Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

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Blessed Are The Cheesemakers

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

Blessed Are The Cheesemakers

Sam Talbot speaks to this season's Restaurant Wars.

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So we're back where we left off with the Restaurant Mulligan, but first a little mise en place. Every now and then (back when I actually had a job) I used to jump on the line when we were in the weeds. The guys that worked my line had a real sense of pride about their skills. All lines do -- at least good ones. So to earn their respect, you have to really bring it. When I saw what Casey did (or was trying to do) with that onion, I could hear them in my head yelling "Pinche Gringa!"

Hung.

Hung manhandled those chickens with cartoon-like speed. I think he's been waiting for this moment his whole life. No, you weren't mistaken -- that was pure joy you saw in his eyes. Too bad the Sopranos is over -- they may have written a scene just for Hung the Butcher. Seriously, Hung and Sara should open a prep shop for restaurants -- they put on a clinic. (Side bar: How great was it that they made Tom use a whistle for the relay race?) Gotta say that in the last few challenges, Hung's hung up the ego and become a contender. So the Team Formerly Known As Garage gets Stephen and extra money. I personally think wine is overrated in Restaurant Wars (kidding), but Stephen's help means one less thing for them to stress about. However for Dale it means one extra dress-to-impress-sommelier he has to wrangle. The prizes weren't the only things they got; they also "got" the whole point of the rematch. Ironically, it was their biggest weakness (their failure to work as a team) that allowed them to see their mistakes, get over them, and really take the comments to heart.
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Team April suffered from the opposite situation. Their tragic flaw was that they thought were a great team. They thought they worked so well that they didn't need to change much to win. (If I know Tom, it probably irked him that Tre didn't rethink that beef dish altogether.) At last! The mystery of the "dinner guest" is finally solved and we learn that he actually has no food credentials whatsoever (shocker), but he's there to paint some quotes about food on the walls. Good for the Team Formerly Known As Garage to listen calmly to him bash (incorrectly, I might add) their vegetable medley. He seemed disappointed when Sara cut him mid-snark and asked him for solutions. Good for her -- she handled that MUCH better than I would have.
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Speaking of Sara, she really impressed me this week and stepped it up. She also saved some members of her team (Howie) who, without her, surely would have been sent home. (Did he really need a temperature reading to know that veal was raw?) If Stephen and Dale had switched outfits they would have simultaneously satisfied the judges AND made the list of top Top Chef moments.
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So they sent Tre home. I'm torn with this decision. So many times we've heard them say, "It's Top Chef, not Top Sous-Chef, "and sent the chef home because they were content to ride shotgun. So TC history tells us that CJ should have been sent home. He was the first to admit that he wasn't qualified to be April's Executive Chef. How then, is he qualified to be Top Chef? On the other hand, everything that comes out of the kitchen is the Executive Chef's responsibility. Thus, the Executive Chef of the winning restaurant should win, and the losing restaurant's chef should be sent packing. If they continue to force the chefs (like they did this year) to choose who is the Executive Chef and who is the decorator, then every season we'll know who should win and who should go home. Not very fun for us.

Here's why I say that: If you're the Executive Chef and your fellow cheftestant makes a crap dish, you can't serve it. If you do, you'll be the one going home, not them. Because that's the role of the Executive Chef -- to make sure everything is spot on. See the problem? If the producers keep to this format next season, I don't see how the weakest chef will ever be sent home (Unless of course their team nominates them as Executive Chef for the purpose of sending them to the Judges' Table like a lamb to the slaughter.) When we did Restaurant Wars, Mikey was told to pack it up. Love him, but at that stage of the contest (Ilan, Cliff, Elia, and Marcel), it was the right call. You can't say the same about Tre. No way was he the weak link in this group. Even the remaining chefs felt the same way. I could have sworn a saw a little look of relief in their eyes -- "Man, that just really sucks. I really like Tre -- never thought he'd be going home. I thought he was going to be around till the end. Hmm, wait a minute. Tre's gone? Now I have a better shot!"

You could tell that Tre let himself down. He wasn't shocked when they sent him packin' because he knew -- but he was stunned. So in the end, Tre went home because his team thought he was most qualified to be their Executive Chef and they trusted him implicitly. Not a bad reason to go home. Tre's the complete package. He's shown the most poise, dignity, professionalism, pride, and integrity of perhaps anyone on this show, ever. While I don't know him, he seems like the kind of guy you want to be around and work for. As it gets closer to the finale, there's something I can't quite put my finger on about this season -- something's just a little off. Or missing. Maybe the chefs don't care as much about the title of Top Chef as they care about the exposure? Maybe they like each other so much they're sorry to send people home? Maybe it's the hot tub and the mojitos. I'm not sure. I guess we'll see.

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!