Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Teams' Work

Gin is one of my favorite drinks. I got thoroughly excited when I saw the bottles... it's one of those challenge I would've enjoyed being a part of. For a while, I was a die-hard Rum and Coke fan, but I drank too much of it. All that sugar? I was putting on tons of weight. I said to myself: I need a new drink... something that's going to be refreshing in the summertime. And someone handed me a gin and tonic, and I was like, oh. That's good. And slowly but surely, I found the gin I like, and Bombay Sapphire in that pretty blue bottle: this is what I'm talking about. Some people, when they're drinking gin, get nasty. I get quite giddy.

I thought it was a great quickfire challenge. I thought that some of the chefs had better drinks selected for them than others. A lot of the drinks were dessert-oriented, because of all the fruit in the cocktails. I thought Dale had a tough one, and I felt he really hit it on the nose. If you have a sherry-and-gin based drink, that's screaming foie gras. I thought his dish was really well orchestrated. I was kind of surprised by Hung's dish. I thought that it might have worked well, too. Because of how fatty salmon is, I really appreciated it. I'm not a big salmon guy. I really liked the salmon skin idea, though. I thought that was a sharp move because it cut the sweetness of the drink. Conceptually, it made a ton of sense to me.

I was also surprised by Tre's dish. There was the gin, and then halibut with a lot of fruit in between, and for me, it was a little weird. I wouldn't have been able to taste the fish. The halibut couldn't stand up to all the flavors. Halibut is more of a neutral fish, more of a textural type of fish that gives you get really nice juicy flakes, and I don't know how halibut could've measured up to all the flavors.

And then you have Casey's dish. She didn't have to stretch very much. She had a sweet flavored fish and some foie gras and some sweet accoutrements, and you really can't go wrong with that. I was surprised that so many people went with the scallops. I thought that was telling. In general, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they have an experienced, talented chef doing culinary producing for the show now, and they are giving the chefs a lot of great food to work with. Not to take anything away from the old producers, but they weren't chefs. And for my season I loved the producers on the show but I just wasn't very impressed with what we had to work with; it was pretty bare bones. I never went into the freezer and saw foie gras, fresh olives, fresh scallops, fresh tuna: tons of stuff to work with. It wasn't like that during the first season at all. This season, it certainly is fun to watch. Lee Ann is a badass cook, and incredibly talented. I love eating her food, and watching her cook. You can see that she loves it, so it's a lot of fun to watch her work.

From a challenge standpoint, I thought this was a great show. The chefs haven't been asked to do anything really crazy yet. There's been no Venetian action; there hasn't been anything really daring. I thought last week came the closest so far, with them being asked to do an interpretation of an American classic. I would have been a little cranky doing that. I thought this challenge was great. You have all these ingredients to work with paired with gin, and a lot of chefs drink gin, so I didn't think that was surprising. And then, in the elimination challenge: come up with a trio. I thought to myself: this is another great one.

I really felt for the chefs who did the dessert. It's one of those things, a double-edged sword: you draw the fourth course and you don't put out a dessert? The judges are going to call you out on that. You're creating a tasting menu for these people, and you don't do dessert? You have to. I didn't agree when the judge told them they didn't have to do dessert. It's one of those things, it's like, "yeah, we did have to do that, because if we had pulled out a cheese course at the end, you would've crucified us." So, they went with pineapple, something indigenous to Miami, and I thought that was smart. But pastry is such a science. If I had to go through the whole show again, I would totally position myself to have a half dozen desserts that I could pull out of my sleeve at the drop of a hat, because you know if you get to the finale, you are going to have to do dessert, so you'd better figure something out.

Pineapple was a smart choice, since grocery stores usually don't have great chocolate for cooking. It's usually pretty low quality, so they really had no choice. I thought the shrimp dishes were coming from incredibly talented chefs. You have Brian, who works for a fish restaurant, Hung who has a great pedigree, and has also worked in great restaurants. I thought they really nailed it. And I thought all the beef dishes looked really nice, too. I thought they did a really strong job with that. Tuna is one of those things: to the general public, they love it, but then there are foodies who are say to themselves: "been there, done that". They want to see something a little more than a seared piece of tuna or tuna tartar. If you're going to do tuna, you've got to really bring it.

I was a little surprised at Casey. She goes out there and does a booming foie gras dish, and then she follows up with a tuna tartar? Just because you have immunity, it doesn't mean that the judges won't remember a couple episodes down that you had them eating tartar. They are going to remember it. You can say you were safe for that specific challenge, you can say that it's just challenge-to-challenge, but I don't see free passes being given. I could not stop laughing when I saw those people sitting around the dinner table with their medals on. They never went into what the medals were for. It's this exclusive club, but we never heard why. What are these people doing with medals? Vietnam veterans can wear metals. What do these people get metals for? Because they have a ton of money? We're giving out medals for that now? I was cracking up. 'What do they get the medals for,' I kept wondering. I want to know how it works. What, are they celebrating the fact that they have a ton of money? I wasn't really familiar with the guest judge, but I thought he had some interesting things to say. You all know who I prefer to be a guest judge. I like the chef's chef, I like the guys who are teachers, who are old school, who are humble. The ones that don't need to ridicule the contestants. Until next week...