Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Canadian Confessions

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

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!

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!