Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Lee Anne Answers (a Lot Of) Your Questions

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

Lee Anne Answers (a Lot Of) Your Questions

You asked. Lee Anne Wong answers.

Hi, everybody! I wanted to take the time to respond to some of your questions and commentaries, especially some of the more negative ones. It's been such a pleasure being given the opportunity to blog about Season 2, and I am glad that we (Tom, Gail, Padma, Harold, Dave, and I) have been able to give you our individual perspectives, as well as provoke some reactions from you. Thank you all for watching and reading!

Mun Yee L Cooling wrote: My husband Adrian & I enjoy cooking very much and we LOVED Season 1. Our favorites were you, Dave & Harold. It's so nice to see that you guys have formed a great friendship. The three of you have inspired us in different ways but together I think you'd make a killa team. Do you think the three of you would consider working together? Congratulations on your success and we hope to hear more from you!

The Peppermonkey and the Top Chef are two of my favorite people in this world. Harold has his hands full with opening Perilla, and we just found out this past holiday season that Dave will be moving east to take on the job of Executive Chef at Lola in Soho (which is right down the street from me). I think most of us have taken separate paths after the show, and life goes on (I didn't quit my day job, if you know what I mean), but I am also incredibly grateful that we have stayed in touch with each other. I have offered both Dave and Harold my assistance with filling their kitchens with good cooks when the time comes.

Jo Anderson wrote: Lee Anne - Please elaborate about your diet and how you learned to eat right. Jo

Another fabulous friend .... Please check her out at andreabeaman.com.

Susan wrote: LA, love your blog but I must question your involvement with the production staff for Season 2. You say you were brought in to define the rules of the challenges. Are you an attorney? It seems not only suspect to hire a former losing contestant on the show but extremely unethical. Why not enlist the other 11 cast members from Season 1? In all fairness, you didn't even make it to the top three! There is also talk around other fan sites that you are dating the director of the show. Hmmm.... Would love to you to address this. Perhaps that is how you get the "inside scoop." It all sounds pretty unprofessional for a show that is supposedly on the up and up.

Yes, I am a losing contestant from Season 1. No, I am not an attorney. And who I happen to be dating is none of your business. The Elves hired me because of my perspective from being a contestant in Season 1, and also because of my experience in a kitchen and on a TV set. Part of my job at The FCI involves setting the stage for other chefs when they come to give a demonstration or presentation. This involves logistical aspects such as coordinating recipes and schedules, ordering food and budgeting, setting up mis en place and equipment, and working with the chef to basically make sure he/she has everything they need to ensure a successful presentation.

Working on the set of Top Chef was slightly different, and took quite a bit of adjusting and learning, but my familiarity with such situations made it a comfortable fit. As far as defining the rules, I worked with the executive producers to make sure that the actual written rules would cover any questions the contestants may have and make the challenges explicitly clear to them so there would not be any incident where, "I didn't know" or "I didn't understand" would come up. All rules are sent to NBC legal for approval before we proceed with a challenge. And for the record, The Magical Elves are not only incredibly professional, but also happen to be very good at what they do.

peter cruize wrote: hey lee anne, thanks for your pizza tip using the pita bread. i will try it tonight. whatever happened to tiffany?

Peter, enjoy your healthy pizza, and last I heard Tiffani was working at Riche in New Orleans. I have no doubt she is doing very well and putting out some phenomenal food in the Big Easy.

Tad wrote: I couldn't agree with you more here in regards to the Marcel issue, but i just have one question: shouldn't a responsible producer have done more to show the kinder side of marcel in last night's episode? Hs willingness to help others, assist cliff with his color blindness, etc was reduced to a few seconds worth of footage. the rest of the episode was nothing more than a free-for-all bashing against him. now, to read all these blogs in defense of him just seems a bit cheap. the guy is clearly trying harder than what he is being given credit for on the air. i am not a fan of the petty drama the producers seem all to eager to air, while waiting to tell the other side of the story in a blog that few people will read. your viewers are deserve better, and marcel certainly deserved to be treated better than the footage the production team presented to the public last night.

I have nothing to do with the editing of the show, at all. Each episode is hours (and sometimes days) of footage that is sliced and diced down to roughly 45 minutes of solid TV. I am sure the editors are aware of the strong reaction from the viewers to cut back on the interpersonal drama and make it more about the cooking, and I am also sure they will take it into account. At the same time, this particular cast gave them plenty of ammunition. Personally, I'd rather see more about the food too, but the double edge of reality TV is that most of the time viewers like a little drama (just not this much of it).

