Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Team Swine

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

Team Swine

Lee Anne describes the zoo challenge from conception.

... that's the team I would like to be on. Unfortunately, there were no pigs at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Anyways, I apologize for the lateness of my blog -- I had a crazy crazy week, but I hope you all enjoyed this episode.

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I had never actually seen the "workout room" in the house. I think the only things we ever lifted while we were in the house in San Francisco were our cocktail glasses. The Quickfire at the Green City Market was so much fun. I had already been in Chicago for almost three weeks by the time we shot this episode so I had scouted the market at least a half a dozen times and ended up doing most of my grocery shopping for my apartment there. At a time when I missed the NYC Union Square Greenmarket's Fall bounty, Chicago's Green City Market was a very impressive substitute.

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We developed the idea of "Take 5" because for it's sheer simplicity it would be an incredibly difficult challenge for any chef, considering having to choose amongst all of the beautiful produce in the market. I think as chefs we sometimes forget how much tweaking we do to a dish until it has over 20 ingredients in its makeup. The things that our chefs needed to think about are the usual suspects, but with more acute attention to the flavor profile. Five ingredients ... texture, color, cooking techniques, but most importantly, understanding the flavor of each ingredient and how it would interact with the other four flavors. The chefs did not have a lot of wiggle room but we were pleasantly surprised with the results.
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Wylie Dufresne is one of the culinary world's leaders in using innovative techniques in his cuisine. I have known Wylie for several years and have a tremendous admiration for the way that he thinks about food and drink (analytically, scientifically, and methodically, coupled with a playful creativeness). You hear the term "molecular gastronomy" and one would think all of the bells, whistles, (and foam that is sooo eight years ago), but the real definition is the use of science and technology to improve the quality and end result of your food. There is no point to making circus food that does cool somersaults but tastes terrible. Wylie and his team at wd~50 were recently reviewed by The New York Times and received a glowing three-star review up from two stars, so congratulations to them for all of their talent.

We knew Richard would be excited that Wylie was the judge. Not pee-in-your-pants-excited like Marcel, but psyched nonetheless. I sampled all of the Quickfire food (I am one of the very few lucky crew in production who gets to sample the goods, all so I can tell you guys about it!). Richard gets an "A" for effort and what I find so endearing about him is how earnest he is about his food, not to mention the fact that he is humble and very sweet. However, the eucalyptus could've played a more dominant flavor in his dish, and while I appreciate him taking a chance with the lowly chicken wing, they were really difficult to eat since he had not cut the wings at the joints. Ryan's steak and potatoes were right up my alley -- simple and elegant with concise flavors and good color. Dale's dish was also very good -- the components were all prepared beautifully but somehow did not mesh as well as Ryan's composed steak dish. I enjoyed Val's steak and peaches, and summer-style dish that reflected well on the last of the peaches at the market.

And then there was Spike and his beef tips. Mark had left one of his ingredients at the market but managed to improvise and win in the end. Spike just got pissed. I have to admit, the well-done chopped meat crostini/napolean was akin to dog food en croute. You can't win 'em all.

Erik's "deconstructed plate" was way too simple. He did not embrace the challenge and Wylie recognized that right away. Andrew's ADD was working overtime but I will admit that his dish was very tasty.

When the producers initially pitched the Zoo Food idea to me, I was like, "What?" I met with the Lincoln Park Zoo zoologists/nutritionists to go over all the animals they had at the zoo and what they each ate. Surprisingly, most of the animals' diets include a basic feed which varied slightly in ingredients (soy, corn, oats, wheat, etc.) If you are curious about the odd choice for animal groups it's because I had to find the animals with the most variation in diets so our guests for the party would not all be eating leafy greens and eggs. I kept everyone's group to roughly five main categories to draw inspiration from.Here's the official breakdown:
Bears: Salmon, Venison, Berries, Mushrooms, Nuts Gorillas: Leafy Greens, Root Vegetables, All fruits, Eggs, Corn/Wheat/Soy/Oats
Lions: Beef Steaks/Ribs, Buffalo/Bison, Beets, Eggs, Chicken Penguins: Crabs, Squid, Herring, Anchovies, Shrimp
Vultures: Quail, Rabbits, Small fish, Chickens, Lamb

I had purchased a gazillion quail and rabbits from an outside source for our contestants because they are not items that Whole Foods carries. I had them hold these things behind the counter for our Vulture team. Of course, they went with chicken, lamb, and small fish, and I ended up with a freezer full of game.

At this point it's their first team challenge (yes, we know Dale doesn't play well with others ... DRINK). I did however, love the animal shit-talking in the house. And Cafe Brauer, which is a beautiful space. Things I did not like? The glacier, for which Andrew used up a $100 bottle of yuzu concentrate that I had stocked in the pantry. And his spice penguin, for which he brought a good chunk of spices from the pantry to decorate his table (it all goes in the garbage for cleanup). But his ceviche was undeniably modern and delicious, and also carried through on the black and white theme.

I tasted all of the food (again). I thought some of the contestants took a little too much liberty with their inspirations ... though as a violence-loving television watcher, it has always been my dream to watch a silverback gorilla tear a baby lamb apart by its limbs and then eat it. I'm kidding. (GORILLAS DON'T EAT MEAT SO WHY WOULD YOU MAKE A LAMB DISH???) Dishes I enjoyed? Mark's marinated anchovy on quinoa croquette. It's a familiar dish I fell in love with at Public. Lamb meatballs, because vultures would eat them. (Stop trying to feed the gorilla meatballs ...). Obviously, the squid ceviche. The cheese and honeycomb. And Stephanie's salty caramelly banana-rama bread, which speaks to my soul as I am a vanilla-caramel girl, probably saved her from getting eliminated. Everything else was "ehhh." Good, but not memorable. The mushroom was weird and gross, and Dale's arrogance and inability to accept responsibility for adding cheese to the already terrible combination of blueberries and mushrooms reminded me of a cross between Hung and Stephen, but angrier and more maladjusted. (Watching these episodes is a small shock, only because the contestants are so tame and nice when I see them most of the time). I would've sent Valerie home too. While maybe not bad in theory, each component of her dish had a fatal flaw that once altogether made for one unsexy canape. The rutabaga definitely should have been cooked more (why not slow poach it in olive oil until it is creamy soft?) and she could have done the blini a la minute. That's why I gave each team two portable butane burners. However, it was the cold, limp, uncooked rutabaga and blini that got Val the boot. Maybe I'll see her on my next visit to Chicago ....

... which by the way ... a good friend of mine conned me into registering for the Chicago Marathon. This was because we were not able to register in time for this ridiculous costume marathon they hold in Bordeaux every year, which includes cheese and wine tables along the route for the runners. So she ordered me to sign up for Chicago. Sometimes I run to the bar. Occasionally I'll run to the bathroom. I, however, don't run. Call it a personal challenge. I'll start training in the next few weeks. Renew the gym membership, buy a good athletic bra (and some duct tape), and pray that Rocco would want to give me some advice. For those of you who think I'm crazy, and I think I'm crazy, worry not. I think we're gonna try this one as a pub crawl to make up for the absence of cheese, wine, and a silly costume, and hope to finish in under six hours. I can do it. Just watch. Run Wonger, Run.

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!