Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Barton G: Guest Blogger

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

Barton G: Guest Blogger

Miami restauranteur and caterer Barton G sheds some light on the latest episode.

There are certainly those among us who feel dessert is the most important part of a meal, and dessert dominated this episode causing controversy, conflict and, in the end, calamity for one chef. As Ted Allen pointed out, the challenge said nothing about dessert -- they weren't required to do it, but three, with Dale as the ringleader, took the plunge...and pretty much drowned.
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Was it a mistake to try their collective hands at something outside their area of expertise? Maybe. If it was, it's probably a mistake I would have made too, because a meal is supposed to have a beginning and an end, and that end is traditionally dessert. We in the restaurant business are programmed to think that way — that a four-course meal ends with dessert. So I think they thought it through correctly.

As judges we all acknowledged they took a chance and gave the team points for the difficulty involved. Unfortunately they weren't enough points to make up for the fact that each of their individual efforts was dreadful. All that said, I give them a lot of credit for thinking it through, for making the meal complete. I respected their decision at the time, and after seeing what went on behind the scenes I respect it and Dale, Sara M., and Camille even more. They knew the course was pretty much a disaster, but they presented it with their game faces on. That must have been terribly difficult for them and, like preparing dessert, out of their realm of normal experience. In their own restaurants they would never have let those dishes out of the kitchen knowing that they were so sub-par...let alone have to answer to the people who tasted them and found them so lacking!
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Actually, while I was watching this episode it occurred to me that I live Top "Chef" now that I am conducting tastings almost every day for the new restaurant that will occupy the space where the chefs prepared their meals. Of course I've always realized it's nerve-racking for a chef to present a new dish, but I think I now have an even better appreciation of just how tough it must be after seeing the anxiety the contestants endured. And I was reminded about how much talent the "cheftestants" represent. I was impressed that night and even more impressed after seeing the episode and gaining more insight into what they had to deal with, not only in terms of the structure of the challenge, but with regard to personalities.
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All of which brings me to the cream that rose to the top that night. Interesting that it was the beginning and the end of the four courses that captured the judges' collective attention. I think that's often the case with a meal.

In any case, the shrimp course was outstanding. While Brian told us they had decided on scallops and then had to switch to shrimp, I had no idea just how set on scallops they had been. It seemed like scallops were the first ingredient anyone mentioned. They adjusted really well on the fly. That sort of thing speaks to me, because I'm the king of "on the fly"!


Now it's time for me to confess that I am not a religious follower of the show, nor of any show because I don't have much spare time for television. So I didn't know much about any of the contestants. I had no idea Lia works with Jean-Georges Vongerichten until I visited Bravotv.com yesterday. Now that I was reminded that she'll be the guest chef at the benefit Barton G. -- the events and catering part of my business -- is doing next month in the Hamptons for the Diabetes Research Institute (featuring a private concert by Diana Ross!), I wanted to know more about her.

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I think it is great that she's self-taught and that she's worked her way through the kitchen ranks the way she apparently has. As executive sous chef she is a vital part of one of the top kitchens in the country and I, along with my executive chef Ted Mendez, are looking forward to working with her. It's always good when terrific culinary talents such as Lia and Ted interact -- a synergy develops and everyone takes something new away from the experience. It's exactly what Camille talked about at the end, about how much the whole "Top Chef" experience had meant to her and how she knew it would change how she cooked. I felt so bad for her. There's no doubt in my mind she could make a great pineapple upside down cake under the right circumstances!

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!