Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Importance Of Humility In The Kitchen

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

The Importance Of Humility In The Kitchen

Gail Simmons explains why learning from your mistakes is so important.

When "Top Chef: Season Three" premieres on the East Coast, I will be deep into the throes of another aspect of my job at Food & Wine Magazine, managing the many moving parts of the 25th anniversary Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, the nation's most venerated food festival. It is here where the country's top chefs -- from Thomas Keller to Bobby Flay (and of course my good friend Chef Tom ) -- winemakers and food experts, along with thousands of enthusiastic eaters, gather each year to celebrate their love of all things culinary in the most spectacular setting you can imagine.

Now don't think I do any of this alone: I am joined by a team of food obsessed co-conspirators whom I can only describe as the coolest, smartest, most committed people I know, not to mention the gracious support of the City of Aspen and over 500 local volunteers who spend countless hours working hard to ensure that, for four miraculous days in June, Aspen, Colorado is the center of the epicurean universe. It is one heck of a party, if I do say so myself. But before I get too caught up in the festivities, I cannot help but tell you how excited I am for Ilan Hall, our Season Two winner, to experience the magic that is this very special event. As part of his prize, Ilan will be the star a number of times this weekend: cooking a prestigious charity lunch to help support Food & Wine's Grow for Good campaign, along side eco-focused chef Ryan Hardy of The Little Nell, and in a race against the clock cooking challenge (something at which we all know Ilan excels) that pits him against mastermind Jacques Pepin, in our annual Classic Cook-off.
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Watching this first episode I cannot help but wonder: who will be joining us next year in Aspen? Who of these 15 strangers has what it takes to make it through the grueling challenges we are about to set before them? That first day may not have been as nerve-wracking for me as it was for them, but it certainly was intimidating. The first glimpse I got of our new crop of hopefuls was when they placed their uncommon surf-and-turf creations before us. Making my way through each one I became hopelessly aware of how difficult it was to keep them all differentiated. In order to do so, I had to play a little mind game with myself linking these outrageous combinations of land and sea critters to the people who cooked them.For better or worse, I will forever connect Brian with slithering snakes and electric eels -- the same goes for Sara M and her black chicken claw, or Sara N and those stunning razor clams. Unfortunately, Clay now lives in my memory as an overcooked wild boar chop with a scorpion fishtail garnish.
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It was far easier to remember the two best dishes we tried. Tre took us all by surprise with his Ostrich Filet, Tomato Risotto and Abalone sauce. Although classic in presentation, the flavors were anything but. Perfectly seasoned and seared, the richness of the meat contrasted beautifully with the tomatoes and the risotto was as creamy and satisfying as it sounded. What I liked most about his dish was that had this been an actual restaurant setting, the visual appeal would make it extremely approachable for any diner who may be hesitant to taste these unusual ingredients in the first place, let alone eat them together. We all loved that he was also able to incorporate the two into one cohesive and logical dish. Nothing was forced or unnatural, in contrast with Dale and Clay's dishes. Tre was our clear winner and, with luck, one day we may even see it on his restaurant's menu.

Hung's precision and mastery of technique was apparent as soon as he laid down that plate. The slow poached (sous-vide) black chicken was balanced and incredibly tender. The raw geoduck and fennel with innards sauce, ginger and scallion was not only subtle but also very imaginative. I stand by the fact that his dish could have used some color, but the delicate presentation of texture and flavor could not be rivaled by any of his competitors on that day. I don't want to spend too much time on our bottom four contestants. I think it was obvious as to why they were chosen and why Clay went home. What I would like to mention is how impressive I found Howie and Dale to be with their humility and articulateness about their mistakes.

While they remained confident in their own skill and stood behind that which they knew they were capable of, they both had great insight into what went wrong. As I am sure the many esteemed chefs who gather at the Food & Wine Classic this weekend would agree, two of the most useful tools in any kitchen are open-mindedness and the ability to learn from your mistakes.

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!