Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Last Supper

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 Last Supper

Gail Simmons let's you in on the judges' decision to make Hung Huynh Top Chef.

Here's the funny thing about television reality competitions: You can plot and plan, you can think you know exactly who deserves to win and who should be sent home, you can place your bet on your favorite player, but when the moment finally arrives it's anyone's game. Heading into the final challenge of our third season, I was prouder than ever of the three chefs who made it. Casey, Hung, and Dale have all fought incredibly hard, tackled their own demons, and cooked their brains out to be there. They have each shown us, at different points in the course of the show, that they are all strong, committed chefs with well-trained palates, sharp skills and the ability to think on their feet.

Dale overcame the heartbreak of losing his restaurant and had not cooked for over a year before dusting off his knife kit and diving back into the fire. How lucky we were to be the recipients of that fateful choice. Casey, the last woman standing, demonstrated time and again that she cooks not just from a deeply heartfelt enthusiasm for the craft, but with a true sense of her customer, proving you can be innovative and interesting, while still serving the food we all crave.

And then there's Hung. Headstrong, resolute, defiant, provocative. Call him what you will but you cannot deny his talent in the kitchen. More than anyone on the show, Hung has been consistent and the most sophisticated in his cooking from the first day on set. Our finale meal at the top of Aspen Mountain proved this more than ever. We ate so well that night and were thrilled with the performances from all our finalists, but while Dale and Casey served us a roller coaster of flavors and ideas (some delicious, some questionable), Hung took us for a smooth, yet exhilarating ride.
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Please understand there is no secret equation to choosing our winner. Like always, our final elimination was taken very seriously. We debated and discussed every detail late into the night. In fact, we talked straight through until early the next morning! There were points to be made for each of our finalists and at no time did we take for granted that our decision would ultimately affect the course of people's lives. We judged only on the food that was placed in front of us that night. The process went something like this:

First, we all begrudgingly agreed that Casey had not shown us her best possible side. From how she spoke at Judges' Table I think she knew it, too. It was clear her food suffered from shaken nerves and lack of focus -- we could taste it in her menu. Her Scallop and Foie Gras would have been extraordinary if she hadn't added that dollop of salmon roe. It changed the flavor of the whole dish, completely overpowering the delicate nature of the other ingredients. Her Sake Poached Prawns Over Bamboo Rice was equally confusing. It, too, had a scoop of caviar, which added a muddy taste to the already strong yuzu broth, instead of infusing it with more flavor. I could tell her idea was interesting in concept, if only she had more time to refine it. Her Crispy Pork Belly was so dried out that it was almost impossible to cut, but that roasted peach with ginger pea shoots and cardamom crème fraiche was just as perfect as she claimed. It was her "surprise" course which shone the brightest -- Seared Sirloin with Chanterelles and Ruby Chard, Crispy Fingerlings with Red Wine and Parsley Puree. Although she was the chef, we found out later that Howie was actually responsible for most of the work. I was just as upset as I know so many of you are that Casey was out of the running. She embodies so much of what a true chef should be both in and out of the kitchen. I have nothing but respect and admiration for her confident attitude and, of course, her hard work.
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Dale, on the other hand, dug deep for this meal and it showed. Every dish he produced made a bold statement. True, he served us enough foie gras mousse in his first course to give us all instant heart attacks, but I loved the other components on that plate -- the radishes, pistachios, peaches and a pinch of Ras el Hanout (an aromatic blend of spices often used in Middle Eastern and North African cooking) were fresh and thoughtfully combined. Dale's "surprise" course was served second and it sure was a stunner: Seared Sea Scallop with Purslane, Marinated Grapes and Dehydrated Corn. I would have licked my plate, had I not been on camera! After two harmonious offerings, his third course caught us completely off guard. Dale's Gnocchi with Lobster, Bacon, Corn and Chanterelles in Curry Broth stopped us dead in our tracks. Attempting gnocchi at such high altitude was enough of a gamble, but adding such a large fistful of curry to the mix did not help his cause. The balance of flavors was totally off; the texture rubbery and tough. I could have sworn it was a case of the chef not having time to taste his dish before he sent it out, but when we asked him later, he claimed it tasted exactly as he had intended.

Thankfully, plate number four was right on the money. It was one of those rare dishes that worked so well you cannot believe you haven't eaten it before. Each bite of Colorado Rack of Lamb, as well as the deconstructed ratatouille with anchovies and sauce vert, burst with bright, clean flavors. Our esteemed tables of guest diners/celeb sous-chefs all agreed that it was absolutely delicious. But was it enough to win him the title of Top Chef? gail_314_05_320x240.jpg
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Unfortunately, as much as I think Dale is an intelligent and fabulous chef, we must base our final decision on the meal as a whole. That gnocchi dish could not be overlooked. It showed inconsistency in technique and judgment. It also lacked the strength of his other courses, by a mile. If I know anything about Dale, it is that he will bounce back from this as easily as he jumped into it. His spirit, charm, and dexterity will not go unrewarded. If those brief moments of our live finale are any indication, it appears Chicago has found in him an unlikely, yet amazingly likable hero.

