Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Those Tricky Holidays

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Make George's Cravable Breakfast Sausage

Gail Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

Make Doug's Winning Mussels

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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

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Gail: The Final Four Are Like Our Children

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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

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Those Tricky Holidays

Executive Producer Shauna Minoprio reveals the insider scoop.

The holidays are always a tricky time. Honestly -- I'm not sure why Mia did it. She just seemed to get caught up in a wave of some kind of emotion that is hard to quite define. I think perhaps a combination of exhaustion, frustration and resentment towards Cliff pushed her over the edge. In the end I think she didn't want it enough. She seemed to feel that she had achieved enough by getting that far and now she was tired and pissed-off and wanted to go home. I know I've said this before, but this competition is extremely stressful and requires a lot of stamina to stay the distance.... You have to want it really badly. I also suspect that Mia felt that she was not likely to win the competition and so would rather quit than eventually be fired -- she is clearly a very proud person. I think she made the wrong decision but at the time it was also good to know that she was going home to her family and a decent night's sleep.
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Anyway -- the party! What a totally awesome and groovy event it was that the glamorous Warner Brothers Special Events crew threw on the WB lot. It was very Hollyweird watching their workmen in shorts and T-shirts setting up trees and spraying the fake show around. I think the street we were on is where Bill Cosby/Dr. Huxtable used to live which was rather exciting -- and we had the Gilmore Girls around the corner, too! Of course the chefs were more excited about their mobile film catering trucks -- they LOVED them. They weren't the only ones, when Tom saw them, his eyes lit up like the proverbial tree. Seriously -- I know what someone wants for Christmas!
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These chefs -- they definitely do live in their own world, and it sure is an alternative universe. They did work incredibly hard throughout the party, even Monsieur Midgely who I had a premonition might slack off to the vodka bar, was doing his utmost to get food from Elia and Cliff and deliver it to the table. Unfortunately his utmost wasn't anywhere near enough to pull off that particular yuletide miracle.

Elia and Cliff sweating it as hard as they could but they had backed themselves into a corner with their cooking "a la minute" plan. By contrast the other team was a well-oiled machine churning out the gourmet snacks despite the fact that they had Marcel and everyone apparently hates him. Maybe they were touched by the holiday spirit -- peace on earth and goodwill to all men, even Marcel. From my point of view shooting at the party was great, the only problem was shooting around the party guests and making sure they didn't get elbowed by a cameraman or hit by a boom pole.

Of course there's always the nagging anxiety that the chefs might screw up under pressure and accidentally poison all 250 guests. There's not a lot I can do about that.... Except, of course, have everyone who eats the food sign a piece of paper absolving the production from all responsibility should they find themselves in hospital with a touch of botulism. Still, it would be rather embarrassing. I'm someone who generally thinks that all publicity is good publicity, but in the case of a Top Chef mass-poisoning, perhaps I would have to re-think that position. At the end of the night the guests were still healthy, if a little drunk, and all was well. My one regret is that we didn't persuade Midgely into a Santa Claus outfit on some spurious pretext -- Top Chef meets Bad Santa, now that's a show!

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!