Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Respect The Chef

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

Respect The Chef

Harold Dieterle questions Spike's choices.

Forty-five minutes is a long time to make a salad. Spike won the Quickfire with a very traditional Vietnamese-style salad. It had mint in it, and it looked good. It looked like something I'd want to eat. I was little surprised that Stephanie didn't get the dish done. I think she definitely is a lot stronger, clearly, in the Elimination Challenges, because maybe she's the kind of person who needs a little more time to conceive what she wants to make. And if you have 45 minutes to make a salad? I thought that was quite a bit of time. And then Sam picked Antonia as the winner. When an egg is poached properly ... that's a big thing for me. I love a nice poached egg -- it's runny, and it's just good stuff.

It was pretty funny watching Spike choose his items for the Elimination Challenge. I was laughing while he picked chicken. I mean, if you're going to use those ingredients, that's cool, but I didn't think he represented them very well. I think he chose strategically, and if I were to do the same, I think I would've chose similar items. I probably would have done a veggie burger or something like that. That's what I was thinking. I serve edamame falafel here at the restaurant and they're a big hit among the vegetarians. I think I would've done a falafel/gyro combination.


I thought it was a pretty boring episode, actually. It just wasn't very exciting. What I can't get over, and what I have issues with, is the aggressive comments toward the judges. Show some respect, man. Show some respect! You're going to piss Tom off? That's a smart move? If you want to be on television, and you want to stand up for your food, that's fine, but be respectful about it. I'd never speak to the judges like that. It's ridiculous.

Spike had a game plan. If his plan is putting half a slice of bread and a slice of tomato, and that's how he wants to utilize his ingredients to make a chicken salad, that's his decision. I think it was weak, but I did like the idea of putting grapes and olives together. I think that was a great Mediterranean idea. I would've enjoyed that. Tom didn't, but I liked that idea. I just don't think much of the secondary ingredients that he picked out to knock everybody else down.


And about Lisa calling out Andrew: I think that being put on the chopping block brings out things in people. It makes people more outspoken than I think they would've been otherwise. Neither one of them necessarily wanted to go home, and she definitely didn't want to go home. And sometimes you throw people under the bus, and that's the way it went down. I'm sure Lisa will look at this in hindsight and say, "I wish I hadn't said that." She should've just let the judges sort it out on their own.

It's hard to say if the sushi was a good idea or not. I think if you do, it's got to be done really, really well. I don't think of sushi as being hearty, either. And that was, to me, one of the most important elements of the challenge. And sushi just isn't hearty. When I eat sushi, I spend way too much money because I have to eat so much of it to feel full. I probably don't think it was the best idea.

I don't think it's a bad thing that Dale keeps making Asian dishes, but at a certain point, you have to show some diversity. You can only cook X, Y, and Z food for so long, especially with the talent pool being the way it is, but eventually you have to show off what you can do. Everybody has a style, and everyone on the show is not yet a chef, so they're still developing their style. You get put into a situation where you're nervous or not feeling that comfortable, you're going to go back to your comfort zone. And for him, it's Asian food. So, if he's winning, who cares? He's making it well, so it doesn't matter. At this point, everyone's looking for an angle to get ahead, so...

I still like Richard. I still like Stephanie a lot. I think Lisa is very talented. I think Dale is talented. I think, at this point, everyone's really strong. And next week looks like a war zone. You can't not have Restaurant Wars. I'm more interested in watching Rstaurant Wars than in watching the finale, to be honest. I think it puts a lot of things into perspective about opening a restaurant.


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!