Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

My Dinner At Tramonto's Steak And Seafood

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

My Dinner At Tramonto's Steak And Seafood

Bravotv.com's Editor dishes about her Windy City meal.

Well, hello again! I don't even know if I need to address comments this week seeing as they were all, um, the same: Lisa needs to go. Well, unfortunately for you I have zero say over that, and since the finale has been shot already, well, you'll just have to watch what happens .... (Yes -- I'm as surprised as you that that is the first time I have used that phrase in my blog.)

And stay tuned to the end of my blog this week for details on my trip to Tramonto's Steak & Seafood including dessert food porn!

OK -- let's talk about this episode. I have a feeling we're going to get a lot of comments about the emphasis on beef this week, especially since so many of you have commented on wanting a vegetarian/vegan challenge. I can assure you that I have brought this up to people who have more power than me. But for this week, it was all about steak. As a big carnivore, I love steak. I grew up eating a lot of meat and steak was a big part of that, especially since steakhouses are some of the few fine dining destinations my whole family can agree on. In the Quickfire the chefs had to butcher their own meat, and well, I thought some of the physically weaker chefs might fall over. I have to say the whole scene reminded me of a scene from Fast Food Nation. Fortunately for them, they were given only the best cuts to deal with. In the end, Spike prevailed, thoroughly impressing Chef Tramonto. As a viewer I was skeptical as to how well a chef would really be able to butcher that size cut, but being able to discern a good cut from a messy one is a chef's job. He only had to look at and cut into the chef's creations to determine who came out on top and who fell to the bottom. A lot of people are afraid to eat pink/red meat, but you should always order medium-rare at a steakhouse if you want the best out of your beef, and Chef Tramonto was looking for that perfect color and texture.


Anyway, Spike's advantage is to choose his two proteins in the challenge. He chooses the tomahawk and scallops ... frozen scallops. We asked Rick about the scallops in this week's "Breaking Bread with ..." and he confirmed that he does not normally have frozen scallops in his pantry. And you know what? Even if he does, Spike shouldn't have chosen them. Remember when he chose the bad meat from the Green Market? It's not the first time not choosing fresh product has bitten him in the ass. Furthermore, this isn't the first time choosing frozen protein has hurt a Top Chef contestant, and unfortunately it probably wont be the last. Honestly I'm sure you're all still upset Lisa is still there, but since there was an overwhelming "Spike should go" contingent, hopefully some of you will be satisfied. And while, yes, after reading all your comments I now know that you all love Dale, my comment last week referencing that you would be happy he was gone was based on comments before last week's episode. We had a lot of first-time commenters who had never expressed their love for Dale before, and, well, I gotta admit, i was caught off-guard. I can't say I don't disagree though. Lisa and Dale are both very talented, but I always saw Dale as a bigger threat. Who knows, though -- maybe Lisa will be a real wild card.

Once again, Antonia, Stephanie, and Richard wowed the judges ... which included our former winners! How nice was it to see Harold, Ilan, and Hung, together? (And Tom in the kitchen?!) I couldn't help but laugh every time the camera showed Harold eating. He really attacks that stuff, and you could kinda tell that he and Rick would probably be best friends if they lived in the same city. He says about as much in his blog this week. Stephanie and Richard both made sweetbreads dishes and while I've never eaten them, I think I'm going to start.


OK -- now onto the fun stuff (for me): My trip to Chicago! (Warning: Foodie fan bragging commencing ...) This past Saturday night, I had the pleasure of dining at Tramonto's Steak & Seafood. I had the advantage of having a reservation set up through Chef Tramonto and Gand's "people," and I certainly got the star treatment. I arrived at the restaurant which resides in the Westin Hotel in Wheeling, IL with four of my girlfriends and was warmly greeted by a lovely man named Tim Rice (If I'm wrong, I apologize!) and an invitation to a viewing party the restaurant was throwing to watch tonight's episode with Rick himself! (If anyone went to the event, please write in!) We were quickly shown to our table, which was the private wine room adjacent to the open kitchen! My eyes couldn't have opened any wider when I saw where they were putting us. The room was beautiful and we were surrounded by just a sampling of the 10,000 bottles of wine in the restaurant's selection. We were greeted by lovely servers and a sommelier named Jamie, who helped us choose our reasonably-priced (wink) Pinot Noir.

