Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Dragon Slayer

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

Dragon Slayer

Richard Blais takes a page from Brian Malarkey's blog and handicaps the chef'testants.

I thought for sure that our season would have had a hot dog challenge. It will sound a bit weird, but one of my most inspired moments came at a baseball game eating a Chicago dog. A dog, topped with fiery peppers, nuclear green sweet relish, and the kicker, celery salt. I mean, celery salt on a hot dog? I returned to my restaurant to grab some octopus, which for some reason always reminds me texturally of hot dogs, to create a sort of octopus hot dog. I'm sorry if anyone just threw up a little, but the point is that inspiration can come from anywhere. In this Quickfire, some showed that, others didn't seem to get it.

Being inspired by your background always works, so Radhika had the right idea. Her dish sounded great and I'm sure as soon as I say this she will get chopped, but I like her. Her background cuisine is perfect for this type of competition. Indian food delivers impact and impact is key.

What the viewer doesn't understand is that judging food is difficult as well. And I'll raise an interesting theory that it is easier to impress at the beginning or dead end of the line of a challenge. In the beginning, the taster is looking for their first bite of "I'd like to have another bite of that". At the end, they're looking for something to trump that first bite, something to finish. It's a theory, but I'd be surprised if the data showed otherwise. Actually, in the elimination challenge notice how the top three all come from the appetizers and dessert groups.

Besides Radhika winning, the other story is Stefan finishing in the bottom.

There's no doubt that this guy is a good chef, but we get a good read on his character from his reaction to being in the bottom. He's pissed and he doesn't take responsibility for it. I think, for sure, we have our villain.

The elimination reveal has us heading to Craft for a lunch service focusing on New American cuisine. Like Tom, I found most of the selections right out of a CIA class I took called American regional. We had fried chicken and meatloaf. Peanut butter and jelly and quiche. This group, in general, seems to have trouble grasping the premise of each challenge. The premise is simple. Cook your food and bring in the theme a bit. Don't change your food to match your understanding of the challenge. Shopping also reveals a lot about this group.

Hosea blames the ingredient. I have him pegged for a long run, but this doesn't bode well for him. If you know exactly what you are going to do before you get to the market and can't improv once there, you are in for a few trips to the bottom. I can also tell you that unless these guys are heading to the Fulton Street Fish Market or Le Bernardin, which they may, seafood is a roll of the dice at a normal supermarket. Not always, but you need to be flexible.

OK. Let's talk about the Ostrich egg. I don't know who goes home as I write this. I'm not on that PPX list, but I loved the call here. Inspiration to me is when a chef sees an ingredient that they haven't worked with, appreciates the pressure of the moment, and goes for it anyway. I didn't care for Jill's hot dog, or the Rasta scallops last week, but I'd work with her based on grabbing that egg alone. She has giant huevos, literally. Quiche though? I immediately thought egg drop soup ladled from the shell itself.

Back at the dorms (I always felt that's what they were) there's a romance brewing. It's gonna happen folks, so get ready. All rules are off! The question is will it be Hosea and Leah, or Stefan and Fabio who hook up first?

Off to Craft at what everyone in TV land should know was probably 5 AM!

The mise en place is going well. Tom's in his blue apron. That means business folks. This is like a marine in fatigues and camouflage face paint.

The audience is comprised of applicants who haven't made it on the show. Some of them are goobers. Some show a sense of respect. I personally loved the guy who said, "I coulda done way better den dis." Perhaps.

The judges unleash a barrage of comments that are usually left for much later rounds. Slimy, like glue, eighties, and this is an after school snack (my personal favorite) are some of the comments. But none compare to Padma violently spitting up her lemon meringue. This was a Tony Bourdain/Gordon Ramsay moment.

The chefs get an early tongue lashing by Tom. And then it's off to the stew room. Tom makes the appearance, that's a change. And again we get top and bottom called in together. I like this as a viewer. I would have hated it as a contestant.

Now we hear the good news. Fabio, in a moment of Ryan Scott-ness, breaks down as soon as his name is called and sings like a canary. But they loved his dish. Why wouldn't they! Here we have what could possibly win the whole competition for Fabio. A focus on great ingredients, an understanding of what people like, and the application of creativity for the sake of improvement. Cha-ching. Sounds like 100,000 dollars to me. Besides, he's as adorable as Tina Fey playing Palin. And I will not bring up that he is doing Ferran Adria's false olive. Wait...