Jung wrote: Thanks for your insider viewpoint. Marcel doesn't seem all that bad, and your comments verify that the others are picking on him. Do they read these blogs and viewer comments? Are they aware of how distasteful their behavior was to us viewers? Hopefully, in some follow-up or reunion, they will apologize.

Being under the glass for that long sucks. It is such a high-pressure situation for all of these contestants, and there is a lot at stake. It is not exactly easy to watch yourself on TV, each week rehashing the emotional rollercoaster you had to go through. I learned a lot about myself, both the good and the bad. I've gotten to know some of the Season 2 cast, and off camera, they're pretty spectacular individuals. Put 'em all together in the same room for weeks on end, maybe not so great. The spirit of competition is a vicious thing. Hopefully this has been as good of a growing experience for them as it was for me.

pat walsh wrote: Lee Anne, Where does one get to taste some of your food?

I'm still working at The French Culinary Institute in NYC. Keep your eyes open though, working on a book, a TV show, and spreading the gospel of pork.

Aingeal wrote: Sorry Leann but, if what I heard about your relationship with Harold is true, I have very little respect for you or him. (and just a side note...I never saw what the problem with Tiffany was....she was just as up front as any of the rest of you) I have to say that you do seem to have an odd affinity for a very poor chef in Mike, but then only a few people seem to have been chosen this year based on talent. It would seem the theme this year is Top Jerk not Chef. Only El has even come close to being a likeable human.....but I suppose this is what ratings get you. I'm very sad. I liked this show last year for the most part.

What exactly have you heard? To dispel all of the rumors once and for all, I am not dating Harold, I have never dated Harold, and nor will I ever date Harold (or what ever else you happen to be insinuating, speaking of respect...). We are very good friends, end of story.

Anne wrote: Hey, Lee Ann, you're affiliated with a culinary institute, right? Isn't front-of-the-house training part of the curriculum? I hold a meager degree from a community college and spent a full semester at the front of the house. Educational experience aside, it is so hard to imagine that these chefs with their audacious restaurant expertise have NO expectations for how their food should be presented. I was amazed that neither Cliff nor Illan could make that transition from conceptualizing to executing proper guest service of their product.

Not all cooks ever get a front of the house education, whether it's in a classroom setting, or working as a waiter. It is in fact a separate profession altogether that requires training and skill. Learning how to make a perfect sauce takes time enough, and while most culinary institutions do offer a small bit of front of the house training, Ilan and Cliff probably spend most of their waking minutes focused on how to make the food taste and look good, not how to present it. Add the pressure of building a restaurant in a few hours and not getting eliminated and there you have your drama.

done again wrote: Can we all agree that no one over the age of eight should ever use any form of the word yum? Yes, that includes yummy, yummo, yummilicious and any other modifications/derivations.

Could you possibly be speaking in yum about a certain yummo personality? I will admit to using words like yummalicious, yumtastic, yummorama, and yummalummadingdong. Or I could just be full of s#*t (otherwise known as yum). Agreed. Keep up the great comments everyone, I'm off to get some yummy snacky numnums.

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Hugh Acheson wonders about the health of the kids at Emerson College and debates the cost of roasting that much foie gras.

In this, the tenth episode of this 12th season, we open in the kitchen of the chefs super secret lair. Katusji has taken his wit, wisdom and wherewithal back to his Kosher Japanese Cal-Mex empire to work on a masa matzoh ball taco. He is described as "the most loveable dick in the entire world," which seems pretty on point. These remaining five seem saddened because Katsuji provided respite from the drudgery of competition. They mourn as well, because all understood, though it was never talked about, like a solemn vow, that they could all beat Katsuji in this cooking game. He was the San Diego Padres of Top Chef, the team that all the other competition knew would be an easy beat when the time came.

So the quintet of Mei, Gregory, Dougeeeee, Melissa and George remain. They are all have the stuff that could allow them to win the dough, but Mei and Gregory have really shown that if we must have hierarchy then they are the top two contenders.

Quickfire begins with Andy and his college roommate. Andy just told the roommate that those "games" they played late at night in their bunkbeds WILL be talked about in his next book, so Dave, you have some explaining to the wife and kids. Andy, we are told, is "known for his antics." That he is.

Andy exorts the contestants to hook up with each other and I immediately think of Dougie spooning with Georgie. I then have to wash my eyes out with steel wool and bleach to remove the image. This hurts and still the image remains.

