Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Keepin' it Reel

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

Keepin' it Reel's Editor answers your questions and tells you what to order during your next meal at Dos Caminos.


This week's episode combined two of my favorite things: film and food. But before we get to the Elimination and my answers to some of your questions from last week's blog, let's talk Daniel Boulud. He is one of my favorite guest judges. We always get the occasional, "Who does that guest judge think he/she is?" comment here at the site, but I have a feeling they might just not happen this week. And I agree with one commenter one of our blogs (honestly, I'm too lazy to look) who said that the chefs shouldn't just kowtow to the guest judges, they shouldn't be disrespectful either. Um, so, when Ryan said Daniel's restaurants "weren't his style." All I can say is, "OK, kiddo. Whatever you say" No one can really deny Boulud's place in the culinary landscape, and the chefs' faces pretty much say everything whenever he enters the Top Chef kitchen. He doesn't patronize the chefs by telling them everything's great or staying quiet, he gives them real criticism. (Oh, and his glasses were really flattering on his face.)

The chefs had to show off their technique, which for many of them, meant their knife skills. Zoi had it right -- she poached an egg -- which presumably when done incorrectly can be, well, nasty. (Is it weird that I can't recall every having eaten one?) This challenge made me think of our Holiday Special last year when Season 1's Stephen Asprinio made the "perfect omelette," which was by far the simplest dish presented, and he won. Why? Because of his technique. (Sidenote: The only advice I can offer in making your omelettes better/fluffier is to whisk your eggs rather than beat them -- a little tip I picked up from watching the legendary Jacques Pepin on PBS when I was younger.) Anyway, a lot of the chefs seemed to do the same thing: blanche vegetables. But Boulud was quite taken with Dale's knife skills and Richard's progression. Ultimately Dale won. I'm actually really surprised to see all the comments comparing Dale to Hung or Marcel. Sure -- I guess they all have an attitude? Maybe it's my love for Hung and Marcel that's blinding me, but I just don't see the similarities.

Onto the Elimination Challenge. The chefs were asked to choose their favorite movies. When I heard their choices, I was all "Huh?" Now maybe you can't really pick your absolute favorite movie because you cant' think of a food tie-in (or it's pornography, ahem), but let's be real, I think Harold hit it on the nose when he says in his blog, "I don't really know anyone whose favorite movie is Good Morning, Vietnam." We polled around the office, and a couple of us thought Overboard with Goldie Hawn could have been really funny. They could have made a trio that progressed from haute cuisine to comfort food. (You can vote for it in this week's Foodie Poll!)


It seemed like most of the teams worked backwards, choosing what food they'd like to cook before choosing the film. How sad was it to watch Mark trying to think of the films Ryan was suggesting? I just wanted to yell, "Stop yelling at Mark -- he's adorable!" I gotta say, though, I would eat that quail spring roll in a heartbeat! Again, Lisa and Antonia looked like strong, but quiet, contenders as members of their respective teams, and I think it'll be interesting to see how far they both make it in the competition.

And what about Richard, Andrew, and Dale? I literally said, "Wow -- what a Dream Team" to my TV screen. I think the only thing that could've gotten in their way was a clash of personalities or stubbornness. Thankfully none of them let that happen. Now I've been pretty open about my irrational affinity for Andrew (although his Oompa Loompa impression this week left a bad taste in my mouth), but I can't even tell you how many comments we got this past week asking a)whether Andrew is on something or b) if he probably should be. All I can say is, I would hate to see what you guys would say about us editors at around 4 p.m. each day, after some serious exhaustion and caffeine intake. It happens every day, but there's a point where I'll just start singing the theme song to The Golden Girls, and well, you know I've officially cracked. Moving on.

So, the Dream Team wins, impressing Daniel Bouloud, and guest eaters Richard Roeper and Aisha Tyler. Padma told us Ms. Tyler was super-nice -- something we always like to hear about our guests. I don't much care for salmon, unless it's on my bagel with scallion cream cheese, or in my sushi, but the Willy Wonka-inspired dish sounded interesting. And I was pretty happy to see the team use chocolate in a savory dish. This is the perfect time to plug our Bravo For Foodies Chocolate blog. This week our chocolate expert, Clay Gordon (seriously the man knows more about chocolate than one can imagine), talks about what beers to pair with your chocolate. Um, count me in!

I was pretty annoyed with the conversation happening in the stew room over the winning dish, though, particularly with Zoi's comments about knowing that the dish couldn't have taste good. Cause guess what? They didn't try it, and I wouldn't argue too much with Daniel Boulud's palate, would you?

And if the judges seemed nitpicky about the colors of dishes and things, I gotta say that's a good sign. It shows how high the quality of the top dishes were, and, well, they have to pick a winner. So, everything counts.

As for Spike and Manuel's dish, it was kind of sad. I felt bad for Manuel because he seemed like a really gentle guy (Did you notice he didn't open his mouth when the other chefs were bashing team Wonka?). Also, i don't know how many of you have frequented Dos Caminos, but you must order the street corn. (I'm full of tips today!) Alas, breaking one of the Top Chef Commandments, he didn't speak up. And so Manuel went home.

Next week's guest judge is Ming Tsai, and he's, well, dreamy. And I can't wait. Now onto a few of your questions:

"jcb" wrote:
"Sooooo...what you are saying is that the royal "we" does not apply and a different staff person writes this blog every week. Or, explain please how one writes a blog by committee. ..."

Well, I do have to apologize for being so unclear, which I was. Every other blog on our site is written in the royal "we." However, this blog will be written by one editor -- me -- every week, so I'm sticking to the first-person. You can call me "superfan." (Everyone else does.) I really hope I've cleared that up.

The next biggest question is when Top Chef is coming out on DVD -- trust me I want to relive Harold's glory just as much as the next fan. I'll ask around and see what I can dig up.

And the cursing? Well I responded to that last week, and Dale addresses it this week in our new Burning Questions blog, where we will interview the winning and losing chefs each week.

Finally, I just want to thank everyone who commented -- I appreciate the compliments and criticism. And even if I didn't shout out your comment here, that doesn't mean I'm not addressing them around the office. So, keep posting.

Anyway, let me know what you thought of this week's episode, which movie you would have chosen, and if you've made any of the recipes from this season yet.

Until next week,

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. . .  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!