Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Circle of Life

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

Circle of Life

Richard Blais talks alliances.

Sorry I'm a touch late this week. Ironically, it's because I spent the better part of the week at the Pennsylvania farm show, hanging out with the exact type of people that were featured in this episode. Farmers. And, well, animals. As a matter of fact, I milked my first cow! You can go to YouTube and find it if you're interested.

I've been on a few farms. I actually did an internship at Cabbage Hill, in Mount Kisco, New York. There I minded huge fish tanks of Tilapia. They swam in water that nourished lettuces. The lettuces and compost fed the vegetables outside. The vegetables were eaten by pigs, and goats, and cows. The animals were raised for meat. You get the picture -- it's the circle of life.

For a chef, it's most important to understand our ingredients. It's really easy to blow a few thousand dollars at a cheap culinary school and cook meat that arrives pre-portioned in airtight bags. It's even easier for the masses to think of lamb, chicken, and pig, just like they do a candy bar. We unwrap it, we eat it. Or maybe we even unwrap it, eat some of it, and throw it away.

Tonight reminded me very much of our pig challenge in Puerto Rico. That day we were treated to a fiesta where a whole pig was roasted. It struck me that day how that pig didn't just represent a party, or great flavor. It represented feeding a village. It was much more than food. During my training, I had quite a few chefs tell me how every stem and peel, from anything, represented money. "How could you throw 5 bucks away like that?" they'd say as they scoured the trash bin for scraps. But it's about more than business. While those guys are surely getting their monthly food cost bonuses, they still don't get it. Do our chefs tonight? The challenge at Stone Barns was very clear. Honor your ingredients and make people happy. I'm going to start sounding like I'm bashing my brethren, but once again these chefs misinterpreted the mission. Simple doesn't mean simple food. It means simple cooking.

I am absolutely amazed that I've seen creme brulee as many times as we have this year. That might win the Next Food Network Star, but it's not going to win Top Chef. Maybe it's personal, but I equate creme brulee with the easy-bake oven. Actually, I think it would be neater if someone cooked in an easy bake oven and explained how that was their first experience with cake, and how the technology of the low watt lightbulb actually makes a great cooking medium. But (sigh) I digress...

We are also seeing the first hardcore signs of fatigue here. What you don't realize is that these competitions are stacked right on top of each other, day after day. It's grueling and it's why I sounded like my head was in a fish tank for the last five challenges. So, I hope this is why everyone seems mentally exhausted. No one is showing leadership, with the exception of Jaime and Stefan and maybe Jeff. No one is working like they actually do this all day.

The best example is Lamb-gate. Hosea and Leah both break down lamb all the time folks. It's old hat. Yet, they let Ariane do it? In a competitive kitchen, on your way up the rank and file, a cook's dream is to be the guy or girl butchering. Cooking the meat, and making the sauce. No chef in this country will tell you differently. There's a certain amount of bravado to it. The best cooks in the kitchen WANT to cook the meat, the foie, and do the butchering. It's a rite of passage and the task that separate cooks and interns, from chefs and sous and so on. I don't think Hosea and Leah have ever seen an entire lamb carcass laid before them. They seemed scared. Although Ariane did literally butcher it. At least she did it. This was an ignoble act of cowardice.

And don't think that there aren't alliances amongst the chefs on this show. Hosea and Leah's alliance is obvious, even to Mr. Magoo. The contestants talk about it all the time.

I had an alliance with Dale Talde. We both felt like we were the best chefs in the house. We wanted to go head to head at the end. We decided one night, in the darkness of our dorm, from the heights of our Ikea bunk beds, and topless...that we would do anything possible to reach that outcome.

Next up is Restaurant Wars, where someone unexpected always seems to get the cleaver. And like tonight, unfortunately, it's always the leader from this point forward who's going home.

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!