Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Girls Gone Wild

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

Girls Gone Wild

Bethenny Frankel Reveals her favorite New York restaurant.

3 girls in the finals??? This is nuts, and truthfully, I think (aside from Dale) that it is totally justified.

OK, to the Quickfire. Again, bravo to Bravo for a creative yet terrifying task. My steak would have looked like roadkill. Spike rocked it, but then again he comes from a line of butchers. However, when he knew he had it made, he didn't just humbly sit by, he had to let everyone know just how much he nailed it. Being humble is definitely not a prerequisite to being one of most of today's famous chefs, but it certainly is nice to see. Craft is my favorite restaurant in New York, and Tom Colicchio has the nature of your next door neighbor -- no braggadocio. Spike could learn a thing or two from Tom.

I was surprised at all of the fondling of the meats. People were grilling and basting and pan-roasting and slathering their steaks. The best steaks I've had have been simply prepared, on the grill or under a broiler, well-seasoned and topped with butter. Granted, I'm not a steak aficionado, and I did learn a thing or two on this one.

Richard was out of his comfort zone here. I've been mentioning all season that he needs to master the art of doing something straightforward, and this simple steak stumped him. To Spike's credit, his steak was simply grilled, and I will definitely try the rosemary under the meat trick next time I grill. He deserved this win.


Antonia did very well with her grilling then roasting then slathering and basting with butter. She has done well on the old-school straightforward tasks. Her steakhouse salad with bacon and poached egg was a hit a few weeks back.

Stephanie. Stephanie. Stephanie. I really think she's the best and very well may win, but this Quickfire is her Achilles heel. She's always calm, but maybe she needs to get a little fired up during this challenge.

Richard's steak was undercooked. I could easily be guilty of this. Cooking the perfect steak is harder than doing one of his "tricked out" transformations evidently. I disagreed with him when he said that going home at this point would be no different than earlier in the competition. He has proven himself, the world knows he's a good chef, and irrespective, he was going nowhere. He did shine a lot brighter in the beginning though.

Lisa did a good job on the steak. She's a tough broad. I imagine she's eaten and fired up a few pieces of meat in her day.


Now to the main event: Spike's downfall is never using his advantage wisely. He could have made anything he wanted, and he took the safe route of the tomahawk that he had so recently prepared, and the stupid route of frozen scallops. Also, he chose to do a dish that Tom Colicchio has mastered. Maybe he should have read Tom Collichio's cookbook before he arrived. Don't try to sing Barbara Streisand and don't attempt to trump Tom's scallops with mushrooms.

Lisa: I have to give here credit for being ballsy with a breakout risk like peanut butter mashed potatoes although it really sounded like a hot sticky mess. Rick Tramonto liked it though.

Tom commented that Richard was keeping it simple which made Richard nervous. I've been asking for straightforward from Richard from weeks. In the end, Richard went out of the box with his hamachi and veal appetizer. It scared the hell out of me, but it was delicious. He hardly played it safe. Tom commented on his slightly slower pace, and he said he'd rather do it slow and perfect. In theory I get it, but tell that to a 6-foot-5, 250-pound football player waiting for his steak. How about fast and perfect?

This whole task is nervewracking because Tom knows his steak. Tom acted as the expediter which was so cool. Many don't know that many major restaurants such as the Palm or Peter Luger's don't really have master chefs per se. They have tried and true items on their menu that the chefs in the kitchen know. The guy who gets it all done is the expediter. He makes sure that the whole operation runs like clockwork. I live for Tom.


Lisa's cold shrimp salad was underwhelming but her lemon confit was a hit. She does take chances, and does deserve to be alive longer than Spike.

Stephanie always shines in the main challenge. They loved her sweetbreads. I loved that her, Richard's, and Antonia's dishes were things they'd never done. That's being innovative.

Antonia wasn't the strongest here, but she wasn't the weakest either. They thought her menu was too rich. In this environment, that isn't a fatal flaw. As I said, Lisa pulled off the mash for some judges, but her meat was tough to all.

Richard meat wasn't cooked consistently which he was also guilty of during the Quickfire. This is an area he needs to correct. I realized that I probably do the same. They discussed Stephanie's grace under pressure which truly is the mark of a chef who can take the heat.


My high and low point in the show were when Spike called out Rick for having frozen scallops in the walk-in. First of all, I did have that exact thought in the beginning. But with all due respect, most of the shellfish you eat in high-volume restaurants is frozen. Spike was more of the idiot for cooking it than a restaurateur was for having it. But while I'm on the topic, what a blithering ass for getting in the face of a judge, an accomplished successful chef, and the man who let you into his kitchen. Now that he's packed his knives, I don't think Rick Tramonto will be hiring him.

Furthermore, Tom was visibly horrified which was totally understandable. Wow. Season highlight. Tensions were high. In the end Stephanie won which seems to happen a lot. I think she'll take the crown. Are there any more Quickfires? If so, and she wins one, she's got it made like Big Brown in the derby.

Thanks for listening. Visit me at www.bethennybakes.com for some of my simpler, healthy recipes that don't include hamachi or sweetbreads. I'm learning a thing or two this season for sure. I can't wait for Puerto Rico.

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

Gail schools us on the science of innovative cooking and explains why George Pagonis' octopus didn't have any legs to stand on.

Bravotv.com: Let's talk about the Elimination Challenge, which was to create an innovative dish that pushed culinary boundaries.

