Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

No Robo Coupes!

Get Doug's Masterpiece Brisket Recipe

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

No Robo Coupes!'s Editor swoons over Johnny Iuzzini and Harold Dieterle, and responds to reader comments.

Hello, again! I hope you all had a wonderful week anticipating last night's episode, which was pretty fun in my opinion. Any episode where I laugh out loud is a good one. First, the chefs had to create -- dare we say it -- a dessert! Like Padma said, desserts have been a nightmare for many a Top Chef contestant. We asked this week's guest judge about this. You can check it out that conversation in the Guest Judges' Blog.

OK -- can we just talk about Chef Johnny Iuzzini for just a sec? I've been called boy crazy in my day, but that guy is hot. There I said it. When I saw the previews for this week's episode, I was like "Um, who's that?" And I may be hearing things, but he has an adorable speech impediment to boot! (I have bizarre taste, I know.) Anyway, in Harold's Blog, he mentions that he has gone for cocktails with Johnny a few times, and if I could get invited to that, well, I would. I'm done now.

So, some of the chefs had dessert recipes prepared and some didn't, and I thought they should be disqualified just for that. Helllooo! This is Top Chef! If you don't know by now that you need at least one dessert recipe with you, you're, well, an idiot. Anyway, Richard actually didn't have one and won. So, what do I know? Definitely not more than Chef Iuzzini -- that's for sure.

The chefs then get to get all gussied up and head to The Second City. I was praying the girls wouldn't hussy it up too much (Yes -- that's a technical expression.) Remember what happened last year with the low-cut shirts? They didn't. Yay. So they all headed to the iconic Chicago destination, and would you believe it? Their night was cut short with a challenge. Shocker! The expressions on the chefs' faces when they realized what was happening was pretty priceless.They break up into pairs and get started on their what can only be called acid trip-inspirations. My favorite team? Andrew and Spike. They're pretty much insane, but Andrew has so much passion for cooking and food it's endearing. Although, putting the vanilla beans in your armpits? Even my blind-love couldn't explain that one away.

Then, another twist -- no Robo Coupes! No Robo Coupes! No Robo Coupes! This is, apparently, a big deal. For those of you, like me, who were all "What the chef is a Robo Coupe?" Well, here ya go: But the chefs rose to the challenge and roughed it.

Onto the meal. "Soup's Down. Thumbs Up!" Yay, indeed. Meanwhile, a commenter brought up the point that Padma used to say "Utensils down, hands up" (which has been rectified.) But seriously how funny would that be -- if say, Amelia Bedelia was one of the cheftestants? Utensils everywhere!

The Second City players were a welcome addition to the table -- I particularly loved Rob Janas, who we had the pleasure of getting a blog from this week. It's hilarious as you would expect. He admits to having a man-crush on Tom Colicchio, which we just call a crush around here.OK -- so, I pride myself on guessing the judges' comments. Who else KNEW the judges were going to bust Stephanie and Jennifer on the bread? It's not the first time, and it won't be the last. I just knew that bread would send one of them home. They hate giant croutons! Hate!

Andrew and Spike wow with their soup. Frankly, I'm sure Spike was just happy he got to make his damn soup. But, Dale and Richard win the day with tofu (I think them both winning was a Top Chef first -- obviously correct me if my senility has gotten the best of me.) Tom was adorable when he said he'd be bummed if he got that ingredient. And how cute was Andrew at the Judges' Table?

Nikki and Mark did well, but didn't seem to stand out. Although their dish did yield the funniest line of the night: "Maybe they could've made the sauce wit their tears." But, you know, from reading all your comments, since you're all such sticklers about sanitation (as well you should be), that probably wouldn't have gone over too well.

Now, about Antonia and Lisa. Come on ladies! Polish sausage is AWESOME. I think a lot of people would have liked to see a really good polish sausage dish and therefore a good recipe in our Recipe Finder. Did anyone else catch Tom basically give the dish the finger? He just licked the plate with his middle finger, but still.

Next week's episode looks Kleenex-worthy. Because I believe that children are our future.Onto some of your comments: "marybeth "wrote:
who's in charge of the "foodie poll?" I have yet to see dale wear a hat....

Ugh -- that's me. It's been fixed. I mix up Dale and Spike once a week and I have no idea why. Anyone have any ideas?

(Everyone in unison: "You're an idiot!")

And, I guess I can't ignore the comments about Andrea Strong's Blog. I'm not going to sit here defending it because, well, you won't listen, nor should you. All I can say is that it's a damn good blog about the show and the NYC restaurant scene. And makes me hungry every time I read it. I was actually really confused last year as to the strong viewer reaction against her. I will say that she is absurdly nice, like, seriously. I'm shocked when I meet genuinely nice people (I have a heart of coal -- what can I say?), and she's one of them. Alright, that's my piece. \

And for all you Bourdain fans, please vote for his blog HERE. You can earn him a Webby!

That's all for now -- keep the comments coming.


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!