Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Quin-whaaa?!

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

Quin-whaaa?!

Hugh Acheson doesn't understand Bene and Brian's "spooky spa" concept.

Last week saw Travis squeak through a Judges' Table at the expense of Janine, who made Hanoi-d shrimp. Given her accent the little creatures thought they were destined for the "barbie." The poor little crustaceans never saw it coming when the merciless Aussie fried all thoughts of tenderness out of them. Alas, there is some redemption to be had and Janine has emerged victorious in the first Last Chance Kitchen, which you can watch HERE.

There are lots of tears in the Stew Room. “I feel like we failed her,” says Sara, momentarily forgetting that this is a competition where one chef will take home a big check. None of this fazes Travis, who has planned much, much bigger life events to happen during his 15 minutes of fame: Travis is proclaiming to the world beyond his friends and his mother that he is gay. During a commercial break, the many variations of “It Gets Better” speeches that have become the soundtrack to their suburban home are finally making sense to his father, the one person that Travis has not told this important news to. Hopefully his pops responds with a hearty, “Big deal. All good. Love you no matter what.” 

Did you know that the first commercial use for aluminum foil was Life Savers? This is what the Wikipedia told me. The chefs walk in for the Quickfire and everything is wrapped in Reynolds Wrap, and Carlos is wondering who would do such a thing. We are reminded of the past season where they did a similar experiment and even John Tesar was fooled by the pineapple wrapped in foil thing. “Pineapple! Oh, Jesus.” Really John?

Padma and Gail have brought their moms. Awwwww. The chefs get split down to groups allied to Gail and groups pro-Padma, and then the moms are tasked with speed shopping for all the ingredients and tools. Nobody grabs the foil-wrapped Hosea in the corner. 

The chefs are unpacking the foil mess and making swans. There are a lot of different things on the tables, and there seems to be a conspiracy to give Nina’s group all of the ingredients that no one can find a home for. Her soup is about to become a halfway house for wayward ingredients. Carlos is finding maternal inspiration, pulling at our heartstrings as he is apt to do. He is the chef who seems to be garnering the most compassion from viewers, but that may change. He was a bit too nervous last episode, and America doesn’t like a softie who can’t make a decision. But we all are still cheering him on. Like aluminum foil, there is a shiny side and there is a matte side. If Carlos is our shiny, then the King of Krazy, Michael, is hands down the matte. Right now he is babbling on about something, but I have an all-time high resistance to him, so I don’t even hear him talk. It’s my form of television Darwinism. 

Michael and the Little Grocer, Justin, are cooking something en papillote, which means cooking in a sealed steam environment of parchment paper, which was a massive missed opportunity to get bonus points for cooking something in foil.  

As the challenge winds down, we have plates on the table, thanks to Alpha leader Sara. Let’s see what we got:

Sara and Stephanie: Lamb chops, fonduta, mushrooms. Corn. Stuff. Gail’s mama says the lamb is nicely cooked. 

Justin and Michael: Red Snapper en Papillote with Rice Pilaf. Sake to me. The two generations of ladies love it. 

Carrie, Louis, Shirley: Buratta, apples, balsamic sabayon. Nothing really to hear on the eating. Something about Carrie’s arm about to fall off. Looks pretty classic. And good. 

Carlos and Travis: Clams Poached with Fish Sauce and Coconut. Asian Mexican spice fest. After being on the firing line last episode, this may be a redemption dish for both of them.

Nick and Patty: Snapper and Branzino with Mustard Vinaigrette. Citrus explosion gets a “very nice.” Perhaps Patty has been purposefully losing to hide the fact that she is a shark. A shark trained by David Burke. 

Bene, Brian, and Nina: Soup. Beans, chiles, cherries, okra. Looks very strange. Too many ingredients. “Train wreck,” says Justin, and no one, and I mean no one, disagrees. 

The win goes to Team Padma. 10K is endowed to the scholarship fund called “Shoes for Bene.”

Lea Michele gleefully races in. Stephanie Cmar wants to hang with Lea. Well, duh, who wouldn’t want to do that? Just hang out and once in a while break into song? Bliss I tell you. 

Michael got laid once when he dressed up as a pregnant nun. Some people just say strange things to socially ostracize themselves from the pack. Michael is the poster child of those people.  

They break up into teams they really don’t want to be on, and they then talk to Lea Michelle about her vegan dream diet, which turns out not to be really vegan at all. She likes to branch out. Cheese is her favorite. Things that are a party in your mouth.  So teams of two and they are cooking a dish per team member, so if you are following me that’s two different dishes per team. If you are not following me, you should go get some coffee, take a break, and then loop back in when you can concentrate. Oh, and it’s a Halloween costume party. Think scary. 

Whole Foods run around. Some teams are happy and some are really not. Michael is making balls. Fried balls that will weigh Nina down. Prep is occurring. Tom drops in on this scary cooking fest. Lots of rice balls happening. Tom bids them adieu until tomorrow.

If you harken back to what Lea likes and dislikes it’s kind of important. 

Likes: Italian, Mexican, vegan lifestyle, cheese, vegetables, parties in mouth, spice, and maybe Mexican men. 

