Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Meals on Wheels

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

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

Meals on Wheels

The chefs serve Habitat for Humanity volunteers from food trucks.

Hello my little empanadas! Man, I really want empanadas after watching this episode, but we'll get to that. It's "Doomsday in the Stew Room" after the first elimination. Padma enters the Stew Room to issue the chefs' first Quickfire Challenge. 

At this point, the chefs are tired, confused, cold, so, so cold -- just kidding -- it's hot hot hot in New Orleans. But everyone seems rather emotional for only having completed one challenge so far. Stephanie even calls Patsy a "pansy" for crying in front of hte judges (though not to her face.) 

The first Quickfire Challenge is to make one of New Orleans' signature dishes -- gumbo! They'll have all night to cook and 15 minutes the next day to finish.

"Is gumbo like a veloutee base?" Aaron asks. Oy.

We discover a lot of things very quickly.

1. Carrie is going to incorporate her mother-in-law's Trinidadian background. Risky!

2. Nina is not making a roux. Risky!

3. Justin is doing a super-traditional gumbo. Risky!

4. Michael's first gumbo attempt is a bust, so he throws itout.

We learn real things, too, though. Jason's mother died when he was three and named his restaurant, ELA, after her. He's going to incorporate his Polish roots into his gumbo. Michael had cancer at a very young age and he's ready to keep fighting. Get 'em, Michael!

After not much sleep, the chefs get to the kitchen the next day.

"Bowl! Bowl! Bowls!" Easy, Bret. Bret admits he hasn't worked in a kitchen in awhile, and it's starting to show.

Did I forget to mention that the chefs aren't only making of New Orleans' most beloved dishes, but they're also making it for one of the city's most beloved chefs?! Leah Chase, Chef/Owner, Dooky Chase. I will admit that I didn't know much about Leah Chase before this episode, but she is obviously one sassy lady, and I love a sassy lady. She wore a hot pink chef's coat for G-d's sake! 

[record scratch]

"You want me to put the whole head in my mouth?" Yes, Padma.

After thoughtful and direct critiques from Leah, Carrie is crowned gumbo queen and receives immunity. Go, Carrie!

No rest for the weary as Padma presents the Elimination Challenge: the chefs will cook for Habitat for Humanity volunteers… on food trucks! Shirley owns a food truck -- excuse me, a giant paper weight -- so not sure if that gives her any sort of advantage. The chefs are split up into four groups and quickly select their concepts. Alll of them seem like fairly run-of-the-mill food truck concepts: Mexican, seafood, Mediterranean… 

After team members figure out what they'll all be doing, they go back to the house and Michael treats them to a crawfish boil. I know they all seemed a tad annoyed by Michael's tour guiding last week, but these are the moments they're going ot remember: moments like enjoying a proper crawfish boil by a New Orleans chef... and Jason commenting on his looks while he smokes a cigar. 

The next day, the chefs get to it, and they all do fairly well. I've noticed that the chefs always bring their A-game when they're cooking for a good cause… or Charlize Theron.The Yellow Team kills it with Carlos and Aaron's tacos, Carrie and Aaron's empanadas, and Travis and Brian's ceviche. Those tacos looked enormous, and according to Tom were "muy bueno." Ultimately, Carrie gets the win for her exceptional empanada dough. That girl is on fiiiiire! She also taught us a fun trick: to roll out your dough with an ice-cold bottle of wine instead of a rolling pin to keep your dough cool and together.

Since your wine bottle will be covered in flour after, you should probably just go ahead and drink it. That's my chef tip.

The Green Team's mediterranean offerings were also well-received. And despite some issues with Bene feeling unheard, the Red Team was safe as well. We'll see if the chefs pay more attention to him next time.

Ultimately, the Blue Team's offerings had the most flaws. Bret served a cold ceviche with a hot element. Patty's tomato was out of season and had no place on her tuna slider. And Jason made his salmon hand roll ahead of time so he could shmooze the crowd. Jason ends up going home and vows to slay his competition in Last Chance Kitchen. Looks like I won't have to defend Jason's cocky comments every week here! So, there's that., After a weak premiere, Patty seems to be skating on thin ice. Hopefully she can turn it around.

Tell me: did Jason deserve to go home? Which truck would you frequent?

Until next week, Have a Nosh!

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. . .  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!