Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Top Chef: The Final Four

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

Top Chef: The Final Four

Gail Simmons predicts who will pack their knives next.

Last night's episode sealed the fate of the final four -- three women -- Lisa, Antonia, and Stephanie will face off with the even-tempered, pink-clogged Mr. Blais in Puerto Rico next week.

I'm very excited to see that three women have made it to final four, and I think this is the year that the Top Chef title will be awarded to a woman. Richard's quite talented, that's for sure, but he's got some serious competition from Stephanie and Antonia. Lisa, not so much. She's gone next round, mark my words.

The Quickfire Challenge this week was a true test of chefness on many levels. First, it tested butchery, which is not something that many cooks know how to do. Trimming down and small butchery is one thing, but fabricating whole sides of beef and large animals is a rare skill among the restaurant chef community.

I wrote a story about a month ago on a local restaurant out in Brooklyn called Diner that's been using a small family farm in the Hudson Valley for their grass-fed beef. When the farm, Fleisher's, began selling only whole and half animals, the restaurant had to either find a different meat supplier (which they didn't want to do) or train one of its employees. They chose the latter and found a willing participant in a guy named Tom Mylan, who trained up at the Fleisher's farm to become a butcher. The need for in-house butchers is only going to continue to grow as more and more small family farms begin supplying farm-to-table and locavore restaurants with beef, lamb, and pork. The reason is simple: Small family farms can't afford to spend the time and money butchering animals into convenient cuts of steaks and chops. They're spending their time and resources on the more important stuff: making sure that the animals are raised right.


The Quickfire Challenge also tested another fundamental chef skill -- cooking meat to temperature. That's something that so basic any chef should be able to do it with his or her eyes closed, but as we've seen time and time again on Top Chef, sometimes it's the most basic skills that are the hardest to nail. What I think Top Chef gets right is this combination of testing the most important basic skills, alongside with more "advanced" capabilities like patience, palate, creativity, thoughtfulness, and presentation. To be a great chef, or a Top Chef, I suppose, you've got to master it all, from the most simple task -- like cooking a steak medium rare - to the most challenging, like creating a menu in the course of three hours, and serving it to a fine dining restaurant filled with hungry diners. That's why this week's challenges were so compelling.

In the end, Spike, who was the winner of Quickfire, lost the Elimination Challenge for something I thought was so surprising -- his insistence on sticking to those dreadful water-logged scallops. Why? There was no rule that said he had to stick to that protein. He could've cut his losses and perhaps made something on the fly and made it to Puerto Rico.


Last night's challenge did hook onto a major dining trend here in New York City and that's the steakhouse. The list of exceptional steakhouses has grown over the years from iconic stalwarts like Peter Luger's, the Palm, Sparks, Old Homestead, and Smith and Wollensky to include high end temples of grass-fed, house-aged, and Wagyu beef like Chef Tom's very own Craftsteak, BLT Steak, BLT Prime, Porter House, Quality Meats, and most recently Steve Hanson's newly opened Primehouse, which I just reviewed last week on my blog, The Strong Buzz.

While many of the best steaks in the city are served at these steakhouses, what's even more impressive to me is when I find a great steak at a regular restaurant. Here are two of my favorite spots for just that: The NY Strip Steak at The Little Owl, 90 Bedford Street (at Grove), 212-741-4695. Chef Joey Campanaro was Top Chef Season One Harold Dieterle's mentor way back when they both cooked at The Harrison. They've both since departed, and you'll find Joey cooking at his snug little West Village gem, The Little Owl.

While the most ordered dish on the menu is his gravy meatballs sliders -- sliders made from veal, pork and beef and smothered in Sunday gravy and snuggled into homemade garlic Parmesan rolls -- my favorite dish is his NY Strip, which is one of the most flavorful steaks you'll find in the city. It's a rather gargantuan portion of beautifully seasoned buttery meat, grilled perfectly to medium rare (just the way I like it) and served with quick saute of radicchio, pancetta and balsamic that is shamelessly bold. If you are a fan of quiet little flavors this is not the steak for you. This one is a big bossy baritone.


The Ribeye Tagliata at Centro Vinoteca, 74 Seventh Avenue South, at Barrow Street, 212-367-8040. Chef Anne Burrell is probably known to most as Mario Batali's sous-chef on Iron Chef, but to New York City's most discerning foodies, she's the spunky chef with a shock of blond hair cooking her heart out every night (in a mini-skirt) at Centro Vinoteca, where she dishes out heaping bowls of gorgeous homemade pasta (the pici with sausage ragu is a must), and a mouthwatering array of piccolini (little nibbles) like arancini, eggplant cakes with ricotta, and Parmesan-crusted wedges of fried cauliflower with a spicy agliata.

One of her hidden talents, however, has nothing to do with pasta and everything to do with steak. Her Ribeye, sliced thinly in the Florentine Tagliata style, comes with a crisped potato prosciutto fontina cake and broccoli rabe, and is one of the best steaks in the city. She credits her meat supplier, Pat LaFrieda. And while I agree that the quality of the meat is a testament to his sourcing, I've gotta give Anne credit where it's due. She seasons that meat just right and grills it so its got a beautiful char and just melts in your mouth. You may go for the pasta, but you'll leave craving that steak.

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!