Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Hugh: Enough With the Mexican Food Hate

Gail: I Wasn't Surprised Doug Stayed on Top

Get Doug's Masterpiece Brisket Recipe

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

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

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 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!