Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Avocado And B.S. Ice Cream

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

Avocado And B.S. Ice Cream

Lee Anne let's you in on an important lesson she learned in Season One. She also proclaims her love for bacon.

I scream, you scream...but nobody's screaming for avocado and bulls--t ice cream.

Side note: I am starting to realize how jaw-droppingly hilarious the Season 2 cast is. The claws are starting to come out, and everyone's little idiosyncracies begin to annoy the hell out of everyone else. I remember it well.

Intro to Episode 3...Interviews are always fun to watch, only because as a cast member, when you are pulled into interview, it can turn into a free-for-all. Nobody else except for a producer, cameraman, and sound guy are around. You don't have to worry about hurting anyone's feelings and the questions that they ask you are the kind that elicit some eyebrow raising answers. What always makes me crack up is how most people tend to forget that they are still on camera, and the editing room can be a beast. I remember when the NY crew would get together every Wednesday to watch each episode, and we'd wait to hear what Stephen had to say next.

Now, I look at Marcel and the first thing I think is that he is young, egotistical, and ambitious -- much like Stephen was perceived in the first season. He doesn't have an "off switch," maybe due to immaturity, or the fact that he knows that he's not there for a lovefest. Either way, he is the cause for some outstanding TV.

So what is molecular gastronomy, you ask?

As defined by Wikipedia: Molecular gastronomy is the application of science to culinary practice and more generally gastronomical phenomena. The term was coined by the French scientist Herve This and by the Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti. Both had investigated food preparation scientifically: Nicholas Kurti had given a presentation in 1969 at the Royal Institution called "The physicist in the kitchen"), and This had been testing culinary old wives's tales since March 1980. The idea of using techniques developed in chemistry to study food was not a new one: it has a history back to the 18th century [1]. Herve and This decided that a new, specific discipline should be created within that of food science, and looked for a name. The initial proposal by This was "Molecular Gastronomy", but Kurti, being a physicist, insisted on adding "and physical". This is why the discipline was at first called "Molecular and Physical Gastronomy" (also the title of This's PhD). When Kurti died, This dropped the "and physical" to arrive at "Molecular Gastronomy", but Kurti's name was given to the continuing series of workshops that Kurti and This had directed every two years in Erice, at the Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture. The fundamental objectives of molecular gastronomy were defined by This in his PhD thesis as: * Investigating culinary and gastronomical proverbs, sayings, old wives tales * Exploring existing recipes * Introducing new tools, ingredients and methods into the kitchen * Inventing new dishes * Using molecular gastronomy to help the general public understand the contribution of science to society

Confusing? It can be. I've had the pleasure of meeting and working with Hervé at The French Culinary. And while I understand the principles and some of the techniques used, I still do not fully practice many of them. However, I am fascinated by it and am always eager to learn about new methods and ingredients. There are several high profile chefs out there constantly pushing the envelope and creating new trends. Obviously there are the Spanish godfathers like Ferr Adría, Juan Marí Arzak, and Martin Berasategí. Here in the states, chefs like Grant Achatz, Wylie Dufresne, Homaro Cantu, and Jose Andres are leading our culinary revolution. Recently, the FCI hosted 10 Spanish chefs, including the three listed above, for a weekend conference that included demonstrations, tastings, and workshops for industry professionals and the public. It was a tremendous weekend and I feel so fortunate to have been able to work with all of them and learn from them firsthand, not just from their books.

It's mindblowing to go out drinking with these guys, and also with other industry greats like Harold McGee, Sam Mason and Johnny Iuzzini. Marcel was there on Saturday when the event was open to the public, having paid an astronomical amount of money to come and watch the Spanish chefs. Point being that I believe Marcel truly has an interest in molecular gastronomy. Is he a master of it? Not even close. However his insight and interest are feeding his ego on the show, because none of the other contestants are using these techniques.