After a lot of gawking, it was time to order. Shockingly, I was the only one in my party of five that eats steak! Either the other girls were vegetarian or Kosher and had to stick with the fish and seafood options. Our obscenely helpful server, Edith, came out with the very tomahawk chop featured in the episode, but at 40 oz. I couldn't justify ordering it for myself. Although the filets were the only cuts small enough for one, I ordered the bone-in rib-eye as I had heard it was the best cut on the menu because of its marbling, and I'd just take home the leftovers. I also ordered the goat cheese potato gratin at Edith's recommendation and one of my friends ordered the black truffle mac 'n cheese. Before even our appetizers came, we were greeted with an amuse bouche sent by the chefs. Seriously, I was already floored by where we were seated, but this was too much. Obviously the chefs think i am more of a somebody at Bravo than I am, but who was I to argue?


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The amuse bouche (inadequately pictured above) was a beef tar tare with a poached quail egg and brioche foam! I have developed a serious love for quail eggs this year and this couldn't have been a better combo for me. Not to offend the chefs, I ate quite a few of my friends' dishes as they were restricted by their diets.

Next came some appetizers we ordered, and then finally the main dishes. My steak was very well-prepared, and despite my best efforts, I couldn't finish it. The potatoes were lighter than I anticipated. Goat cheese can sometimes overwhelm me. And the mac 'n cheese was amaaazing -- I've never tasted Dave Martin's famous mac 'n cheese, but this certainly cut the mustard.


While the entrees were great, I have to say the highlight was meeting Gale Gand and eating her work! She appeared in our tiny heaven and spoke to us for quite some time discussing everything from Senator McCain's wife stealing her recipes for his Web site, how you should eat a quarter of your dessert before a meal to curb your appetite, and what else -- Top Chef! Since I only get to correspond via e-mail or phone with so many of our guest judges, this was truly a treat to meet such an accomplished chef. And then she asked the quetison every superfan can only hope to hear (pieced together from memory of course):

Gale Gand: "Do you want me to just select your dessert?"

Everyone at My Table: "Um, yes."

Gale Gand: Who's a chocolate lover?"

Everyone at My Table: (Hands up)


A couple of glasses of Pinot Noir later, and in came a parade of desserts! I have a sweet tooth, so I was in heaven. One of my fellow diners had the good thought to take pictures and i can now share them with you with descriptions:

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Blood orange and raspberry sorbets, fresh raspberries, and strawberries (thoughtfully for my lactose intolerant friend!)


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Warm Chocolate S'more Cake

Moist chocolate layer cake, toasted marshmallow ice cream, graham cracker streusel


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White chocolate ice cream, blood orange and raspberry sorbets


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Single Estate Vanilla Creme Brulee

Madagascar vanilla beans, raspberry salad, caramel corn


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Malted Milk Chocolate Souffle

Malted candies, ovaltine ice cream

We also shread the Warm Blueberry Cobbler -- Oatmeal streusel, lemon zest ice cream. I have to say, the sorbets and the creme brulee with caramel popcorn were my favorites, but it was hard to choose. In all, it was one of the most memorable dining experiences I've had so far. It's not every day I get treated to such a special meal and I just wanted to share it with you. I'll have to go back to indulge in more of Chicago's dining (I think a food tour is probably in order), but for now, all I can say is that my dinner was the highlight of my first trip to the Windy City -- (which is admittedly equally exciting and sad.)

Next week's episode should be exciting as we finally travel to Puerto Rico for Part 1 of the finale ... where we get to see the final four duke it out ... and Lisa's new haircut! (Oh come on -- you were definitely going to make a comments about it after seeing the preview.) Leave your comments below -- I can't wait to read them!

Still full from Saturday night's dinner,

"Superfan"

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!