Gail Simmons: I was really happy that Wylie was there for this challenge, of course. But I think the set up was a little anti-climactic in honesty. As a viewer, you didn't get a full explanation of how and why they were given this challenge. It was specifically because there are so many people pushing these boundaries, many of whom are in Boston, and particularly Michael Brenner. He is innovative for a lot of reasons -- he’s a physicist, but what he’s become known for in the culinary space is teaching an in-depth course at Harvard about the science of food and cooking, incorporating people like Wylie and as well as a long list of exceptionally talented and renown chefs from around the world, like Ferran Adrià among others. It is exciting and extraordinary, and having him there allowed us to present our chefs with this challenge. We always think about how the dishes taste and look, whether the meat is cooked well enough or the appearance of knife cuts are appropriate. All of that stuff is in affect science -- cooking is all chemistry and biology, reaction of cells to knives and fire essentially. Everyone has their own definition of innovation, and I think there was a lot of pressure to "innovate" in this challenge. Our chefs did well, but I wish they had been given more time to really push their own personal boundaries more.

 



Bravotv.com: Let’s start with the winner, Melissa, who had the seared duck breast with farro, walnut miso, and pickled cherries.

GS: Melissa really has stepped up her game and soared in the last two challenges; she won the last challenge (and a spot in the finale in Mexico), and now she’s won this challenge, too. Her duck was beautiful, though not necessarily the most groundbreaking dish I’ve ever seen in my life. But she was innovative enough that we felt her flavors were new, but the dish was at the same time beautiful, delicious. Here’s the tricky thing about being innovative, which I think George touched on when he was talking about the challenge too: is it takes time and practice to truly innovate. I can only assume that someone like Wylie tries a dish fifty times before it goes on his menu as a full formed creative work, that changes how we all perceive food. Innovation takes patience and some serious brain power. To come up with something in a few hours is a tall order when it needs to be totally delicious AND have a level of innovation that surprises and impresses us. Melissa knew her strengths and perhaps was more relaxed then she would’ve been otherwise, so she made that walnut miso pesto and incorporated it in a really creative, unusual way. It made her dish stand out, and by far it was the most delicious.

Bravotv.com: And then we had our runner, Mei, with her duck curry with vadouvan and yuzu yogurt.

GS: There was something about Mei’s dish that made me think it was the most innovative of the day in a number of ways. However it wasn’t the most successful, and that’s why Melissa took the win. Mei’s dish was not only breathtakingly stark and beautiful, looking so modern on the plate, but she also combined several unusual ingredients, which made for a very untraditional, very modern curry. It was innovative and it stayed with us. You could even see in Tom's reaction that it was a dish to think about. When you tasted it, you weren't sure it worked, but there was something enjoyable about it; the dish didn't simply come together in your mind. It wasn't straight forward. You needed to take a pause, then a second bite, and by the third and fourth bite you started to understand all the different parts, which were very exciting. I think with a few more tries, Mei would’ve really nailed that dish. I was proud of her for pushing us all that way.

Bravotv.com: Then in our bottom two we had Gregory and George. Gregory did the salmon in tom kha broth with roasted tomatoes, crispy chicken skin, and crispy salmon skin.

GS: There were a lot of fun, tasty components to Gregory’s dish. If this challenge had been to show us an interesting representation of salmon or Thai flavors, he would’ve gotten it right. The thing with Gregory is that as skilled as he is, we were really hoping that he would come out of his comfort zone. The flavors he used were what we have seen from him previously. We didn’t really see a lot of innovation from him. That doesn’t mean we don’t think he worked hard or didn't do a good job. He gave us something that he felt was different in presentation, but the flavors were definitely in his usual wheelhouse. As he said himself when cooking beans in the Quickfire, he felt uncomfortable because he's more accustomed to using Asian flavors and ingredients. So here he was in the Elimination Challenge using Asian flavors. On the other hand the dish tasted great! We loved it, we just didn’t think he fulfilled the challenge of being innovative like we know he could have. And then there was George. . .

Bravotv.com:  Yes, he had the charred octopus, yellow split pea puree, and green apple harissa.

GS: George also stayed in his comfort zone in some ways -- he's cooked us octopus before, so charring octopus did not feel innovative at all for him, I actually felt disappointed when he told us that's what he had made. However, there were probably twenty other components of that dish that did make it feel somewhat innovative. The green apple harissa was one of them for sure. The fact that he called it harissa may be taking some license, but that's OK. I loved it, it went so well with the octopus, and it was something new that all of us had never seen. That said, the rest of the dish didn’t make sense all together. At least three or four of the garnishes he added didn’t serve a purpose on the plate, rather, they detracted from the dish. He spent his time making too many components. They may have shown technique, and you could tell that he was really pushing himself, but it all still has to be one cohesive plate of food, first and foremost. I think it didn’t work because he let himself get preoccupied with all the other pieces instead of focusing on doing one thing really well in an innovative way.

Charring octopus did not feel innovative at all for him, I actually felt disappointed when he told us that's what he had made.


So George's was the dish we least enjoyed eating and thought was the least successful, that’s why he went home. I think George did a tremendous job. He came back once already, and he could come back from Last Chance Kitchen again. He’s a great cook, has a great attitude, and I think he absolutely gave his best throughout the competition, which made everyone better. I don’t always say that, but I think when he came back, he really changed the game and the whole season was better for it.

Now, onward to Mexico!