Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Canadian Confessions

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

Canadian Confessions

Gail reveals her true identity... and her thoughts on the Thanksgiving episode.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to say upfront that I am Canadian. I moved to New York for culinary school a year or so after college and have only been in the United States for the better part of a decade. I tell you this not because I think you are entirely interested, but because it explains that

I know relatively little about American Thanksgiving, the most widely celebrated, cross-cultural holiday of all. I want to be clear that I am by no means a Thanksgiving expert. Sure; Canadians have their own Thanksgiving too, the same weekend as U.S. Columbus Day -- we eat a bit of turkey and hang out with family, but it is far less of an occasion. In the years since I moved, I have spent the holiday at generous friends' homes and have even cooked once for a large group of ex-pats and others who do not spend it with their families.

Most often, though, I use the holiday as an excuse to go back to Canada for a relaxed, non-celebratory, long weekend (as I will be doing again this year). I must admit to feeling a little left out in the past. After all, any Thursday afternoon spent eating your brains out with friends and/or relatives in honor of those who did it before you, watching a little football and taking a nap is my kind of holiday! So it was with great pleasure that I was able to celebrate an extra Thanksgiving this year, just a few months ago, in the sticky heat of a Los Angeles summer. My real family may not have been around, but Tom, Padma and our guest judge, (the side-splitting and outrageous) Tony Bourdain -- as well as the winning contestants from this week's Quickfire Challenge who did not have to cook -- more than made up for the fun and shenanigans they would have supplied.


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What makes Thanksgiving food so delicious anyway? That I can tell you: the colors and creamy flavors of roasted fall vegetables; the caramelized golden skin and richness of turkey meat; the tart, bright tang of cranberry sauce and the sweet, velvety texture of warm pumpkin pie are all pretty hard to resist. At no point did we ask the chefs who were cooking our meal to depart from these time-honored traditions. We merely asked them to give us a modern twist on them and hoped the food would still taste good. I will never understand why Carlos decided to stick with a salad. I know he believed adding roasted squash and queso fresco would set him apart, but compared to the work done by every other member of that team, it could not compare, even against dishes less edible. I am not suggesting great salads are easy to do, but in this specific challenge, I actually believe he failed. It was not cutting edge. It tasted fine, but was limp and unoriginal. I had no problem agreeing that it was his time to leave the competition.

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Elia's mushroom soup with walnuts was by far the most successful dish from a culinary standpoint. It hit all the high points that a good soup should. It was soulful and smooth, nutty and earthy. It did not start a culinary revolution, but was just modern and playful enough to get noticed. I loved it!


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Marcel made a valiant effort as well. He finally was able to put his mad-scientist theories to work. His dish was sort of whimsical, inventive and pretty to look at, even if the turkey was slightly overcooked. I especially liked his play on cranberry sauce, which was made into an airy foam as well as a clear, bright gelatin that contrasted beautifully against the plate and the meat, in both appearance and taste. No one could say he was not cutting edge, especially in relation to his competition.

On the other hand, I was totally indifferent to Betty's creme brulee duo. As far as dessert was concerned, hers was neither horrifying, nor at all memorable. It was Mike's side dishes that shocked us the most. It simply defied all logic that he purposely chose to make not one, but THREE heavy, beige, starchy items without a trace of green in sight! Not only were they the farthest from cutting edge one could imagine, but they were all enormous in portion size and somehow glaringly inappropriate. Corn rolled in cheese? Twice baked potatoes with shrimp?All of a sudden I felt transported back to 1956, not subtly eased towards the culinary landscape of our future. The only redeeming factor was that he sincerely cooked every dish from his heart. In spite of their appearance, they all tasted OK. I thought Tony Bourdain might explode from sheer excitement. We definitely gave him something to sink his teeth into, not to mention his sarcasm. And that, in and of itself, is always something to be thankful for....

Wishing everyone a healthy and hearty Thanksgiving! PS. Speaking of family dinners, I was invited to a friend's fabulous Filipino feast this past weekend and found myself dining beside none other than Daniel Vosovic, from Project Runway's Season 2 (and a member of my Bravo family). How fun to discover that he is not only as talented and cute as I hoped, but also that he loves to eat!

Make Melissa's Mom's Egg Custard

Melissa entrusted her mom to remake one of her childhood favorites -- and came up with a win. Make your own version at home.

Egg Custard With Shitake Mushrooms, Clams, and Lobster Ingredients

Ingredients 

Clams
3 cups water
1 bag of bonito
1 small piece of dashi
10 shitake mushrooms (additional to dice for garnish)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp Mirin
3 eggs
Scallions (for garnish)
Salmon roe (for garnish)
Lobster knuckle meat (for garnish)

Directions for Clams
1. Steam clams, remove meat, and chop.
2. Reserve residual liquid for broth.

Directions for Broth
1. Boil to a simmer for 1 hour.
2. Strain.
3. Adjust seasoning with soy sauce, salt, and mirin.
4. Cool liquid in ice broth.
5. Mix 2 cups of chilled broth with 3 eggs.
6. Whisk well.
7. Strain to create the egg custard.

To Garnish
1. Put knuckle meat, clams, and mushrooms into small bowls
2. Top with chilled egg custard (about 4 oz.)
3. Cover with plastic wrap and steam for 10 minutes.
4. Top with scallions, salmon roe.

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