Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Where Do I Start?

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

Where Do I Start?

Padma Lakshmi was very happy with the food this week. But she can't say the same about the chef's behavior.

Where do I start? How the hell can you behave like that?! I don't care if you want to shave your head or any other body part. No one has the right to touch and manhandle another human being. It wasn't in fun; they weren't all chummy with Marcel. I bet he was very scared being woken up like that from a sound sleep and dragged onto the carpet.

In a previous blog, I said that Marcel was their Piggy in some "Lord of the Flies" scenario, and unfortunately it turns out that I was right. How dare Cliff lay his hands on Marcel? And nevermind human decency -- how stupid can you be? Leaving aside the fact that you're on national television, or that potential investors, employers, and millions of the general viewing public are watching, why would you jeopardize your chance at $100, 000 dollars after you've spent weeks and weeks slaving your heart out with little sleep, away from all your family and friends? Elia, Ilan, and Sam were not innocent in it either. None of them said to stop. In fact, Ilan eggs Cliff on so boisterously off camera and Sam sits there laughing on the couch. I guess Elia was holding the camera? I felt awful when I heard and even worse when I saw the footage. I always thought that our show was better than many reality shows because it was about people trying to be the best at their craft, and that that dedication was compelling to watch, I saw no one trying to be better that night. What a shame. Now, about the food.
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This week's Quickfire was simple: Work with chocolate to make a savory or sweet dish. The chefs had 90 minutes to prepare something for Eric Ripert, whose presence they were understandably moved by. Elia turned again to her roots to do a version of chicken with mole sauce. But the poached chicken lacked flavor -- I don't think she added any seasonings to her poaching liquid. The chicken was moist but lacked flavor. Then she poured what tasted like pure melted chocolate over it. It lacked subtlety and I think Eric, while noting this, managed to be diplomatic in telling her so. She would have won hands-down if she'd let her dessert stand by itself. It was fantastic. It was airy, creamy and felt like velvet on the tongue. The ginger added a delicate fragrance, complementing the mousse and the strawberry crumble added the perfect contrasting texture. I loved that she called it a "kiss" because that's what it felt like, soft and sweet in the mouth.

Sam, who seemed to be at a disadvantage because of his diabetes, actually did a dish that was very innovative. Using chocolate as an accent, he created something totally unique. The banana echoed the sweetness in the chocolate chipotle and black bean sauce and the cilantro pesto acted as a peppery counterpoint. I think the shrimp was a perfect canvas to showcase all these flavors. While the chocolate, chipotle, black beans and cilantro were all Mexican ingredients, the dish itself had an unusual character that was hard to place.

Cliff's braised chicken with piquillo pepper, rosemary and chocolate sauce with potatoes was robust and hearty. It felt like a complete meal on the plate, and while it was just fine, I thought that it didn't showcase the chocolate in any particular way. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with his dish, it's just that compared to the sophistication of Sam's dish and Elia's dessert, it lacked a bit of originality. Again, it wasn't that his dish was bad but that his competitors were better. padmasblog_ilan211_320x240.jpg

I'm not sure what Ilan was thinking, but liver imbedded in chocolate? I guess he was trying to do something totally new and different, but I don't find anything sensual or sumptuous about chicken livers. If you watch Eric as he puts it in his mouth, he almost doesn't know if he should swallow it. He raises his hand up as if he's going to spit it out. Maybe if Ilan had done the chicken livers with some type of chocolate sauce it would have been better, but Eric's comment that it felt like a dessert was spot on, I think Ilan did want to do a dessert, or a candy as he put it, but no one wants to bite into a morsel of liver imbedded into their candy or dessert. The meaty aftertaste of the liver fought with the rich chocolate ganache, leaving an awful pasty, salty, muddy feeling in the mouth. Ilan has made some excellent food this season and while he redeems himself later in the elimination challenge, that ganache a stinker! We've all been there. Sometimes you think you've got the cleverest idea and it turns out to be ...well, too clever for your own good, not to mention the good of your diners.

I was proud of Marcel for trying something he's never done before. Those potato cannolis were crispy and perfect. With a hint of salt, they really encased the two fillings well. Both the chocolate mousse and coffee whip cream were light and airy, while still feeling quite rich and luxurious on the palate. His dish was polished, and his sauces were spot on. As always, his presentation looked very professional, clean and pretty.

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Chef Ripert chose Sam's dish as the winner and I concur with his decision, but Marcel's dish was very close behind.

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The Elimination Challenge: To make a five course romantic meal for couples celebrating their anniversary. Sam was able to choose his course and the protein, and no other chef could use the same protein he did. I think Marcel overreacted when Sam chose his protein and when he chose to do beets; as if Sam would choose to do beets simply because Marcel wanted to. I don't believe Sam thinks like that. Marcel is a good enough cook to be able to adapt to the situation and do something else. Marcel also showed poor sportsmanship when he refuses to help Sam plate and serve his dish. I can see how Marcel would want to concentrate on his own dish, but then he shouldn't expect anyone to help him -- fair is fair.

Sam's organic beets and seared scallops with a lobster and umeboshi plum sauce was a very successful first course. It was delicate and balanced and I loved the plum and lobster sauce. The scallops were voluptuous and silky and cooked perfectly. The magenta juices from the beet slice on top bled down into the scallop with a lovely swirl of color. This was visually impressive and sexy on the plate. The micro greens were fluffy and still crisp to the bite with not a drop of extra dressing. Micro greens are easily wilted and buffering them with a slice of beets to insure the heat from the scallops wouldn't destroy them was a smart move. You could also see the goodwill that Sam had garnered from his colleagues all season long in action. Ilan and Cliff worked diligently on Sam's plates as if they were their own. That kind of teamwork is admirable, and should always be the case in a professional kitchen.
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Ilan's fideos and clams with saffron was the best thing I ate all season long. You don't really hear me say that on the edited version, but it was true then and in hindsight is still true. In fact, I think I even finished whatever was left on Eric's plate as well as mine. The fideos were oven-toasted to perfection, the clams were moist and juicy, and the seasoning of the dish as a whole was savory and delicious. I can still recall the taste. It was also a textural winner especially on a date or romantic dinner. I saw couples all around me feeding each other, and smiles of pleasure everywhere. padmasblog_padma211_320x240.jpg

Marcel's salmon was fine but nothing to write home about. I also thought those mini cut out hearts adorning the fish were a bit literal and cheesy. An easy mistake when you're as young as Marcel, but had his dish been tastier, we would have all forgotten those little hearts. The salmon needed some added flavor, and really needed some tartness to balance the richness of its flesh, especially with the accompanying puree. Any acid would have helped: Yuzu juice, Kafir lime juice, dried green mango powder, tamarind, sumac powder (would have given it not only sourness but great vermillion color), or just a squirt of plain old lemon juice would have helped. While Marcel has great technique, his cooking can sometimes lack soul, and that's when the flavor of the dish suffers. If he had helped Sam, who by the way took the high road and helped out when he didn't have to, Sam may have tasted his dish and told him to add the sourness, because using liquid acid ingredients like vinegars, etc., to flavor food, as we know, is Sam's forte.
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Given Cliff's behavior outside of the kitchen, I don't feel I need to comment on his dish, except to say that the lentils were an ugly pureed mess with no flavor, and the rest was forgettable. Elia's dessert was delicious. While the idea may have seemed good when she thought of it, it wasn't well thought out. She realized this in retrospect. The cremeaux (with puff pastry) was good but not as good as what we had in the Quickfire. We did finish the dessert though, and after a five-course meal, that's saying something. Let's hope they behave better in Hawaii, and that the focus is where it should be: on the food.

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!