Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Wedding War Zone

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

Wedding War Zone

Lee Anne Wong explains why Nikki went home.

It was a mix of complete and utter evil gleefulness and dread and sympathy for the contestants when we began planning this episode. What was even better is that the chefs were SO sure they would be doing Restaurant Wars. Honestly, they couldn't stop talking about it for weeks beforehand. My own personal shame and humility resurfaces like a bad meal when I think about my experience with both Restaurant Wars and the wedding challenge (but with a hiccup of laughter at the end).

The remaining chefs are an eclectic and funny group. I only get to see bits and pieces of them before and after challenges, so I am watching everything, including their personalities, for the first time, just like you. They all grew on me (like fungus) with their charm, wit, and sense of humor. They are by far the most talented group of Top Chefs to date as a whole. Man oh man, I'd love the opportunity to cook side by side with any of them. They're a good bunch.

What is even better is the fact that there are four women left to battle for the title in this episode. In seasons past, the women have dropped like flies early on in the season and the ladies who are left this season can cook their asses off. As a female chef, it's still a male dominated industry, plain and simple. So I am not only proud of these four girls, but I find myself rooting for them.


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The relay race was such a hit last season that the producers decided to revive the challenge. If you've ever taken part in a relay race, even if it was in grade school, then you would know how it gets the adrenaline pumping. Competition CAN be fun (unless you're Dale). I determined the actual tasks for the race, focusing on classic techniques, the same as last season. Tom had at first thought the artichoke turning was too difficult and would take too long but we turned a few artichokes together in the production office and he agreed that it would be an appropriate challenge as knowing how to properly turn an artichoke is a skill, and not everyone is good at it.

In fact, my very first day in a real kitchen (Aquavit) the sous-chef made me turn an entire case of artichokes. I was still in culinary school at the time, but diligently did my best and didn't utter a word as I slowly made my way through 48 globe artichokes. My hands were on fire by the time I finished.


The fact that Nikki openly admitted she hasn't made mayonnaise by hand in years, gave me the squinty eye too. Really? No, REALLY? Dale's little temper tantrum at the end startled not only the other chefs but production too. (How could you not love Antonia at his point?) Dale's a great guy when he's out of the kitchen but I get his team's frustration with having to work side by side with someone who's constantly looking down at you (key word being team). I also understand his position of being with a team that is neither organized nor cohesive.

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Catering a wedding is no joke. I can honestly say I've never had great food at a wedding, and I learned a lot from my own mistakes in our Season One wedding debacle. Corey and JP were awfully brave to offer up their special day to our chefs. Production loved the fact that Corey was all meat and potatoes. I think Richard, Antonia, Andrew, and Stephanie really did a great job in not only listening to the bride, but they also elevated hearty, classic American cuisine to fit the occasion. I remember working my 14 hours overnight. We were delirious by the time morning came, because if you hadn't noticed, we started the day early with a Quickfire, same as this season. Assigning Stephanie and Lisa solely to the cake was a good idea, and because of our own cake fiasco, I made sure they were prepared this time, supplying them with plenty of cake pans, fondant, and decorating tools, things we did not have during our challenge. Stephanie's jab at our cake mix was funny, but she had the advantage of seeing our anguish beforehand on TV. Had she been in our position, going through it for the first time, it may have been different. Even Tom had to agree after the fact that the cake mix was a good idea. It's just that we botched the cake up in so many other ways. Lisa's cake was akin to an ugly Mayan temple, but it was absolutely delicious. In the end, Richard's team had the better food, plain and simple and I find it admirable how he shared the prize with Stephanie.


The spoons and the forks powered through the night, and while Richard's team had a game plan it was interesting to see Nikki's team fail to communicate at all. It was true, Dale did have his hands in all the pots, and while his determination to get it done and speed were admirable, Lisa was right in saying there's no point in doing 25 things if only five are going to taste good. Dale's anger and ego got the better of him, whereas I think Spike's initial attitude in supporting Nikki was the right approach and could've made the difference between winning and losing had Dale had a change of heart. Communication was the key for a brutal challenge like this and Nikki's team forgot the most important point of the challenge: It was all about the bride and groom and their special day. It's not about who's going to get eliminated. Nikki was sent home for trying to have it both ways. She should've stepped into the role of team leader since she was the one dispensing advice on the menu, but when push came to shove, she refused to take responsibility. Had she taken on that role, she may have been able to save herself, but I guess we'll never know. I go to 24 Prince every now and then, it's in my work hood and it's a nice, casual place to grab a bite to eat. Now that I know Nikki, I'll be stopping by more often.

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!