Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

It's All About the Butchering

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

It's All About the Butchering

Gail Simmons makes the case for canned food.

Editor's Note: Gail couldn't get to a computer this week, so we had the pleasure to speak to her on the phone and get her take on this week's episode.

Bravotv.com: Let's dive right in. We start with the pantry raid Quickfire and Hung comes back. The chefs didn't seem too excited about working with these ingredients, did they?
They're never going to be too psyched about cooking with canned food, although I do think that certain canned foods and staples like that are great for the home cook and to have in your pantry for certain occasions. You don't want your entire diet to come from the cupboard and some chefs turn their noses on it, which is also why I thought it was perfect that Hung was the guest judge. Of all people, if he had been a contestant on this challenge, I'm sure he would have been one of the people complaining the most. On the other hand, I thought it was great that they only got 15 minutes. It seems that with the exception of a few people, like Jamie, who seemed to not put a lot of effort with this one, people made some pretty complex things considering what they were given. I thought that was great. They were creative and they were thinking on their feet.

Bravotv.com: What do you think the key was to doing well with this challenge?
Giving the food flavor. Seasoning. With canned food, especially canned vegetables like artichokes or beans, the food often takes on the flavor of the can because it's been sitting in there and it ends up tasting far from fresh. I would say the key is making something that tasted as it was supposed to taste when fresh and seasoning it really well. That would just be the first thing I would do, at the minimum. From that point on, just being creative and incorporating the food in a way that makes sense. Not stretching it too far so that it's completely absurd or using it in a way you would never use it. Then it's just not going to taste very good.

Bravotv.com: Are you a fan of the Spam?

I'm not a fan of the Spam. I don't think I've ever actually eaten it before. Although I remember many years ago my father going on some sort of really low carb diet. My father is in extraordinary physical condition and he has weighed the exact same amount since he married my mother 42 years ago. He looks after his health and he's very disciplined about what he eats and he went on this low carb diet and all of a sudden he was eating six pork sausages for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He went out to the grocery store to get my mother some things and he came back with a tin of Spam because my mother would have never allowed that in our house growing up and he got curious. He thought because he was on this all protein diet that he should give it a shot, so he gave it a try and I thought my mom was going to literally throw him out of the house. Bravotv.com: Well, they're even making Turkey Spam now.
Yup. They're making way for canned food. It makes sense because you can get clams and oysters in a can. There are actually some really good products in a can, especially outside of America. In Europe, farmers can really well because they can in really high quality oil and you can get amazing canned tuna or sardines in oil or even smoked oysters. It can be really delicious and there are tons of great quality products because it is a good way to preserve food. My husband's uncle is a recreational fisherman and he smokes and cans his own oysters and wild salmon and ships it to us and it's the most delicious thing. We keep it in our pantry and it's our special treat that we break out.

Bravotv.com: In the elimination challenge the teams get split up into teams by protein. What did you think of the teams?
I felt bad for Ariane. I really did. Hosea and Leah are clearly very close and I can imagine that three people can be an awkward number if you're not working well together. Stefan, Jamie, and Carla were also in that three-is-a-crowd situation. Stefan and Jamie have this strange thing going. It seems that Jamie doesn't like Stefan and Jamie absolutely loves Jamie and Stefan can be a little condescending and controlling. Then there's Carla who is just stuck in the middle. She's the odd man out there. Jeff, Radhika, and Fabio all have very different personalities but they seemed to be OK together.

Bravotv.com: The chefs set up their menus and headed up to Dan Barber's Blue Hill restaurant at Stone Barns. Tell us a little about this location.

