Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Other Gail Green

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 Other Gail Green

Why Gail Simmons went green and why you should too!

About a year ago, I made a very conscious choice to Eat Green. I have always felt strongly about preserving our planet. My father, a chemical engineer and avid nature lover, has spent most of his life actively trying to clean up the mess and waste we have created. He taught me from a young age that this planet is precious. Everyone must take responsibly for his or her actions, especially with regard to the impact we have on the world around us. But it was only recently that I decided to reexamine what I personally can do to tread more lightly on the Earth.

It happened very shortly after the 2006 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Food & Wine decided we needed to do something BIG for the event's upcoming 25th anniversary, which we celebrated last June. We wanted to create a project that would cause a stir in the industry and, at the same time, make a difference. We realized that after so many years of eating and drinking so well, it was time to give back to those who nourish us. Our editor in chief, Dana Cowin, felt strongly about drawing more attention to the small and mid-size American farmer. After all, it is these hardworking and passionate people who are at risk of losing their livelihoods to industrialization, urban sprawl, and the global market. If we could figure out a way to save some of these farms, we could contribute to helping solve the larger problems that have befallen our planet, including the millions of people in this country who go hungry each day without access to fresh food. In the process we hoped to teach the food and wine community to do the same.
gail_earth04_320x240.jpg

With all this in mind, Food & Wine launched Grow for Good, a campaign to raise $1 million dedicated to raising $1 million in support of local farms and sustainable agriculture. Did you know that the food choices you make every day take a major toll on the planet and the people who care for it? Until last year, I thought I knew the importance of buying food locally: Food tastes better, is of better quality, is healthier, and is better for the environment if eaten at its source. When we began developing Grow for Good, I was exposed to the broader implications of sustainable and locally grown foods. With the help of our friend and philanthropic consultant Dominique Love and her company, Corporate Community Outsourcing, Food & Wine probed a little deeper -- and what we uncovered was nothing short of astonishing!
gail_earth02_320x240.jpg

Chew on this:

America loses two acres of farmland every minute to commercial and residential development and poor food production.

The majority of the money spent on grocery store food goes to suppliers, processors, middlemen, and marketers. Only 3.5 cents of each dollar actually goes to the farmers.

Fruits and vegetables shipped from other states or countries can spend between 7 and 14 days in transit to your local supermarket. And within a week of harvest, natural sugars in fruits and vegetables turn to starches, plant cells shrink and produce loses its vitality.

Many of our foods have been genetically modified or crossbred to withstand shipping. Food that has to be transported long distances is often preserved with waxes, irradiation, gases, and synthetic chemicals, such as fungicides and sprout inhibitors.
gail_earth03_320x240.jpg

40% of our fruit is produced overseas, even though broccoli is likely grown within 20 miles of the average American's house. The broccoli we buy at the supermarket travels an average of 1,800 miles to get there!

9% of our red meat comes from foreign countries. Who wants meat that has traveled from so far away when America produces some of the best meat in the world?

The longer a product is required to travel, the more energy and fuel it requires, and therefore the higher volume of carbon emissions it releases into the already depleting atmosphere. Gross, right? So now what? Like me, you probably feel completely overwhelmed. Don't be. As Grow for Good has taught me, it's about evolution, not revolution -- and EVERY little bit counts. We cannot all be expected to become "Locavores" overnight. As my father always told me, if we know the facts and do our small part each day, it will add up to great change for the better.
gail_earth06_320x240.jpg

Here are just a few of the things we can all do to Eat Green:

As often as you can, buy food from a farmer's market or farm stand. That way you can be sure most, if not all, of your money goes directly to the farmer.

Ask your local grocer to offer more locally grown ingredients. · Check the labels of the food you purchase to know where it comes from -- be it fruit, meat or cheese. For example, do you really need those Chilean apples? I bet New Jersey produces an apple just as good. When possible, buy items that support your local economy.

Seek out great chefs and restaurants in your area that use local ingredients and have relationships with local farmers. Frequent them.
gail_earth05_320x240.jpg

Deepen your relationship with the ocean by learning what seafood is native to your area and least likely to be endangered by over fishing and pollution.

Invest in a few sturdy, environmentally friendly shopping bags and take them with you to the market. This will help reduce waste made by non-recyclable plastic bags that markets go through by the truckload.

Join a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) project, which connects consumers to local farms by delivering fresh produce to your door on a weekly or monthly basis.

Have an organic or biodynamic wine party. Get friends together and taste-test the growing number of wines produced in earth-friendly ways. Remember: Vineyard owners and winemakers are farmers too!

Lastly, know that we can all be part of the solution. What has struck me most in this incredibly educational process is that to raise $1 million for Grow for Good requires not just the big donations, but a lot of little gifts too. It's the $10, $20, $50 and $100 gifts that will ultimately allow us to reach our goal. To that end, the local food movement requires commitment from people across the county, in many different forms. Read about it, spread the word, make a donation, and help us save America's farmland to ensure the food you eat goes directly from the farm to your table.

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!

Read more about: