Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Comforting Food

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

Comforting Food

Padma Lakshmi reveals her favorite comort food, why she loved the TGIFriday's challenge, and why cooking with kids in mind is key.

Is there anything more scrumptious than a heaping bowl of your favorite ice cream? I was very curious to see how everyone would fair in this week's Quickfire Challenge. Ice cream is such a universal food, one that gives great pleasure to so many of us. I love making homemade ice cream and was surprised to learn that not many of the chefs had actually made it before. But ice cream isn't hard to make, and I thought they did well ... for the most part. I couldn't believe it when Marcel told me he made avocado and bacon ice cream. I appreciate his wanting to create new flavor profiles and be innovative, but part of being a great chef is knowing your audience. In this case, I told them they would be going to Redondo Beach where it was a hot summer Sunday, and that there would be a lot of kids.

I was amazed by how good Carlos' avocado and marshmallow ice cream was. It tasted sweet, smooth and delicate, and the soft pillows of marshmallow melted in the heat of my mouth becoming a swirl of creamy, sugary goodness. I thought Michael's Elvis ice cream was interesting and I was glad to see him put some thought into his dish and be a bit more creative. And I must admit, the bacon in Elan's breakfast ice cream with waffles and maple syrup was intriguingly delicious ... but if I had to order one flavor again, it would be Josie's peach cobbler ice cream. Peaches were at the peak of their season, ripest of all the fruits when we filmed and I could smell them from two feet away on the table of items they chose from. In the end, the textures and taste of Cliff's ice cream beat all else out, getting the most votes from the crowd.

The last time I was in a TGIFriday's must have been when I was in high school, so I don't know what their menu is like now, but I can guess. I loved this Elimination Challenge because it had to do with childhood favorites. No matter how sophisticated we all think we are, it's often the things we grew up with that give us the most comfort and pleasure. And sometimes that's what we want most, unfussy, simple food. Betty said that a good chef has to have versatility and she's absolutely right. You should be able to cater to a wide variety of palates and preferences. And the biggest mistake you can make is to underestimate or look down on your patrons.

I loved being there at the fire house, too. Something about the easy comaraderie of those fire fighters made the station a very welcome place, and we actually had a couple of calls that the guys had to go out and deal with -- luckily it was nothing serious. I talked with the fire fighters about everything from food (many pride themselves on being serious cooks), boxing, how to put out a kitchen fire (always smother it, don't splash water over it, ever), and how their families deal with their work. It was a fun and enlightening episode and I think the challenges gave the contestants a chance to catch their breath, after feeding 1,000 food fair patrons, a fire house seemed to be a piece of cake.

And yet, Frank's choice of that Alice and Wonderland mushroom meditation was ill conceived to say the least. No one will ever order that dish. It wasn't comforting, or satisfying -- just strange and a bit too clever for the venue. But that is not to say feeding patrons in casual dining establishments is an easy task, especially since a chain of restuarants like TGIFriday's has hundreds of outlets and all those menus have to, for the most part, be standarized; not easy when you think of the regional tastes of this country and how they may differ. Betty's roasted pepper-tomato soup and grilled cheese was my absolute favorite because it aced the challenge in every respect. Mia's meatloaf was something else I would order again, especially with the ketcherella ... it showed creativity, while using familiar ingredients.

Cliff's mac and cheese and fish sticks were great but unlike the other judges, I felt that one less cheese -- like leaving out the strong gorgonzola -- would have improved it. The best dish I tasted that day was actually Sam's fruit salad. It was so much more than just a fruit salad, it was savory and sweet, and tart and light and had a great balance of flavors bursting in my mouth all at once. But it wasn't substantial enough to offer as a dish on a casual dining menu, especially as an entree, as was the case with Elan's smoked corn with bacon which was lip-smackingly good. That corn would have been a great side dish, but not enough to win this week's challenge.

All in all, this week was about appealing to the child in all of us. Something a chef should always think about.

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. 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. 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. 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!