Dislikes: Beets. sweets. 

Nick is taking a Plan B approach because of what the competition of Michael and Nina are doing. Brian and Bene are doing a spooky spa cuisine. All spa cuisine is spooky to me. Michael is battling with Nina. Michael is a boisterous soul and a born rabble-rouser. 

Time finishes, so they go out looking for haunted houses. Brian has a plan to meet any horror movie scenario.  

So here we go. Spooky. Shirley and Louis have the best chemistry and Michael and Nina have the worst. Michael calls Nina Boo Boo a lot, which is his way of making sure we understand that he finds her talented, but still a girl. Really. It is. It’s kind of gross. Anyhow, my view is that regardless of the box she checks on the census, she could beat him in all competitions, except the Who’s Krazy Olympiad. Just saying. Maybe he’ll surprise me. Maybe he won’t.  

The judges enter and someone named Charlotte has given me a Prince Charming outfit. She sent me this picture in advance to set my mind at ease for how I would be dressed. No joke -- she really did. 

hugh-little-prince.jpg

I still adore her, but this is a really suspect outfit. I feel like a weirdo. I mean I am a weirdo, but this is not helping. Just so you know, I am neither charming, nor a prince. 

Padma and I wander around eating vittles and talking to the locals. It’s a great group of people in a very interesting room. The chefs overall have done pretty well with some really making great vittles and some reaching ho-hum. Tom is dressed like Gatsby, but he really just looks like Tom in a boater. He has some competition in the Gatsby department when our big boss man, Andy Cohen slides in and starts calling everyone “Sport.” Lea is dressed like a cat, but an adult cat. Padma is dressed like a voodoo priestess. I am itchy, and the pins that hold my XXL Prince Charming outfit to my body are poking me in odd places. You know that feeling when you are going through pain, but kind of enjoy it? That’s me right now.  

So we eat:

Black Team - Carrie: Charred Chicory puree, mushrooms, and black garlic

Black Team - Stephanie: Leek, ash vegetables, and fontina fonduta

I just like saying Fontina Fonduta. Ash is all the rage these days with the decline in smoking… we gotta get that carbon from somewhere. Both dishes are really tasty. They worked well as a team and have put out good stuff, which appealed to the hostess, Lea. 

Yellow Team - Nicholas: Butternut Cannoli with Ricotta Salata

Yellow Team - Patty: Lemon Arancini

Arancini is a fried risotto ball, and we are about to see a lot of them. But Patty is finally doing good with this one. She killed it. Nick did good too. He saw another chef doing gnocchi, and he changed course very successfully. 

Green Team - Brian: Quinoa salad with mushroom espuma and some cobweb thing

Green Team - Bene: Heirloom Tomato Salad with wilted kaleYou know how you are supposed to eat spa food cause it’s good for you but no one wants to actually eat the stuff? This was that to the nth degree. Just a strange choice to make. Brian’s espuma was kind of flat, where usually they are aerated to a foam. Bene’s salad, though he will later plead that he seasoned it, was really drastically underseasoned. Tomatoes just don’t shine without some salt. 

Orange Team - Nina: Gnocchetti with kale pesto and squash

Orange Team - Michael: Arancini thing.

This is one of those times when the Sesame Street song, “One of These Things is not Like the Other” gets stuck in my head. Nina’s was amazing. Smart, executed perfectly. Michael’s was not great. Blah. Boring. Sweet tomato sauce. 

Red Team - Travis: Vegetable Ceviche

Red Team - Carlos: Goat cheese fondue with fried zucchini

Slutty Santa has come through. Really refreshing. Hot though. Good hot. Carlos is killing it too. 

Blue Team - Louis:  Braised Quinoa thumb thing

Blue Team - Shirley: Hand cut noodles, pickled daikon

I understand that Lea Michele is vegan, but this Quinoa thing has got to end. Now, it was a better rendition than Brian’s quinoa things but still. Shirley’s was pretty good but also kind of something you would find at the buffet at the health food store. 

Grey Team - Justin: Beet pasta with green tomatoes

Grey Team - Sara: Arancini. New profile. Mo-rockin’.

Pasta was strange. Not horrible but kind of weird. Arancini was fine. If I see another ball of fried rice, then I am outta here. 

Stew room starts with Carlos praying, because at this point it can’t hurt, can it? Then the chefs get to watch us weigh in on what just happened. Reactions are mixed because the food was mixed. 

Tops are Nicholas and Patty and also Travis and Carlos. In this challenge though Red reigned supreme. Carlos and Travis worked it and won. Carlos thinks he really now has a shot with Lea. He can still dream. You can never take that away from him. 

Bottoms are Orange, Michael and Nina, and also Green, Brian and Bene. It’s hard to lose as a team. Lea did not want spa cuisine. She wanted party food, and no party starts with quinoa, at least none I really yearn to attend. 

Michael leaves the show with some uncomfortable hugging. He feigns shooting himself on re-entering the kitchen, and there is an odd quiet to the crowd. 

Be well, Michael. You are a live wire. 

Follow me on 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!