It may not have appeared that Hung took as many risks as his competitors, but let me assure you, he made up for it all in attention to detail and pure artistry. He was cool, organized, and steady from start to finish that night. He served us four immaculately prepared dishes and found a way to truly make them his own. Everything he served was masterfully cooked and elegantly presented. Every bite also exemplified what we now understood to be Hung at his best -- a dash of Vietnamese, a sprinkle of modern French, a ton of discipline, and mountains of great technique. From Hamachi Fish & Chips to Prawns in Palm Sugar and that staggeringly good Sous Vide Duck with Truffle Scented Broth and Mushroom Ragout, we honestly could not find a flaw worth dwelling on for more than a brief moment. Sure, a squeeze of citrus would have helped here and there, and adding salt to his Ocean Scented Rice may not have hurt either, but in the big picture these are the most minor of offenses. Even Hung's "surprise" chocolate cake, although not very original, was made well and tasted as good as any I have eaten.

Unlike our viewers, as judges we vote with our taste buds, not with our emotions. I hope one day you too get the chance to actually taste his food. I have no doubt you will think it is as special and exciting as we do. I know whatever Hung chooses to do with his new title of Top Chef, he will never settle for anything but perfection. He can't help it. It's in his soul.

Gail: It Wasn't Keriann's Day

Gail can't believe that Keriann wouldn't have shown her teammates how she wanted her dish executed.

Bravotv.com: This week was Restaurant Wars!
GS: Restaurant Wars is always an exciting episode because it’s so hard to do what we are asking of chefs to do. Opening a restaurant is truly so difficult, on a good day if you’re dealing with people you love and work with all the time, let alone with three people you’re competing against and have never worked with in this way before. You don’t really know their strengths and weaknesses, and this is where that it all comes out.

Bravotv.com: So looking first at the Grey Team, Melissa, Doug, Mei, Adam
GS: I knew it was a strong team from the start, but we’ve had plenty of strong teams that have failed in the past. You never know until you sit down at that table to eat their meal. I could tell that they were all serious and they have all performed pretty well up to this point though. Although the other team was stacked too, with Gregory who's won a lot and Katsuji who was coming off his win in the Thanksgiving challenge. Keriann and Katie have made some great dishes too. It was anyone’s game.

I think it was smart of the Grey Team to chose Adam as their front of the house man. He’s gregarious, he’s affable, he is a great storyteller, a great talker, and he has a sense of urgency and confidence. Sometimes he can be over-confident maybe, but I think you want someone working front of house who’s willing to take on that risk. Plus he’s done it before. He understands the importance of that role.

Putting Keriann in the front of the house could have been a good move too. She’s certainly a lovely person. She’s well-spoken and definitely wanted to take on the challenge. I just wasn’t sure if they put her out front because they didn’t want her in the kitchen or because they really thought she’d be good for that role. Either way, that’s the way the cards fell. Katie taking on the chef position I thought was a real risk -- she doesn’t run a kitchen day-to-day. I was proud of her for wanting to do it, maybe because she runs pop-ups, she knows how to do something really quickly like this and that experience could come in handy. The other team chose Doug as their chef, who also doesn’t run a restaurant every single day; he is a sous chef. But you can tell he has that drive and understanding of service, he expedites every day in his restaurant and that’s a really huge piece of how a good restaurant runs. It seemed like everyone knew their roles and everyone was happy at the start. They weren’t forced into anything.

I actually liked both restaurant concepts in theory. "Four Pigs" was family style, rustic, comforting, American, bold flavors, relaxed environment. I think that suited who they were, and I think they did a great job. The concept of "Magellan" was a really great idea too. Magellan being an explorer, the spice route, all of the dishes having complex spice elements. The issue you run into with that concept though is that if it’s too loose, everyone is literally all over the map (pun intended). So even though the idea’s inspiration is exploration, when you as the customer sit down and eat that meal, do you really want to be eating things from all over the map? Do they go together? Sometimes the chefs get carried away by the idea of that exploration, and forget that a meal still has to feel cohesive. I don’t know who would want to be eating seven different cuisines all at one table. There needs to be a common thread between them more than just that they all have spice. All spices don’t taste good when they’re combined. I think that’s the first issue this team had. They were all making their own dishes and not really discussing how those dishes would talk to each other when they were actually put on people’s plates.

Bravotv.com: So, let’s start with the dishes from the Grey Team.
GS: The Grey Team started with Adam’s salt-baked clams with ramps, bacon and sunflower seeds. Very seasonal (we filmed this in the spring), very New England. I love clams from that part of the country. We saw that he got in a little hot water when he lost his first set of clam shells, but he was able to completely bounce back. The dish was tasty, it was a perfect starter, a savory little bite. And you were really able to taste all of those flavors without overshadowing the clam itself, which with ramps and bacon is a hard thing to do.

Mei’s chicken liver toast with plum puree was also delicious. The plums cut through the fat in the chicken liver which I loved. It was a little bit too wet though, so the chicken liver dripped and was a little bit looser than what I wanted. I like it to be just a little thicker so there’s a more texture to it, and also so it doesn’t drip all over your hand. It did remind us of a very sophisticated peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was salty and tart, and had just enough richness from that liver to satisfy you but not fill you up. Beautifully presented.