Jamie kills it with her soup. She might as well be a spokesperson for the cuisine of Northern California. "I just wanted to celebrate the season". Although, I understand this, it also irritates me. Next time she does well, surely she will say it wasn't her that made it great, it was the tomatoes. She did a great job. I'm a Jamie fan. So, I hope she has watched previous seasons and witnessed the fate of those who live and die within the stubbornness of their cuisine. I'm flying back from San Fran as I write BTW. I love the food there.

Carla rocks it as well and I'm going to sound like I'm jumping on the bandwagon, but I like Carla. She reminds me a bit of Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars - a little goofy, excitable and tall. I like Jar Jar and I loved the idea of sweet and savory with the cheese. Her energy is unique, and it should serve her well. My DVD ends there. So I don't have the privilege of reporting on fact. But, I want these to go live the night of, so why not let it rip and see if I can guess what happens now. Did you see how I slipped that in there?

Hosea served an uninspired, rather common version of a crab salad with mango and avocado. It looked like hotel food. He's shown us that he's got some skills, so I'd be shocked if he got the cleaver. He'll get the rubber spatula over his knuckles.

Jill took a chance with the ostrich egg and all we heard was that it tasted like glue. I happen to like the smell of certain glues. What? So, I'm going to say she's safe by way of that ostrich egg. It's a choice that says a lot about her character...to me at least.

And then we have Ariane. This is her second time with a simple execution mistake. Besides Padma's violent mouth ejection, I noticed Tom double take when he tasted the meringue. And if nothing else, the fact that she called it cherry surprise should seal it.

Here are some initial thoughts on the contestants' cuisine so far:

Stefan. He has a simple yet modern approach. The hot dog even sounded good. He should be able to breeze through the first half.

Fabio. He's positioning himself as the creative guy and also a team player. Speaking as a guy who slayed the most dragons but didn't take home the princess, I find myself rooting for him.

Jamie. She's got the swagger and she has a defined style. She reminds me a bit of my castmate, Jennifer Biesty. That means I think she's a badass. Leah. She also seems to have a style. It will be interesting to see the effect of a possible relationship starting on the show.

Jeff. We still don't know much about Jeff. But his focus while working is obvious. I'd like to know more about his style. Hosea. He claims his expertise is seafood, but flubbed the crab dish. Tom specifically said last week that he sees a defined approach. I don't see it yet.

Rhadika. The Indian angle will do her well. She should keep with this. As the super serious French chefs start coming on to judge, that will work for her. Just enough sweet, tangy, tart and spicy is a perfect formula for competition cooking.

Eugene. He seems to be playing defense, meaning he is adapting his food for each specific challenge, but not in a good way. Besides maybe his Hawaiian influence, I don't see an angle yet. He won't give up though, that's for sure.

Richard. He has a style. All cheeky, all the time. Peanut butter sandwiches. Lamb sliders. It's a bit gimmicky. Someone will read that and say it's the pot calling the kettle black. But there's a difference.

Carla. Super energy. No real defined style yet, with the exception that she seems versatile and it makes sense. She's a caterer, so she has to be open to cooking many different things.

Melissa. Absolutely haven't had that much info. Tells me she may be around for a bit...

Daniel. Danny is a wild card for sure. I didn't dig into him last week. But that Chinese chicken salad was a bad call. Chefs borrow and adapt, see Fabio's olive sphere. But I really think he thought that salad was a fresh idea, and that makes me worry for him.

Alex. Alex says he does Latino food. Yet when left to his own devices, he made what looked like a hotel dish.

Jill. She seems a bit goofy, in a fun-loving, casual way. I really did like the ostrich egg call though.

Ariane. If she's still around, it won't be for long. The pressure is getting to her.

If you want to weigh-in live on the contestants each week during the show, join me at www.plodt.com or catch up with me at www.richardblais.net .

rB

Gail: It Wasn't Keriann's Day

Gail can't believe that Keriann wouldn't have shown her teammates how she wanted her dish executed.

