Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

'Top Chef' 11 Premiere: Swamp Things

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

'Top Chef' 11 Premiere: Swamp Things

Is Jason really as cocky as he seems?

Well, hello my little beignets! Welcome to Top Chef Season 11 in New Orleans. I'm Monica, Senior Producer at Bravo Digital and your recapper for the season.

I couldn't be happier that Season 11 is in New Orleans. There are very few cities that I truly felt sad leaving, but New Orleans is one of them. It's honestly another world down there and one of the few cities in the United States that has its own distinct cuisine, completely unshared by any other city.

So, after probably the best season of Top Chef Masters yet, I hope you're ready to dive into a new season of Top Chef with 19 -- yes, 19 -- cheftestants. The chefs enter their beautiful home and share a little bit about themselves, and instantly, a reluctant villain emerges -- Jason. Full disclosure: Jason's restaurant ELA is actually the only restaurant I've dined in among all the chefs' restaurants. It was a recommendation for brunch, and the brunch was quite tasty, so I'll be interested to see how Jason does. He already has a bit of a hometown rivalry with Nicholas, who is just adorable. OK, that's enough of that. 

Some familiar faces include Stephanie Cmar, Kristen Kish's former roommate, who didn't quite make it to the Season 10 kitchen. Bene Bartolotta, who recently competed in Battle of the Sous Chefs for Top Chef Master Odette Fada. There's also Michael and Justin who both -- surprise! -- won Padma's Picks. If you haven't watch the prequel series yet, watch it HERE.

Shirley worked for Thomas Keller. Carlos has a Michelin star. Aaron works for Top Chef Master and all-around adorable chef Takashi Yagihashi. He was also maybe in a mildly successful punk band? We see a photo of Janine with Season 5's Jeff McInnis. And if you haven't heard, they're opening a restaurant together in NYC! Can't wait to try that one. After some pleasantries and s--t-talking, s--- got real, and then s--- got really really really really real. Thanks, Stephanie!

Padma and Tom walk in and present the chefs with their first challenge, not a Quickfire challenge mind you, but an Elimination Challenge. They're not effing around. The challenge is to create a dish using one of three New Orleans delicacies… in a swamp. The three options are turtle, alligator, and frog. I actually had alligator cheesecake at Jacques Imo's (a must-visit!) and fried alligator on a stick at the Creole Tomato festival in New Orleans, but I somehow drew the line at turtle soup at Brennan's. The only turtle I ate in New Orleans was filled with chocolate and caramel!

And with proteins in hand from local utters, the chefs get to the Top Chef kitchen. The pride the chefs feel putting on their coats for the first time is palpable. Aaron doesn't have a plan for his pasta, but he's not worried. Well, that's good because I am.

Hold up -- Nina's father was the prime minister of St. Lucia. Whaaat?! I just want her to say "diplomatic immunity" a la Lethal Weapon just once. Just once!

Aaand pause for a Janine ogling break. Get it together, guys! Seriously! Bret's mouth is watering, and it ain't over the gumbo he's cooking. Bret, your heart and sauces will only get broken.


Wait, pause.

Jason cut himself! Nothing brings a chef's confidence down to Earth like cutting yourself in front of Tom Colicchio. Whoops!


Carrie is nervous. Like, so nervous she's running away from Tom. Hope those nerves don't get the best of her because I kind of want to be friends with her. Is it just me or does she jsut seem like the nicest person?

Patty, who works for David Burke at Fishtail,  hasn't made enough food. Sooo, I'm worried for Patty and Aaron. 

And then there's Ramon who has to water down his dash so as not to make people sick. Not a good sign, either, and not surprisingly -- spoiler alert! -- Ramon, Aaron, and Patty ultimately comprise our bottom three. 

After the first day of prep, the chefs are chilling at home and the Mayor of New Orleans (not really), Emeril Lagasse, brings them beignets. I mean, even if you get kicked off in the fist episode, you were just served beignets by Emeril Lagasse, so I'm thinking everyone's going home happy. Emeril offers some sage advice to Travis about his tough alligator.: "You gotta do something about that." Travis responds, "Where were you yesterday?" Travis, if you didn't know you had to something about the toughness, not even Emeril Lagasse can help you.

Full of beignets, the chefs head to the swamp to set up their own kitchens! Man, we're so cruel sometimes. 

Checking back in on Patty who has come to the conclusion she needs to start from scratch. Oy. We see her ripping apart her rillettes. 

Jason, on the other hand, is done. And just when you think, "Yeah maybe he's a douchebag, he tells Nick, "I'm going to go pick some shrubberies." Maybe I'm too eager to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I think he has fun with arrogance and he's not so bad. I look forward to once again defending the cockiest cheftestant of the season. 

But sorry, Jason, you're not the hottest chef at the swamp because Curtis Stone is guest judging! Hi, Curtis! He joins "Swamp Queen" Padma, Tom, and Emeril.After a "really delicious" comment from Tom regarding Nina's food, which is a win in itself, we see who starts getting the beads, and yeah, Nina's kiling it. "Rockabilly" Sara offers an "unapologettically hot" dish. It doesn't hurt that Curtis and Padma love spicy food. 

Time for Judges' Table! But there's a twist! The chefs can hear the judges deliberating. Being critiqued like that in front of your competitors adds a really interesting element to the competition. Let me know what you think about it in the Comments section below.

Tops are Sara, who "blew Padma's socks away," Nina, and Carrie. Nina wins. Now, usually the first Qickfire winner either wins the whole thing or fares pretty well in the competition, but we didn't have a Quickfire Challenge, so it will be fun to see how far Nina goes and if the tradition holds up.

The bottom three were a sad sight if only for the fact that Patty cried. Tom even tried consoling her! (I think.) That never happens! There's no crying in fine dining! Quick: who remembers which cheftestant said that? Answer in the Comments below! Dry those eyes, Patty -- you're safe. As is Aaron who was at the root of a little tiff between Curtis and Tom, who disagreed on the very concept of making homemade pasta at a swamp.


In the end, Ramon is the first chef to go home. Apparently the judges don't take too kindly to almost being made sick.

Phew! We made it! I'm shvitzing already!

Tell me: Who's your front-runner to win it all?

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!