Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

An Offal Mess

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

An Offal Mess

Lee Anne Wong on the the difficulties of cooking for 60. Oh, and why you must try pig's leg.

This round is all about "leftovers." Now I debate calling the Quickfire this, because while unusual and not often eaten by the average American, these parts of the animal are consumed in many countries as a delicacy and mostly because other cultures are less wasteful and use the entire animal.

I myself will try anything three times, and have done so with most of these parts. I have come to love many of them, with the exception of chicken's feet (weird crunchy cartilage...my fellow Chinese cooks at Jean George's 66 used to get a good haha eating them in front of me and watching me squirm). Two hours is not a lot of cooking time, so to choose something like the veal tails to braise is not the wisest choice, especially if you are not using a pressure cooker. Veal tails, a smaller version of oxtails, are absolutely sublime if cooked long enough. The meat is tender and flavorful, and should fall off the bone. Same with pig trotters. Love 'em, but they need quite a long time to cook.

If you ever get a chance to consume what is known as a zampone, I would not pass it up. It is a full pig's leg stuffed with ground meat. You roast and braise it whole, and you traditionally serve it with lentils. Mmmmm, delicious swinerrific treat. Okay, back to the show. (By the way, I am back from Hawaii this week, and I must say, this dreary weather in NY is just not doing it for me.)

Watching everyone's recovery from the cheating incident, I find Betty's "poor me" attitude to be a little thin, especially when she can't help but take a dig at Marcel in interview. Both her and Frank's dishes are a little bizarre to me, as they opted to use two different varieties of offal, fish and meat. The pastry chef manages to pull off a little Greek Bolognese (probably the best dish she's done in competition so far). Miss Elia decided to brave kidneys, which usually need a little bit of soaking time to rid themselves of that uric acid taste, especially if they are veal kidneys.


When she actually argues about Chef Bernstein's decision to call her out in the bottom three, I was incredulous. First of all, Michelle Bernstein knows what she's talking about. It's ridiculous that any contestant should second-guess a professional who's been cooking twice as long as you. Secondly, most kidney dishes need a little sauce to make them palatable. Traditional sauces involve maybe some caramelized onions, or some sort of vinegar, with the acid and sweetness to cut through the richness of the kidneys. The rest of them seem to make most their dishes quite well. I think one of the solutions to the meats that required longer cooking time was cutting them off the bone into smaller pieces.

I absolutely love sweetbreads, so Sam's, Marcel's, Cliff's, and Ilan's dishes looked scrumptious to me, and I would have ordered them off a restaurant menu any day. Even Mr. Midgely pulled it out for Chef Bernstein. In the end Sam's beignets won. (Sweet, sweet deep-fried immunity.) If any of you ever get the chance to stop by any of Tom Colicchio's restaurants, order the sweetbreads. I think it were the sweetbreads at Gramercy Tavern (when he was the chef there) that first won me over years ago. His preparations are always spot-on. leeannesblog_60_320x240.jpg

Brunch at Social for Jennifer Coolidge and friends. Social is one of Jeffrey Chodorow's many restaurants. The contestants are given the opportunity to raid the walk-ins and pantry of Social to create a lunch for 60. This challenge is so great because Tom asks them to pair up in twos. No knife block, just "who do you want to cook with?" Alarm bells should be going off in their heads right about now to let them know that it'll be a double elimination due to last episode's fiasco. The Betty and Mia bus love is great ("I love you, even though I'm the one who called you out at judges' table last time"). When they do actually draw knives, it's amazing how the teams did not work together at all to create the lunch menu.


What I love about my season, and the people on it, is that while we were competing, we realized there was something much more important than winning...the customer. We came together to create a menu for Ted Allen that would "wow" his guests, and even when we were switched up, most of us helped each other out to ensure that the meal actually tasted good. No such luck with this group. leeannesblog_marcel_320x240.jpgleeannesblog_sam_320x240.jpg

Fun teams, Marcel and Frank (Eddie Munster and Tony S.), Marisa and Josie (because they are the only ones who trust each other, HA!), Sam and Cliff (the calm and collected workhorses), Carlos and Elia (cooking deeessert, not feeeesh), and Ilan and Midgely (also a comically relaxed pair). Many of the dishes make absolutely no sense when put together as a complete menu, with duplication of ingredients and formats (duos and trio run amok). Part of the challenge is figuring out what plates well 60 at a time. I learned that the hard way with the wedding challenge, and I am a much smarter cook since then. Ilan and Midgely do a great job with their risotto (lucky them, with 30 soft shell crabs lying around the walk-in).

The duck napoleon leaves quite a bit to be desired (overcooked, and all that puff pastry). The "awakening" palate cleanser is just plain weird. And the dessert doesn't seem like it would taste very good even as separate courses. So one thing you all may not realize is that if you are 5th or 6th course, that means you get an extra TWO HOURS to get your course ready for plating. Which is a wonder to me why they struggled to make and plate three salad dishes as a trio. (That's five hours cooking time. Ridiculous.)

So bye-bye Josie and Marisa. Again, both strong, accomplished women, and quite charming in person, may I add. I just don't think they were cut out for this competition. In closing, one of the reasons that I am so critical of some of these contestants is because of their astounding egos on camera. To be a chef, of course you need to have a sense of oneself, and a bit of an ego. Common sense will tell you that you need to keep that ego in check, especially if the rest of America is watching and you can't back up all of that bravado with some kick-ass food. Some of the best and most respected chefs in the world are the most humble. It is humility, and the understanding that there is always someone out there better than you, that should keep even the best chef motivated to continue learning until the day they die.

The next episode is where I actually join up with the production and in getting to know some of the remaining contestants. I'll tell you right now, the egos get bigger and the drama, as petulant and immature as it will get sometimes, only increases. Great TV. Until next week, go get your pigs' feet on. And for those of you still thinking about my chocolate and bacon cake, stay tuned. I'll eventually relinquish the recipe once my website is up and running.

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!