Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

A Wong Family Christmas

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

A Wong Family Christmas

Lee Anne Wong remembers Christmas and breaks out the family photos. Baby Lee Anne=so adorable!

It's funny how when you get older, certain memories come and go. Guess I need more ginkgo biloba. When asked by Bravo to write a holiday blog, I thought long and hard about what Christmas means to me. My family was not religious when I was growing up. I think I debunked the Santa Claus legend by the time I was 10 (A. Because Mom and Dad never actually ate the cookies and milk, and B. because I was a sneaky little thing, staying up late at night to eventually catch my Dad in action.) My fondest memories are not of any singular Christmas or gift.

When I try to remember something specific, what pops into my head are memories with my Mom and Dad. Let's start with my hero and my superstar, Mrs. Wong. My mother worked the graveyard shift in the ER when my brother and I were kids so she could spend time with us in the day. My mother might single-handedly be the craftiest self taught cook and homemaker I know. She'd come home from work at seven in the morning and bake something spectacular for us to take to school to give to our teachers (the other kids called me and my bro brown-nosers).

You've heard about apples for the teacher, right? Try double fudge brownies with a peanut butter swirl, or Oreo cheesecake. In and of that, she became famous around our small town for her culinary genius, making tasty treats year 'round, but giving gifts beyond fruitcake around the holidays. For a few years, she got into making bread dough ornaments for the tree. She'd shape and bake the bread dough, then use paints and polyurethane to finish and decorate the ornaments: everything from Siamese cats to Raggedy Ann and Andy. She has also created several gingerbread house masterpieces over the years. Quite the candy architect. All beautiful gifts for friends and teachers. Some people even got into collecting my Mom's ornaments.

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I will forever be indebted to my parents for encouraging my creative talents. When I was very young, maybe seven or eight, my Mom would take us to go see the Christmas Tree show at the Albany Historical Society. Lots of beautifully decorated trees sponsored by businesses and artists benefiting the Society. Finally, one year my Mom bought a tree for us to decorate, I might have been 9 at the time. We decided to pimp it out it with origami. It was the first of its kind ever displayed in Albany. My little fingers folded boats and frogs, cranes and penguins, ornaments, samurais, and even Old Mother Hubbard and her dog, for over two weeks. So now you all know where the kung fu from the wedding challenge came from (I will never fold that many cranes EVER again).

The one thing that she is quite well known for, and I look forward to having anytime there's some around, is her pecan candy. She'll make gads of the stuff and wrap it up in festive tins, or little holiday cellophane bags with ribbon. And the way people inhale it and ask for more, you'd think it was pecan crack. Several years ago, after I had graduated from a prestigious culinary school and had worked in a professional kitchen for some time, I attempted to recreate her pecan candy in my apartment. I even called my Mom to ask for the recipe and she recited it to me over the phone. Failure. Not even close. I mean, just a few simple ingredients: raw pecans, butter, sugar, salt and vanilla. Mom's got the Midas touch. What has always been slightly mind boggling to me and drives me a little bonkers is that my mom doesn't really measure anything, nor does she use a candy thermometer.

This year she promises to teach me how ... otherwise known as "The Wong Way to make Pecan Candy." So while Mom was busy baking and crafting, Dad would be setting up the tree and looking through issues of Consumer Reports to pick out the very best gifts for the family. Dad was a big fan of my athletic career as a child so hockey sticks, softball gloves, and BMX bikes could always be counted on as gifts.

My Dad is hilarious when it comes to buying gifts, and practical. One year he bought me a new toilet seat for my apartment because the one I had was slightly busted and old.
One of the things that is so charming about my father and he's still the only one who wraps the presents these days (I actually unwrapped the toilet seat). Mom will just hand everything over in a shopping bag because she's usually working double shifts at the hospital right around now. Dad's new thing is getting me lots of things to do with cutlery and knives. He's had this great hunting knife collection that I would always admire as a child. I feel that my current knife collection (kitchen knives, of course) is not only larger but also slowly turning into a monster, so much that I could join the circus if I wanted to. Again, all chefs like to collect knives.

Me, on the other hand, I need a new knife like I need a hole in my head. Got that Dad? The past few years have been hectic for me, and while my family only lives several hours away, it is sometimes difficult to get upstate to see them. I'll try this year, braving the Amtrak and Greyhound crowds. It is most definitely winter in NY (it's about 40ËšF outside right now). Everywhere you look, it's shopping season. Bing Crosby and I are becoming fast friends. It seems a bit odd to me when I'm asked what I want for Christmas.

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Honestly, in my mind, it is so much less about the gift giving. I really don't need anything more right now other than the company of my family and friends. I suppose I'll create a small wish list of cookbooks, DVDs, and kitchenware, but that's about it. I have been traveling so much in the past year that it will be great just to see my family and be able to cook for them and spend time together. The idea of having to shop for others, family and friends alike, seems daunting at best. One, because I really don't have the time. And two, because I seriously have not a clue what to get anybody. They'll all have to be satisfied with gift certificates for bacon of the month club. With any luck, Mrs. Wong will teach me how to make her famous pecan candy and then I'll never have to go shopping ever again. Either way, I am looking forward to this holiday.

It's been a tremendous year and I have so much to be thankful for, and I want to thank you all for your continued support. Heartfelt wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy holiday! And my gift to you? Mom's secret recipe. Good luck, send me photos and let me know how it turns out.

Mrs. Wong's Pecan Candy ¼ cup (1/2 stick) Unsalted Butter 1 cup Granulated Sugar 2 cups Raw Pecan Halves Pinch Salt 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract 1. In a small pot, combine the butter, sugar, salt, and nuts. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often until the nuts are toasted and the sugar is caramelized (12-15 minutes). 2. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and stir rapidly to incorporate. Spread the candy onto a parchment lined sheet tray, pulling apart the caramelized nuts with 2 forks until it is in a single layer. Allow the candy to cool before breaking into smaller pieces. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks.

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!