Bravotv.com: This week was Restaurant Wars!
GS: Restaurant Wars is always an exciting episode because it’s so hard to do what we are asking of chefs to do. Opening a restaurant is truly so difficult, on a good day if you’re dealing with people you love and work with all the time, let alone with three people you’re competing against and have never worked with in this way before. You don’t really know their strengths and weaknesses, and this is where that it all comes out.

Bravotv.com: So looking first at the Grey Team, Melissa, Doug, Mei, Adam
GS: I knew it was a strong team from the start, but we’ve had plenty of strong teams that have failed in the past. You never know until you sit down at that table to eat their meal. I could tell that they were all serious and they have all performed pretty well up to this point though. Although the other team was stacked too, with Gregory who's won a lot and Katsuji who was coming off his win in the Thanksgiving challenge. Keriann and Katie have made some great dishes too. It was anyone’s game.

I think it was smart of the Grey Team to chose Adam as their front of the house man. He’s gregarious, he’s affable, he is a great storyteller, a great talker, and he has a sense of urgency and confidence. Sometimes he can be over-confident maybe, but I think you want someone working front of house who’s willing to take on that risk. Plus he’s done it before. He understands the importance of that role.

Putting Keriann in the front of the house could have been a good move too. She’s certainly a lovely person. She’s well-spoken and definitely wanted to take on the challenge. I just wasn’t sure if they put her out front because they didn’t want her in the kitchen or because they really thought she’d be good for that role. Either way, that’s the way the cards fell. Katie taking on the chef position I thought was a real risk -- she doesn’t run a kitchen day-to-day. I was proud of her for wanting to do it, maybe because she runs pop-ups, she knows how to do something really quickly like this and that experience could come in handy. The other team chose Doug as their chef, who also doesn’t run a restaurant every single day; he is a sous chef. But you can tell he has that drive and understanding of service, he expedites every day in his restaurant and that’s a really huge piece of how a good restaurant runs. It seemed like everyone knew their roles and everyone was happy at the start. They weren’t forced into anything.

I actually liked both restaurant concepts in theory. "Four Pigs" was family style, rustic, comforting, American, bold flavors, relaxed environment. I think that suited who they were, and I think they did a great job. The concept of "Magellan" was a really great idea too. Magellan being an explorer, the spice route, all of the dishes having complex spice elements. The issue you run into with that concept though is that if it’s too loose, everyone is literally all over the map (pun intended). So even though the idea’s inspiration is exploration, when you as the customer sit down and eat that meal, do you really want to be eating things from all over the map? Do they go together? Sometimes the chefs get carried away by the idea of that exploration, and forget that a meal still has to feel cohesive. I don’t know who would want to be eating seven different cuisines all at one table. There needs to be a common thread between them more than just that they all have spice. All spices don’t taste good when they’re combined. I think that’s the first issue this team had. They were all making their own dishes and not really discussing how those dishes would talk to each other when they were actually put on people’s plates.

Bravotv.com: So, let’s start with the dishes from the Grey Team.
GS: The Grey Team started with Adam’s salt-baked clams with ramps, bacon and sunflower seeds. Very seasonal (we filmed this in the spring), very New England. I love clams from that part of the country. We saw that he got in a little hot water when he lost his first set of clam shells, but he was able to completely bounce back. The dish was tasty, it was a perfect starter, a savory little bite. And you were really able to taste all of those flavors without overshadowing the clam itself, which with ramps and bacon is a hard thing to do.

Mei’s chicken liver toast with plum puree was also delicious. The plums cut through the fat in the chicken liver which I loved. It was a little bit too wet though, so the chicken liver dripped and was a little bit looser than what I wanted. I like it to be just a little thicker so there’s a more texture to it, and also so it doesn’t drip all over your hand. It did remind us of a very sophisticated peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was salty and tart, and had just enough richness from that liver to satisfy you but not fill you up. Beautifully presented.

We all loved Doug’s braised pork shoulder. The baked beans, onion, and mustard went so well together. The mustard lightened up the dish and the pickled onions of course did too. It was a homey, comforting dish. The pork shoulder just melted in your mouth. I wish I had a bowl of it right now actually.

