Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

A Classic Disaster

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

A Classic Disaster

Padma Lakshmi speaks candidly about the chef's lack of imagination.

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The Quickfire Challenge with guest judge Alfred Portale, chef and owner of Gotham Bar and Grill, was a simple challenge using scallops, crayfish, and conch. The contestants had to catch and scoop out shellfish in 30 seconds. I loved the dynamism that this challenge brought out in all the chefs. It was fun to see them try to scoop out as much shellfish as possible, and I'm glad to report that the women hefted out just as much loot from the tank as their male counterparts...and even more in Tre's case.

Shelling the fish, however, was an issue for Micah, who seemed to have no idea how to release the fish from their tough outer shells. Her conch salad was a failure because it lacked fish due to the fact that she probably could not shell enough in time, and the flavors just weren't there.
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CJ's pan-roasted fruits de mer with shaved cauliflower with saffron paprika vinaigrette and olives was a complex dish, yet somehow the flavors all worked well together. Tre's shellfish poached in fish stock, butter, and olive oil with summer corn and grilled leek compote was lacking. There was not enough shellfish on the plate and too much corn; however, the corn was fantastic and had he incorporated both into one dish the corn would have helped the lack of shellfish and thus would have made the plate look more abundant. It is a shame because the flavors were there.

Brian's three rivers of wine, butter, garlic, and chives with clams, scallops, mussels, and crawfish was a perfect way to use all the shellfish and blend the flavors together harmoniously by keeping things simple. For having never worked with conch, the toast was delicious. Brian's plate also looked well put together and very pretty. It seemed to be the most complete dish. Camille's downfall was using tea as a flavoring agent. Tea is very strong and can hold up well next to duck for instance, but something as delicate as shellfish should not be overpowered by tea, which can be very herbal and overly aromatic.
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Howie's delicious ceviche of conch, scallops, crayfish, and mussels with crispy plantain and greens was a creative idea with bold, tart flavors that highlighted the seafood being used. Brian won over Howie because of his thoughtfulness in using the elements given and the well-balanced yet simple flavors in all of his dishes. The reason Alfred thought Hung's croutons should have been smaller is because they themselves were very highly flavored and rich in butter. They were actually big wedges of garlic bread. The bread may have been for soaking up the coconut gravy in his seafood dish, but greasy garlic bread dipped in rich coconut sauce made for an overpoweringly flavored and fat saturated mouthful. Had his crouton not been so densely flavored, the proportion of bread to gravy would have worked.
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The Elimination Challenge seemed straightforward enough but proved to create quite the dilemma for many of the chefs. Taking classic American comfort foods and making updated, modern healthy versions like meatloaf and tuna casserole may seem pedestrian, but can actually be inspiring cuisine to work from. Unfortunately, I as well as my colleagues were disappointed with some of the choices the chefs made in their decisions to recreate these classics, with the exception of Dale and Howie. Everyone else made some pretty poor renditions of these original favorites. I was surprised at how little they came up with. I thought it would really be a fun challenge. It seemed to stymie them all.
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Sara M.'s dish did not even resemble Chicken a la King at all. Hung's skinless chicken marinated in yogurt was just OK. Casey's Ribeye Sloppy Joes were delicious but why wouldn't they be? After all, they were made of ribeye, which has the highest fat content. Lia could have made a beautiful Italian sausage with white Cannellini beans instead of the hard lentils she ended up with. Although CJ's dish lacked flavor, the tuile with flaxseeds may have been the best creation of the entire challenge.
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Not enough imagination was put into the ideas or there was a great lack of focus, which put the nail in the coffin for Micah, who I was sad to see go, but also was a little relieved, since she had seemed to be struggling so much and had her daughter waiting at home. Howie and Dale were the only ones to play off of the classic dishes by putting a modern spin on them while keeping within the guidelines of the challenge -- to be healthy and low in cholesterol without tasting like boring health-food. In the end, while I thought Howie's dish was superb and I loved the slaw, I thought the effort and skill involved in preparing Dale's dish was at a much higher level.

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!