Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Must Love Bulldogs

Make Melissa's Seared Duck Breast Dish

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Make Melissa's Mom's Egg Custard

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Make Mei's Inspired Duck a l'Orange

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

Must Love Bulldogs

Gail Simmons has got nothin but love for Howie Kleinberg.

As much as he may be a pain in the butt, I must admit that, from the start, I have had a soft spot for Howie. I can't help it!

Maybe it's because I have always been a fan of bulldogs? They happen to be my favorite canines. While they may be grumpy, and not so pretty, there is something about their gruff disposition that I am certain masks a softer, fuzzier side.

Since the first day on set, when we taped the Season One vs. Season Two Episode ("4 Star All Stars"), and he was seated at my table, I knew he would be a controversial, entertaining personality in the kitchen. From my experience on Top Chef, controversy makes for great television. What I especially like about him is his ability to not only speak his mind about anyone and anything (including his own failings), but also how eloquently he is able to do so -- a rare talent these days. In fact, I think if Howie could put down on paper all the fabulous opinions he articulates, he could probably make a pretty decent career as a food writer.

Sadly, he will not be making his career as Top Chef, at least in the foreseeable future. The decision to send him home tonight, from what I could tell when viewing the episode, was almost inevitable. Regardless of his appeal to the judges and his efforts to leave the competition with his pride intact, his hors d'oeuvres were clearly the most unoriginal and uninspired of the lot.

Now, I know what you are going to say -- that if the judges were consistent in their ruling, and if they sent Tre home last week for leadership issues, then Brian should have followed suit. Honestly, you may just have a point. But don't forget that in Tre's case, not only did he lack the leadership required to successfully run his kitchen that night, but he also put out two of his own dishes that were practically inedible; lest we forget his smoked salmon with pesto or his bread pudding. In this case, although Brian was clearly not able to rein in the other chefs and pare down their dish choices, his fellow contestants did feel empowered working under him and the ahi poke dish he created seemed passable, even enjoyed by some of the partygoers on the yacht.

As for the challenge itself, I do give our chefs a few bonus points. Cooking in a yacht galley can be rough on a good day, but having only $350 to feed 60 Floridian fashionistas might make me seasick too. Creating hors d'oeuvres can be a tricky business. They need to be small so as to be eaten in one bite, standing up. They need to have a base or be served in some sort of vessel that a guest can easily hold in one hand, while holding a drink in the other. Of course, every component of each hors d'oeuvre needs to taste fresh, but the sum of its parts must also be well-balanced, as each individual morsel is essentially a complete dish in one tiny mouthful. Dana Cowin, FOOD & WINE's editor in chief, pointed out at Judges' Table that they must also appeal to the eye, as they account for an important element of the look and feel of a party. This all evidently added up to a lot of pressure on the contestants.

Here are a few recipes inspired by the episode that I think will go over a lot better than theirs did. I hope they inspire you to get into the kitchen and plan your next soiree! Heirloom Tomatoes Stuffed with Summer Succotash Savory Spinach and Artichoke Bread Pudding Cabrales Phyllo Rolls with Sherry Dipping Sauce Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp with Orange Marmalade Red Pepper, Garlic & Pecorino Gougères Mini Herb Frittatas with Smoked Salmon Mushroom and Goat Cheese Phyllo Triangles Chicken Liver Crostini with Beet Salsa Beef and Fontina Tostaditos Ginger Marinated Tuna Ribbons with Spicy Avocado and Radish Salad

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Gail schools us on the science of innovative cooking and explains why George Pagonis' octopus didn't have any legs to stand on. Let's talk about the Elimination Challenge, which was to create an innovative dish that pushed culinary boundaries.

Gail Simmons: I was really happy that Wylie was there for this challenge, of course. But I think the set up was a little anti-climactic in honesty. As a viewer, you didn't get a full explanation of how and why they were given this challenge. It was specifically because there are so many people pushing these boundaries, many of whom are in Boston, and particularly Michael Brenner. He is innovative for a lot of reasons -- he’s a physicist, but what he’s become known for in the culinary space is teaching an in-depth course at Harvard about the science of food and cooking, incorporating people like Wylie and as well as a long list of exceptionally talented and renown chefs from around the world, like Ferran Adrià among others. It is exciting and extraordinary, and having him there allowed us to present our chefs with this challenge. We always think about how the dishes taste and look, whether the meat is cooked well enough or the appearance of knife cuts are appropriate. All of that stuff is in affect science -- cooking is all chemistry and biology, reaction of cells to knives and fire essentially. Everyone has their own definition of innovation, and I think there was a lot of pressure to "innovate" in this challenge. Our chefs did well, but I wish they had been given more time to really push their own personal boundaries more. Let’s start with the winner, Melissa, who had the seared duck breast with farro, walnut miso, and pickled cherries.

GS: Melissa really has stepped up her game and soared in the last two challenges; she won the last challenge (and a spot in the finale in Mexico), and now she’s won this challenge, too. Her duck was beautiful, though not necessarily the most groundbreaking dish I’ve ever seen in my life. But she was innovative enough that we felt her flavors were new, but the dish was at the same time beautiful, delicious. Here’s the tricky thing about being innovative, which I think George touched on when he was talking about the challenge too: is it takes time and practice to truly innovate. I can only assume that someone like Wylie tries a dish fifty times before it goes on his menu as a full formed creative work, that changes how we all perceive food. Innovation takes patience and some serious brain power. To come up with something in a few hours is a tall order when it needs to be totally delicious AND have a level of innovation that surprises and impresses us. Melissa knew her strengths and perhaps was more relaxed then she would’ve been otherwise, so she made that walnut miso pesto and incorporated it in a really creative, unusual way. It made her dish stand out, and by far it was the most delicious. And then we had our runner, Mei, with her duck curry with vadouvan and yuzu yogurt.

GS: There was something about Mei’s dish that made me think it was the most innovative of the day in a number of ways. However it wasn’t the most successful, and that’s why Melissa took the win. Mei’s dish was not only breathtakingly stark and beautiful, looking so modern on the plate, but she also combined several unusual ingredients, which made for a very untraditional, very modern curry. It was innovative and it stayed with us. You could even see in Tom's reaction that it was a dish to think about. When you tasted it, you weren't sure it worked, but there was something enjoyable about it; the dish didn't simply come together in your mind. It wasn't straight forward. You needed to take a pause, then a second bite, and by the third and fourth bite you started to understand all the different parts, which were very exciting. I think with a few more tries, Mei would’ve really nailed that dish. I was proud of her for pushing us all that way. Then in our bottom two we had Gregory and George. Gregory did the salmon in tom kha broth with roasted tomatoes, crispy chicken skin, and crispy salmon skin.

GS: There were a lot of fun, tasty components to Gregory’s dish. If this challenge had been to show us an interesting representation of salmon or Thai flavors, he would’ve gotten it right. The thing with Gregory is that as skilled as he is, we were really hoping that he would come out of his comfort zone. The flavors he used were what we have seen from him previously. We didn’t really see a lot of innovation from him. That doesn’t mean we don’t think he worked hard or didn't do a good job. He gave us something that he felt was different in presentation, but the flavors were definitely in his usual wheelhouse. As he said himself when cooking beans in the Quickfire, he felt uncomfortable because he's more accustomed to using Asian flavors and ingredients. So here he was in the Elimination Challenge using Asian flavors. On the other hand the dish tasted great! We loved it, we just didn’t think he fulfilled the challenge of being innovative like we know he could have. And then there was George. . .  Yes, he had the charred octopus, yellow split pea puree, and green apple harissa.

GS: George also stayed in his comfort zone in some ways -- he's cooked us octopus before, so charring octopus did not feel innovative at all for him, I actually felt disappointed when he told us that's what he had made. However, there were probably twenty other components of that dish that did make it feel somewhat innovative. The green apple harissa was one of them for sure. The fact that he called it harissa may be taking some license, but that's OK. I loved it, it went so well with the octopus, and it was something new that all of us had never seen. That said, the rest of the dish didn’t make sense all together. At least three or four of the garnishes he added didn’t serve a purpose on the plate, rather, they detracted from the dish. He spent his time making too many components. They may have shown technique, and you could tell that he was really pushing himself, but it all still has to be one cohesive plate of food, first and foremost. I think it didn’t work because he let himself get preoccupied with all the other pieces instead of focusing on doing one thing really well in an innovative way.

Charring octopus did not feel innovative at all for him, I actually felt disappointed when he told us that's what he had made.

So George's was the dish we least enjoyed eating and thought was the least successful, that’s why he went home. I think George did a tremendous job. He came back once already, and he could come back from Last Chance Kitchen again. He’s a great cook, has a great attitude, and I think he absolutely gave his best throughout the competition, which made everyone better. I don’t always say that, but I think when he came back, he really changed the game and the whole season was better for it.

Now, onward to Mexico!