I thought it was a great challenge and was simple and straightforward, as it should be. Even though they changed the venue on them I thought it was a good twist. Blue Hill, the actual restaurant, has a location in Manhattan and one up at Stone Barns and Dan Barber is certainly one of the pioneers and trailblazers in NYC that is really connecting farmers and chefs. He's a big advocate for sustainability, for locally grown and sustainable farming practices, and he's deeply connected to the farmers he works with. I've been to Blue Hill, his restaurant, several times since it's opened and I've known Dan for a long time. What he's created at Stone Barns is really a chef's dream. The farm is really self-sustainable meaning they recycle and they have very little waste. Every piece of every vegetable, animal, and mineral is used and then recycled. At the same time, he has created this unbelievable bounty around him that they have access to and they use some of it and then they also sell some of it. They also create revenue that way, I believe. He has a three-acre greenhouse, amazing gardens, sheep, and pigs, and chickens. It's also surrounded by an amazing piece of wildlife, on a huge piece of land surrounded by woods. It's just a really special place. The restaurant and the quality of ingredients are obviously magnificent. It's great because it all tastes delicious and fresh as fresh can be. It's a great road trip from New York and you can take a tour. They have a docent program where kids from the local high school are the guides. It's amazing, beautiful, and the food is fantastic. It's a great experience and I think urban chefs have very little connection to the food they're cooking. It comes on a truck and they cut it down, do a million things to it, and then serve it at night. It's great to allow young chefs to get back to the farm and have a relationship with what they're cooking and have a connection so it's not just a slab of meat. You don't really know how much work goes into raising and farming meat. I thought it was a great challenge.Bravotv.com: What did you think of the dishes that each team prepared?
With Team Chicken, the soup seemed like a strange idea because it was the middle of August and very warm. The truth is if it tastes good it doesn't really matter. If it tastes good and if it was made well, which it seems to have been, then that's that. I'd rather have a good hot soup on a warm day then a bad cold something else. There's no rules and yes, it did seem out of place especially when the idea of this was supposed to be seasonal, but it was made with seasonal ingredients. There are no rules saying you can't make a soup. The cutlet also seemed great and so did the roast chicken. Pure and simple. The chicken team just really kept it simple and of course they did panic when they thought it was too simple and it's so easy to get in that mindset when everyone around you is doing more complicated things. You have to remember that simple can be good. The judges are never going to criticize you if it is prepared well, executed well, and tastes as it should. That was the actual point and I'm so glad they didn't let themselves get carried away. Carla made the best dessert and it seemed delicious.

Bravotv.com: What did you think about Team Pork?
Their problem seemed to be that the pork got lost. I have a feeling about what happened having been at enough Judges' Tables, although I might just be projecting: The pork dishes were probably just OK, neither good nor bad, but there can only be one winner and one loser. That team just went a little heavy on that pesto so it got lost. I don't know about the loin specifically. Radhika could also have made more effort.

Bravotv.com: Jeff is used to cooking for health-conscious diners so he might be accustomed to trimming the fat and removing skin. Could that have been an issue for them?
That goes back to a big problem, which is butchering the meat. You don't need to do a million things to the meat. If you know enough about how to butcher properly you should know how to keep that flavor in. People get very scared of fat because to them it signifies a horrible and dangerous thing, but the truth is that the fat in moderation is going to make your food worth eating. You need it there for flavor and for moisture and that's an easy trap to fall into in this day and age. Bravotv.com: What did you think about the Team Lamb?
They fell into that fussiness trap. They got too up in their minds about it and just took it too far. Keep it simple -- you're on the farm, you don't need to butterfly it and stuff it and do a million things. Just roast it, season it, use fresh herbs, and nothing will be more delicious than that. I think that there's a time and place for what they did but they just got too fussy. People always ask me how I judge food because it's so subjective. Certain foods are not subjective. Is it butchered well? That's the first step. If you have an animal and you hack it up in the process of preparing it it's going to show. You can tell it's messy. That's the first step, so if that doesn't go well then it's downhill from there. If you use the best ingredients then you need to use them in a way that you're respecting them. She hacked it up and that was just step one. Good ingredients plus good technique equals good food and that didn't happen. Butchering is huge and butchering a piece of meat takes practice and that's an issue that a lot of chefs have. There were wrongs on both ends of the scale here. Ariane should not have had that job if she wasn't confident with it. I don't understand how she became the one for that job. On the one hand, why didn't she say she wasn't confident? On the other, why did they trust her with that responsibility? The tying was only part of the problem. Leah did help, but she didn't do it very well. I think that's also because the pieces weren't butchered properly so they weren't even. They're all sort of to blame. You all have to put your strengths in. It's easy for Hosea and Leah to say they could have done it and that they've done it a million times. They gave it to Ariane and she screwed up. Then why didn't they do it if they've done it so much? It's easy for someone else to take that fall.

Bravotv.com: Do you think Ariane deserved to go home?
I think she did deserve it because ultimately she was the one who messed up. She didn't really say that she wasn't comfortable with it. She took it on and didn't do it properly and that's your fate on Top Chef. If you screw one big thing up we can't look at your history and say, "Well, you've done it well before, so you're safe." When it comes to the plate, whoever is responsible for the flaw is the person who goes home. We can't base it on what should have happened.

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!