I was slightly surprised that so many of the contestants had never made ice cream before. It can be a tricky process, and your ice cream base ideally should be balanced with the right amounts of fat and sugar content to result in a good texture once frozen. Now, I don't eat ice cream often, but when I do it has to be great -- meaning texture, flavor, and temperature all have to be on point. I'm a fan of new and innovative flavors, and I absolutely love ice creams that incorporate savory ingredients. However, the contestants need to realize whom they are serving. When Padma tells them they will be at Redondo Beach serving their product, common sense will tell you it won't be a bunch of four-star diners looking for avant-garde flavors. This fact, though, should in no way limit their ability to be creative.

I am bacon's #1 fan and president of the bacon fan club of greater America. It makes all things taste better (except for avocado ice cream, apparently). Looking at Ilan's ice cream, I started to water at the mouth and hope that he put a maple syrup swirl somewhere in his concoction. Bacon and avocado don't sound terribly bad either, but it all depends on who's making it...


So they get to the Redondo Beach Lagoon and Emily pulls what I like to refer to as a "Tiffani." Emily seems to forget that she was a child once, too. "I hate kids." Guess what? They can see it all over your face and in the end you'll suffer for it. Part of Top Chef is playing up to your customers, regardless of what age they are. Yet another stellar moment in interview. She follows it up by insulting one of the customers, commenting on her "huge ass." Real smooth. At the end of the challenge Cliff's fun and classic flavors won over the crowd. What I really appreciated is the fact that Marcel had a good sense of humor about coming in dead last with his bacontastic creation. The next challenge is to recreate a childhood favorite, and the winning dish will be featured nationally on the TGIFriday's menu.

There are a few who feel out of their comfort zone -- Marcel and Emily, to be specific. Again, had they watched last season they would have to know that the challenges address all facets of the food world. Get over yourself. And besides, don't they realize that most firefighters are a true group of gourmands? Hell, I'd jump at the chance to cook for a bunch of firefighters.

Again, underestimating their customers. So now we come to Midgely, who is out of his gourd, in an Animal House sort of way, forgoing ingredients for a six-pack of Boddington's. But he grows on you, sort of like fungus. Which brings me to my next point...I remember going through the challenges myself, and of course I always played to win. When you don't come out on top, naturally it's disappointing. But in the end is it okay to not win? Is this cast playing to win, or playing to stay out of the bottom three? There's a difference. Staying in the middle is not necessarily a bad thing. The Quickfires also become much more important than the Elimination Challenge because immunity is at stake. So I see where Midge is coming from, but he makes it hard to believe he is there to win.


Marcel and Betty get into their catfight. Boohoo, Marcel. Take the friggin' oil and put it in a pan over a flame instead of waiting for the electric deep fryer to heat up. Betty kills it with a little childish hoo-ha herself. This whole exchange is boring if you ask me, and does absolutely nothing for either of their characters. Sam's dish is impressive and innovative, and it sounds completely refreshing and perfect for summer.

For a $100 budget, it would have been nice to see Emily's dish with maybe some lobster instead of over-seasoned shrimp. Frank's mushroom wonderland...I'm really at a loss for words. The rest come out and sound and look appetizing. Mmmm...bacon and corn. Ilan is playing that smoky pork card again. Shamelessly delicious. Overall, I think most of the contestants did a great job. It is true that only 30% of Americans ever eat in fine dining restaurants. The challenge was to create exciting and approachable food for the everyday diner, and there is no shame in that, nor should it be an excuse why one would not win. Even the best chefs in the world have their comfort dishes, and their childhood favorites.

The one thing that Top Chef taught me was the beauty of simplified cuisine. I recently created Betty's dish on Webisodes, and I have to say, it's a great recipe! She really has a handle on bold and assertive flavors, and outside of the immature exchange with Marcel, she managed to win over the judges because, quite simply, her food was good. Emily was obviously crushed by the decision to eliminate her, but I think in time she will learn from this experience. She's got talent and hopefully will learn the value of both praise and criticism. In the meantime, I'm going to get back to the braised pork in caramelized milk that I made for dinner tonight. Til next time...

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!