Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Hugh: Enough With the Mexican Food Hate

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

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

Hugh: Enough With the Mexican Food Hate

Hugh quotes Edgar Allen Poe and discusses what an infant American food is in the culinary world.

So Brian is gone but impossible to forget. Who will make poop jokes?

Melancholy is the opening feeling this season. Nicholas is again our study in sadness. Nicholas is agreeing that he can come across like a caustic arse, but Shirley, in an effort to appeal to everyone, clarifies that he is an arse with a heart. Nicholas listens, and then gets that little glean in his eye that says so much.

"And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses?" -- Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

Nicholas is doing this for his Dad, who is in a bad health situation. This is a great thing, and a beautiful act of courage on his part to show his Dad that love. Let's do it with more smiling. I want to yell, "Be happy cooking!," but I know better. My pops is going through a different health quandary, equally as grave. There is no manual on how to take care of the parents we adore. Used to be, they would just get a La-Z-Boy and move into your living room. Nowadays it ain’t so simple.

Carlos is coming into his own as a Mexican food villain. I suggest he watch Machete to relax. If he plays his cards right he could follow in the footsteps of Lorena Garcia. I need a nap again.

"To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub." -- Shakespeare, Hamlet.

Speaking of Shakespeare and wordplay, Gail and Tom are here to tell you what’s up. It’s a two-part Quickfire and Gail wants a perfect bite with alliterative tendencies: Sweet, salty, sour, spice. Not silly or soiled.

Nicholas has had a vision. That vision was that the other chefs are not putting 65 elements on their Quickfire plates. He is adjusting his ideas to be more simple, cause in 2014, "artisanally simple" is the new black. Think Kinfolk and Canal House. Google those and support 'em. Good stuff.

Gail wonders whether they should have been given more time. Tom reminds her that he has opened up two restaurants, made cassoulet, and played American Pie acoustically eight times in a row (perfectly), all in less than this generous half an hour. Amateurs.

Nicholas is trying really hard not to overthink this and then falls right into his old trap of accusing anyone in a fifty yard radius of f---ing with his oven/ fryer temperatures. Shirley calls him a dick. Then she says "cocktail fork" and "Jenga" and someone with an obscure website faints.

3-2-1. Padma calls time, assuming the Vanna White role for today’s competition. Did you know Vanna White is 56? Years of turning letters has made her look 20 years younger. I am building a Wheel of Fortune board to work out on.

Carlos: Grilled Mango with Shrimp and Chili Glaze
Nick: Beef Deckle with Aged Balsamic and Purple Potato Chips
Shirley: Tataki Style Flank Steak with Black Pepper Cherry and Crispy Onions
Nina: Shrimp Escabeche with Potato Aioli and Pickled Shallots

Upsies are Nick and Carlos. They go to the second round in the "Eggplant and Red Peppers" challenge. Carlos wants that eggplant, but the very non-competitive Nick makes a mad dash that gives Ben Johnson (may his reputation RIP) a bad name. So when you get peppers that you didn’t want, you make soup. Meanwhile, Nicholas makes scallops of eggplant, which some vegetarian conglomerate with a lock on the Tofurky market is really damned excited about. Alas, the judges are not so much and give the Toyota to Carlos. You can’t spell Carlos without C-A-R, by the way. Nicolas gets in a couple of complaints for good measure.

ENOUGH WITH THE "CARLOS JUST DOES MEXICAN FOOD"! Look, American food is a toddler in the world of food, still falling all over itself trying to grow up. Mexican food has roots and breadth that we are just now trying to nurture. Why is Mexican food being posited as a narrow scope by these chefs? This really is beginning to bug the hell out of me. But, alas, I am not there. I am probably eating a po' boy at Parasol’s.

Onwards to the Elimination Challenge. Winning dish gets on the Emeril's menus. That is a lot of menus. The aim is to create a dish that shows inspiration from their time in NOLA. Emeril invites them to his place for dinner. Bam. First they go to shopping in Carlos' new Corolla. He makes them all sit in the back.

They are eating at the kid's table in the kitchen. Emeril gives them some BBQ shrimp. I love BBQ shrimp. There is a lot of focus on Carlos' career and dish that he's working on for the challenge. This is called foreshadowing.

They are cooking at Emeril's. Nina talks about how she is deserving of a place in the finals. "Before I even wake up and kiss my husband good morning, I call the restaurant." She is a sleep-telephone-caller.

Nicholas is not bringin' the simple, though he claims to be. Carlos is making a masa-less tamale. There is a deep tradition of tamales in the Delta. Read more about that here

Emeril and Tom drop by. They make everyone happy and nervous.

Douglas Keane, Andrew Carmellini, and Grant Achatz are the dining companions with Emeril, Tom, Padma, and Gail. If you don’t know who they are you are not paying attention.

Nina: Speckled Trout with Baby Vegetables and Barbecue Sauce. Nina forgets the one element that the dish did not need. Perfect as is.
Nick: Charred Cobia, Roasted Bass, and Tuna Confit, Crispy Rice and Shrimp Consomme. Great broth, beautiful fish cookery, but Grant says it needs salt.
Carlos: Steamed Seafood Tamal with Saffron Cream Sauce and Pickled Okra. This is an odd plate but they seem to like it.
Shirley: Black Drum, Zhenjiang Vinegar Butter Sauce, Braised Celery, and Mushrooms. Shirley can cook some fish. The Chinese vinegar is a great ingredient to add really pungent acidity. The trinity use of celery, pepper, and onion is smart.

They get to the firing line. Malfatti-gate is a short lived concern. Shirley's sauce was loved and the inclusion of the trinity was smart smart smart. Nicholas made a dish that was beautiful but the fish really did need salt. Carlos' tamale was concerned that the judges were going to eat the banana leaf. Otherwise they loved it.

Winner is Shirley. Look, if cooking is about putting your heart on a plate, than she's got it. Well deserved. Nina is granted a pass to Maui.

It’s down to Nicholas and Carlos. It's a close call on this one.

Carlos gets the axe.

Dear Carlos,

You have shown your mettle through the entire season, but more than that, through your entire life. Go far in this world, and never let them tell you not to cook Mexican food.

All the best,
Hugh

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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!