Padma gets Andy back on task and she introduces the Quickfire. It is a collegiate showdown of ramen proportions but the catch is that they must use the contents of the fridge of some poor frosh. Out come the stoner, the nerd, the sorority girl, the lady who should have graduated in '05 and one other innocuous soul. Their fridge contents make me worry about a scurvy outbreak at Emerson College.

We are regaled with stories of the craziest things they all did in college. Melissa built a 24-story beer bong. I went to school in Montreal so my craziest times were hanging out at Biftek on St. Laurent and getting drunk playing pool. Oh wait, I DID THAT EVERY NIGHT until I dropped out of college. Luckily I had some cooking skillz.

Gregory concocts a bacon, Doritos, leftover pizza broth, and I am immediately worried about the future of our country. Dougie has made a Cobb salad ramen with a "coconut-pineapple" broth, and I start looking for my Canadian passport. George, who has no idea what ramen is, 'cause Mike Isabella has never let him out before, is cobbling together a version of SpaghettiOs 2.0s. It has a hint of hot dog, but so does Andy, so this may be well liked. Melissa is making a "Crunchy Carbonara Ramen" which is probably already dispensed out of a coin machine in Tokyo and actually sounds pretty tasty. There is hope. Mei makes a smoked tomato miso with upcycled sushi. Sounds okay, so I stow the passport back and the "go bag."

There is no immunity but the winner gets 5K. Not bad for fifteen minutes of work/fame. Bottoms are Mei and Dougie. Tops are Gregory and George with Melissa winning this murky challenge.

They go to the little room of stewage and watch Julia Child. Then Jacques Pepin stops by and everyone gasps in amazement. I do too because if you don’t love Pepin you are not a nice person. He da bomb.

The Elimination Challenge is to come up with a dish inspired from Julia's cooking. Three hours to cook and one hour to finish on site tomorrow. They chat with Jacques for a while to learn the secrets of Julia, other than the fact that she was totally a CIA spy.

Doug is silent because of where he comes from. Texas shrugs as he says, "I grew up in East Texas and here I am meeting Jacques Pepin." Then he follows this ode to the state of Texas with, "I am from Texas so I can't pronounce things very well." C'mon Doug, your state gave us that Rick Perry character! He's fun to watch!

Doug is insistent on making a whole roasted foie gras. George is braising some veal and presenting it with some vegetables and pommes puree. There is some French going on around here. Melissa is challenging herself with shortribs. Mei is making duck a l'orange but you know it will show off some of herself. You can't spell Mei without ME. Gregory is making Coq au Vin. Tom wanders in during cooking to advise them to channel Julia and then they all try to sound like Julia. None of them will ever be known for their impersonation abilities.

We eat. It's outside. It's beautiful. The diners, or the we, are Dana Cowin, Jacques, Alex Prudhomme (related to Julia), Tom, Padma, Boston chefs Barbara Lynch, Joanne Chang, Mary Dumont, and little old me. I am hungry so don't talk much.

The food is really good overall. There were some issues like drier ribs, monotonous veal, raw foie, and maybe some flabby duck skin, but pound-for-pound they did the dishes well. Tops are Gregory and Mei, and the verdict is an interesting one. Gregory nailed a classic, but it was like he channeled Julia too much and did a textbook version, while Mei nailed a riff on a dish with her duck a l'orange. It is arbitrary who should win but Mei pulls it off and wins a just decision.

Not so arbitrary but still close is the bottom trio of Melissa, George, and Doug. Melissa erred in rib cookery. George cooked stunning veg but it was the veal that was a yawn. Alas, Doug bows out with his dish, a dish that he had never done but dreamed about. You don't just do roasted whole lobes of foie at the restaurant you work at, cause the owner chef would probably stab you if you ruined the 300 bucks in product. But this is TV money so he took a chance. The problem is that cooking whole foie is tricky. You can''t sear it too much or you will render away the beauty, and then you need to temper-roast it in a medium heat oven. Then it comes out and you rest it on a wire rack. It is pretty much served just warm. He did all of those steps, but over-seared it and then cooked it a hair hot, and not long enough, resultingin a greasy, yet raw internal. Funny thing is that the rest of the stuff on the plate was awesome. Well Doug, you were a favorite of ours and I wish you much success in Last Chance Kitchen.

And now we are four. Until next time.

For a good time, follow me on Twitter @hughacheson

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