We all loved Doug’s braised pork shoulder. The baked beans, onion, and mustard went so well together. The mustard lightened up the dish and the pickled onions of course did too. It was a homey, comforting dish. The pork shoulder just melted in your mouth. I wish I had a bowl of it right now actually.

Melissa’s scallop was probably the weakest dish on that team. By no means does that mean it was awful. It was a lovely idea, light and fresh. Scallops and grapefruit and radish are a perfect combination. It felt a little bit more like an appetizer salad though than a main course. Her scallops were on the salty side and a little bit overcooked too. We wanted them a bit softer, a little more rare in the center. It was a really nice dish, but compared to the other dishes on her team, it felt a simple and slightly out of place. Everything else had a soulfulness to it and this seemed to be sort of off in the corner, but I was still happy to eat it.

Mei's brussels sprouts was their side dish and they were also really tasty. Brussels sprouts and anchovies go surprisingly well together! But they was over-dressed and the brussels were a little overcooked. They just needed to be toned down. I can remember when we were finished eating them, there was a pool of vinaigrette at the bottom of the bowl. If she had been a little more light-handed on the vinaigrette when she tossed it, it probably would have been a better dish.

Melissa’s dessert was very well-made -- apples, mixed-berries, cardamom cream, a classic fruit cobbler. I just wish she had done something a little more interesting. Berry cobbler is something anyone can make at home. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a good dish. You’re a professional chef though, and this is Top Chef so if you’re going to give me a cobbler, show me cobbler in a way I haven’t seen before. Whether that’s a special biscuit on top or a combination of flavors of fruits, or a presentation I haven’t seen. In every way this cobbler was basic. I enjoyed eating it, it just was a little boring.

Bravotv.com: And then Magellan…
GS: Oh Magellan. We all were really excited when Katie’s roasted beets came to the table. It sounded fantastic. But she made the dish in a composed way, meaning that the beets were on one side, the curry was just underneath. Everything was separate, so it was very difficult to taste all together. Her flaw was that there wasn’t a conversation going on between all of the components in the dish. She left the beets completely dry on the side of the plate, but she had this beautiful curry and this coconut and this pickled cauliflower, she could have dressed them wonderfully, had she mixed them up, had she presented the dish in a different way. It really shows you that ingredients are only one piece of the puzzle. You can have five different beautiful ingredients, but unless you put the dish together in a way that highlights them, it falls flat.

Katsuji’s hamachi sashimi was totally fine. The hamachi was very big and cut in a bit of a ragged way. I wish they had been smaller or more smoothly cut, so that they weren’t as messy to eat and a little more refined. But the dish itself was perfectly well made. I liked his dried pozole too; I thought it was very interesting. A little odd, a little out there, but I applaud Katsuji for pushing boundaries of what we think of as pozole with it.

Gregory also made two dishes. His seared haddock was my favorite dish of the night. The fish was great, the tomato was flavorful. I thought the dish came together nicely, it was cohesive. I liked the garam masala. Although he could have probably simplified a little bit. His pork tenderloin was perfectly cooked too, it sounded so rich and delicious in its description, but was a little disappointing to eat because it was a little less flavorful than I expected with all of those components. Like Katie, he also separated out all of the ingredients. I was hoping to get a dish that was really bold in these Chinese flavors, the hosin and the XO sauce. I wanted it all to be mixed in a way that every bite had all of those tastes and it wasn't.

And then there was our dessert, Keriann’s vanilla crepe. I’m still totally confused as to how she wanted it. She wanted it room temperature, she wanted that mousse to be stiff and hard, not spreadable? I can’t understand how it would’ve been served that way and been successful either. But I do know that the way it was served definitely didn’t work. As much as I’m sure she was devastated by the way her team chose to change her dish, and especially that they didn’t tell her before they did so, I still think it would not have been a successful dish had she served it her way either. I’m just totally baffled by how it was supposed to be, and how she didn’t notice until the second half of service that it was being served in a different way. What I especially don’t understand is how she didn’t plate one for them first. If she had just plated a full dish, showed it to all of them and they all tasted it before she went out to service, they all would’ve known exactly how she wanted it and would’ve done it that way. How do you create a dish and leave people to execute it but not show them how it’s supposed to be? That’s why we decided Keriann had to be the one to be eliminated. There were a lot of problems with service at Magellan. Clearly, customers weren’t getting dishes, or they were getting dishes twice. No one knew where anything was, it was impossible to get water or a server. It was impossible to find Keriann. She put food down and then walked away without explaining it. There were so many times when we were completely thrown off by the service. And, in addition to all this, her dish didn’t make sense -- not only because of how Katie and Katsuji changed it, but in her vision in the first place. Keriann worked hard, she pushed herself, I’m proud of her. I think she’s a strong person, a good cook and will have a successful. I just don’t think this was her day.

Next episode: the judges hit Whole Foods!

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