Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

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The Little Gin That Could

Make Melissa's Seared Duck Breast Dish

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Make Melissa's Mom's Egg Custard

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Make Mei's Inspired Duck a l'Orange

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

The Little Gin That Could

Ilan Hall addresses all the haters out there.

I just want to start, not by attacking, but by saying that for those who criticize my performance and my behavior in Season 2, I'd just like to tell everyone that you were not there. Relationships and behavior between the contestants were not fully shown last season. So if somebody wants to criticize my food that knows how to criticize food properly, I'm completely open to constructive criticism.

I was chosen to win a competition because I made the correct decisions at the right time and I was judged by a panel of professionals who I and most people in the culinary world respect. It has been said ad nauseum that the producers have the last call, but I don't think that these professional judges would put their credibility on the line in picking someone who didn't deserve to win. Plenty of people have their opinions and they can say what they want, and that's why we have this open forum, but from now on this blog is me sharing my opinions of the current cast and that's what I'll continue to do.

Now, onto the Quickfire Challenge. It's interesting going with liquor because so many chefs have a hard time with it. Wine is something that can be so delicate, but also very powerful -- it's very classical to pair wines with food, and that's a mindset that most chefs are in. So it's a newer-aged type of idea to pair with liquor. Even though a lot of people have a problem with it, I love gin. It has all these different flavor elements to it. There are all these flavor compounds, and I think if you're going to use a liquor to pair with food, I think gin is the most interesting. With that said, I think I think its complexity also makes it more difficult to pair with.

Many cocktails, not cocktails that I like, but many cocktails, are sweet. And it's not only very difficult to pair sweets, but it's been shown time and time again, especially with myself, that people have a hard time making pastries. The chefs don't come with enough pastry knowledge to apply it to the competition. However Casey made a smart decision because everyone knows how to make French toast. This is something you can make beautiful and high-level, and it pairs well with a sweet cocktail.

On the other hand, although I couldn't taste it, it seemed as if Dale has the smartest choice because of the flavors he had with the carmelized parsnips and foie gras. Foie gras is one of those incredible proteins that can lend itself to so many different strengths of flavor. It goes wonderfully with sweet things and it goes well with acidic things. It's versatile because it's so sweet, rich, buttery, and fatty. So, it has a wide range of what it can be paired with as long as it's another strong flavor or something that doesn't let the foie gras overwhelm it.

I like Hung. I think his food looks incredible and very different, but I can't get over the fact that I fee like he's putting on an act. He's very talented and I feel like he's going to get very far, but from what is being shown on television -- and knowing that we don't get the full picture -- I feel like it's a bit of an act. Do what feels comfortable and do you. But his food is very interesting and is very impressive. I can give a reality television opinion of how I think he is, but I met him briefly and he seems like a really cool guy. His food looks outstanding time and time again.

The Elimination Challenge was funny because it seemed that it was based off of the fact that there were many instances were us Season 2 chefs made and were criticized for doing trios on our tasting menus. And it happened a few times, including the challenge at Social, where the chefs had a problem with the fact that in a tasting menu there were three separate things on the plate. But it's great when you showcase how people interact in a group dynamic. When you're doing your own dish and sharing it on a plate with somebody else, it takes a lot of skill. So I thought it was a good challenge and it tested the chefs on many different levels.

The shrimp trio looked great. The olive oil poached shrimp? F---ing awesome. Lia's food looks incredible. I love the stuff that she makes. She seems like a really sweet person and really dedicated. I'm not sure where Hung got the recipe, but braising corn is one of the best ways to serve corn because it's so beautiful and enhances the flavor of the product with itself. Brian has been consistent and really good. He's also a really cool guy (and has a beautiful wife). I like what he's about. All in all, the three made a winning team from the get-go.

Team challenges will always be the hardest unless you're in perfect sync with your members. You have to be lenient but not lenient to the point where you let things slide and you let quality suffer. Everybody should taste everything. I felt it was unfair that everybody was putting a lot of blame for Casey's misfortune onto Howie and Joey. This challenge was a bit of a double-edged sword because you got to make your own dish, but then it was judged all-together as well. But, I like Joey and Howie together -- they seem like a cool duo. They're both really strong personalities. That's the thing: It's not the problem of having strong personalities, it's just if you have the same general vision. If you're supportive and share ideas in a constructive way, don't shut ideas out, and you're not a pushover with your final decision, I think it can work.

Colicchio said one thing in that episode that I thought was incredible. He said, "If you're not comfortable enough cooking something, then don't do it." It's as simple as that -- if you're uncomfortable cooking a cake, and you just wing a cake, it's not going to come out well. It's just not. There are reasons there are precise measurements in baking pastry. If you're not comfortable making it, then how can you expand on that and try to make it your own? Camille could have used a basic genoise recipe that can be used in a Pineapple Upside Down Cake or a general sponge cake.

I've had the pleasure of hanging out with Camille a bunch of times and eating at her restaurant. She's a wonderful chef and I was very sad to see her go. I don't think she was given enough opportunity to shine and show all of her talent. When Camille came out and said her goodbyes you saw everyone crying and welling up. She's a great person, and it's a shame she's no longer in the competition. I'll end on a personal note. I can't be specific yet, but I've got a little somethin' somethin' to share very soon -- big things are happening for me....