron: Tilapia Tacos with Chipotle Aioli and Cabbage

 

BLUE TEAM/Work Site #2: Jason, Patty, Nicholas, and Bret

Jason: Salmon Hand Roll with Quinoa, Honey Mustard Miso, and Cucumber

Nicholas: Grilled Shrimp with a Fish Sauce Caramel, Melon-Sungold Salad, and Crushed Wasabi Peas

Bret: Coconut Ceviche with Red Snapper and Bay Scallops

Patty: Tuna Slider with Crispy Pancetta, Avocado, and Tomato

GREEN TEAM/Work Site #2: Shirley, Stephanie, Sara, and Louis

Stephanie: Crispy Chickpea with Watercress and Radish Salad

Sara: Tuna Burger with Sprouts, Avocado, and Watermelon Rind Pickles

Shirley: Spiced Grilled Lamb Salad with Cucumber and Asian Pear

Louis: helped, made the watermelon amuse

 

RED TEAM/Work Site #1: Justin, Bene, Janine, Michael, and Nina 

Janine: Green Gazpacho with Pickled Shrimp

Justin: Lobster and Crab Fritters with Corn Puree and Bacon Jam

Nina and Bene: Jerk Chicken Sandwich with Mango and Crispy Plantains

Michael: Ricotta with Burnt Honey, Stone Fruit, and Toasted Coconut

Jason is banking on his hair to make up for a flaccid handroll. From the point that Tom tastes the handroll, I want you to take a shot of bourbon every time the term “handroll” is uttered. You should not drive after this exercise. Actually you should probably not do this cause you will be admitted to the hospital. It’s said about 50 times.

Some innuendo is said about the Aussie girl being good with her hands. By her. Argh. I need a mental shower. 

Tops are Yellow and Green. Together they make poop brown, but separate they are beautiful things. Yellow pulls it out though. The judges loved everything the team made. Spicer announces the winner, and Carrie wins for the gutsy move of making empanada dough on a truck. 

Bottoms are Red and Blue. Blue is pulled out to the firing line. Bene sighs a sigh of relief, but no one hears. 

Patty, Jason, Nick, and Bret let the judges know about the economics of a table of free food: Bret’s logic is that if a ton of stuff remains, that’s cause they loved it. Whaaaaat? Dr. Tom, PhD and Dr. Padma, PhD school Bret. 

At the end of this day, Jason goes home for a handroll disaster. Should have, would have, could have. 

Onwards. 

Follow me on the Twitter @hughacheson

 

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!