Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Questions? Answers!

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

Questions? Answers!

Tom responds to some very harsh critics.

Before I post my next blog entry, I promised to answer a bunch of questions from the message boards. It seems that most of the comments you wrote in this week are some variation of the following, which I'll paraphrase:

Dear Chef Tom (you hypocritical smug bastard): You like to rant on about taking risks but when Sam took a risk with his watermelon/blue cheese dish you let him have it. Also, you let Marcel skate by with uncooked chicken, which, hello, could have killed somebody. And last, honest, likeable Michael's only sin was not buying olive dishes with his leftover wine glass money, and yet he was let go! You always tell us it's about the food, but clearly it's not. Love the show, despite your obvious anti-Michael, pro-Cliff, anti/pro-Elia (choose one) bias. Keep up the good work, Top Chef is our favorite show, although in protest, we plan to never watch again."

As you may have figured out by now, most of the judges' reactions and comments end up on the edit room floor due to the time considerations of cutting together a cogent episode. Understandably, this leaves viewers with numerous questions about our decisions, some of which must seem inconsistent or nonsensical.


I feel you are all owed explanations, so I'm going to break this one down: "At least Sam was willing to take a risk with his watermelon & cheese dish..." Without question, watermelon and cheese can work brilliantly together (I ate a delicious hors d'oeuvres of watermelon and feta at my friend Brad Farmerie's restaurant, Public, in downtown Manhattan) but for the dish to work, I feel the watermelon should be cold, so that the refreshing quality of the fruit works against the sharpness of the cheese. For some reason Sam felt the dish would benefit from being heated. In my thinking "hot" and "watermelon" just don't work together except possibly in the following sentence, "It was so hot outside, we each inhaled three slices of cool, refreshing watermelon." While Sam's warmed-up watermelon just didn't work, we did appreciate that he showed leadership, took a risk and used his imagination. For this reason he wasn't sent home.


"Marcel served raw chicken which is a health hazard ... he should have been sent home." Marcel's chicken wasn't great, but he had actually made a stab at chicken confit -- a preparation often used with duck leg, in which the meat is cured in spices and slowly cooked in its own fat. If the chicken confit had worked, it would have been unusual and delicious. Most likely Marcel cooked the wings at a temperature high enough to make them safe, but the faulty execution gave the dish a soft, undercooked texture and appearance. And though the judge's confit discussion did not make it into the episode, we discussed it and agreed that, like Sam's unsuccessful watermelon dish, Marcel's chicken showed a stab at doing something interesting.

Also, Marcel was responsible for the vegetable tempura, which all agreed was delicious. For these reasons, he too was spared.


"Mikey may not be the best chef, but he's a great guy and you let him go for reasons that had nothing to do with the food. Is Top Chef all about the food, or isn't it?" Frankly, when the Elimination Challenge is about creating a successful dish, then yes, it's all about the food. Last week's Challenge was about creating a successful restaurant, so we looked at the overall picture including front-of-the-house, purchasing decisions, hospitality, etc. Once upon a time, chefs were hired by restaurateurs. Today, they are restaurateurs, responsible for a lot more than just the food. The judges analyzed which chef seemed to add the least to his or her team in terms of imagination, skills and overall added value, and settled on Michael.

An example of how Michael dropped the ball: When we questioned him about the money he had left over after buying the items on his list -- a full 20 percent of his budget -- Michael told us he used it to buy extra paring knives as gifts for his teammates. A nice enough gesture, but we felt a more ambitious competitor would have asked himself how the money could have been spent to win the challenge -- was anything missing from the mis-en-place (like dishes for olive pits) or was there something that could have enhanced the overall experience -- bread plates, flower vases? How about challenging Sam and Marcel's ill-considered idea not to serve wine? Instead, Michael lapsed into a passive, list-following mode and then even failed as a mere line-cook, needing Sam to show him how to do some very basic tasks. I liked Michael. He was good-hearted, funny, and great to have around. He added levity to the mix, without mean-spiritedness.

But, as many of you have pointed out, this contest isn't designed to reward personality, it's designed to choose the best chef. And at the end of the day, chefs have to do many things like lead, imagine, purchase, prep, design, welcome, and yes, cook.

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!