Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

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Common Scents

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

Common Scents

Ted Allen talks Restaurant Wars, cleavagegate, and Dale's Queer Eye.

In this post: The last word on Cleavagegate, "Rats with Hats", and Dale's Queer Eye.

Also in this post: So-called "political correctness" (grrrrrrrr!)

But first: Just wanted to say for the record that I didn't mean to spark so much Howie-hatin' in this space last week. I've said it before: I really like Chef Kleinberg, and I like his cooking, too (excepting, of course, his infamous "Howie spice").

True, I would have liked to send him home rather than Sara because, upon watching the episode, I found his unwillingness to work with people more troubling than her flawed cooking. However, that was not an option. As we've said over and over, the decision is based on the dish. Booting Sara was the right call.

But speaking of TC's dwindling female contingent: Some people posted last week that they feel that the show is routinely unfair to the female contestants, or that some of the judges are biased in favor of men. Here, I'm gonna call bullshit. I do agree that last week's nightclub challenge presented the women with a disadvantage, and the kind of disadvantage that is less likely to occur to men (like myself) until after the fact. But every challenge is going to be harder on some players than others. I'm not going to speak for the producers, but I think the high-heels and silk-blouse problem was just something they didn't anticipate; it certainly is nobody's goal to create an uneven playing field or to show preferential treatment to men. (Why would it be?)

I've spent many hours debating the pros and cons of cheftestants' cooking this season and in seasons past, and the goal of everyone involved in this show has always been to decide every challenge fairly. And that experience applies to everybody, from Bravo (which has a female president and many female top executives) to the producers (TC's executive producer is a woman, as are many mid-level producers and the culinary coordinator) to the judges (two of whom are, emphatically, ALL woman).

And, while I would love to see Tom cooking in stilettos and a teddy as much as the next guy, it's not likely to happen -- at least, not on television. He'd lose all his cred with the "bear" community...

By the way, anybody who thinks it's "politically correct" to say that women face sexism in the workplace is, um, an idiot. (I hate the term "PC" -- it is used almost exclusively by right-wing assholes to discredit people having intelligent conversations about complex issues. The exception: Bill Maher, who is a genius. Don't get me started!)
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Moving on: Restaurant Wars! What a tough challenge! I felt that the edit of tonight's show had me coming down pretty hard on Brian. In truth, I had more sympathy for him than you could tell in the episode. Several of his problems really were the fault of his wait staff, who only had 30 minutes to figure things out. Brian is such a charismatic guy; I was amazed to hear that he had no front-of-the- house experience. I also enjoyed how he smuggled his suit to the set inside of a chef's jacket. Crafty!

I also really gave Dale the business. But the sin of putting cheap, aggressively scented candles on the tables in a restaurant was just so unforgivable -- and so unnecessary -- that I had to pull out the sharp knives. And the fact that Hung agreed with Dale about them?! Unbelievable. Look, I'm not some nitpicky whiner, folks -- those candles were brand new, and they absolutely REEKED. Consider also: There are people who get violently ill from the scent strips in Vanity Fair. Almost every serious restaurant in the country forbids smoking. There are many restaurants (including Charlie Trotter's in Chicago) that will turn customers away at the door for wearing perfume, and no halfway-talented chef would permit strong-smelling flowers in their dining room. What the hell were Hung and Dale thinking?
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Also, in response to my lovable mohawked brutha's crack that "Queer Eye's got nothing on me!" all I'm going to say is: Sweetie, you don't see Thom Filicia decorating with spray-painted rocks, mmm-kay?

All that bitchiness aside, I loved Dale's service, I loved his leadership, I loved much of his team's food, and I'm delighted that he and the gang all get to come back for another helping next week.
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Finally, on the subject of "sliders." In case you missed last week's voluminous comments, the consensus seems to be that the term "slider" did, indeed, originate with White Castle (aka Casa Blanca or Maison Blanche) -- but that it has in recent years become common parlance for any miniature hamburger. I can live with that. One hamburger historian suggested that the term was coined by WWII Navy submariners, reflecting the greasy meat's tendency to slide across the grill in rough seas. But that's not the only name people have for White Castle's notorious little onion-steamed delights: Readers offered up Maggot Muffins, Belly Bombs, Gut Bombs, and Murder Burgers. But my personal fave: Rats with Hats!

See you next week for Restaurant Wars, Part Two! --Ted

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!