Melissa’s scallop was probably the weakest dish on that team. By no means does that mean it was awful. It was a lovely idea, light and fresh. Scallops and grapefruit and radish are a perfect combination. It felt a little bit more like an appetizer salad though than a main course. Her scallops were on the salty side and a little bit overcooked too. We wanted them a bit softer, a little more rare in the center. It was a really nice dish, but compared to the other dishes on her team, it felt a simple and slightly out of place. Everything else had a soulfulness to it and this seemed to be sort of off in the corner, but I was still happy to eat it.

Mei's brussels sprouts was their side dish and they were also really tasty. Brussels sprouts and anchovies go surprisingly well together! But they was over-dressed and the brussels were a little overcooked. They just needed to be toned down. I can remember when we were finished eating them, there was a pool of vinaigrette at the bottom of the bowl. If she had been a little more light-handed on the vinaigrette when she tossed it, it probably would have been a better dish.

Melissa’s dessert was very well-made -- apples, mixed-berries, cardamom cream, a classic fruit cobbler. I just wish she had done something a little more interesting. Berry cobbler is something anyone can make at home. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a good dish. You’re a professional chef though, and this is Top Chef so if you’re going to give me a cobbler, show me cobbler in a way I haven’t seen before. Whether that’s a special biscuit on top or a combination of flavors of fruits, or a presentation I haven’t seen. In every way this cobbler was basic. I enjoyed eating it, it just was a little boring.

Bravotv.com: And then Magellan…
GS: Oh Magellan. We all were really excited when Katie’s roasted beets came to the table. It sounded fantastic. But she made the dish in a composed way, meaning that the beets were on one side, the curry was just underneath. Everything was separate, so it was very difficult to taste all together. Her flaw was that there wasn’t a conversation going on between all of the components in the dish. She left the beets completely dry on the side of the plate, but she had this beautiful curry and this coconut and this pickled cauliflower, she could have dressed them wonderfully, had she mixed them up, had she presented the dish in a different way. It really shows you that ingredients are only one piece of the puzzle. You can have five different beautiful ingredients, but unless you put the dish together in a way that highlights them, it falls flat.

Katsuji’s hamachi sashimi was totally fine. The hamachi was very big and cut in a bit of a ragged way. I wish they had been smaller or more smoothly cut, so that they weren’t as messy to eat and a little more refined. But the dish itself was perfectly well made. I liked his dried pozole too; I thought it was very interesting. A little odd, a little out there, but I applaud Katsuji for pushing boundaries of what we think of as pozole with it.

Gregory also made two dishes. His seared haddock was my favorite dish of the night. The fish was great, the tomato was flavorful. I thought the dish came together nicely, it was cohesive. I liked the garam masala. Although he could have probably simplified a little bit. His pork tenderloin was perfectly cooked too, it sounded so rich and delicious in its description, but was a little disappointing to eat because it was a little less flavorful than I expected with all of those components. Like Katie, he also separated out all of the ingredients. I was hoping to get a dish that was really bold in these Chinese flavors, the hosin and the XO sauce. I wanted it all to be mixed in a way that every bite had all of those tastes and it wasn't.

And then there was our dessert, Keriann’s vanilla crepe. I’m still totally confused as to how she wanted it. She wanted it room temperature, she wanted that mousse to be stiff and hard, not spreadable? I can’t understand how it would’ve been served that way and been successful either. But I do know that the way it was served definitely didn’t work. As much as I’m sure she was devastated by the way her team chose to change her dish, and especially that they didn’t tell her before they did so, I still think it would not have been a successful dish had she served it her way either. I’m just totally baffled by how it was supposed to be, and how she didn’t notice until the second half of service that it was being served in a different way. What I especially don’t understand is how she didn’t plate one for them first. If she had just plated a full dish, showed it to all of them and they all tasted it before she went out to service, they all would’ve known exactly how she wanted it and would’ve done it that way. How do you create a dish and leave people to execute it but not show them how it’s supposed to be? That’s why we decided Keriann had to be the one to be eliminated. There were a lot of problems with service at Magellan. Clearly, customers weren’t getting dishes, or they were getting dishes twice. No one knew where anything was, it was impossible to get water or a server. It was impossible to find Keriann. She put food down and then walked away without explaining it. There were so many times when we were completely thrown off by the service. And, in addition to all this, her dish didn’t make sense -- not only because of how Katie and Katsuji changed it, but in her vision in the first place. Keriann worked hard, she pushed herself, I’m proud of her. I think she’s a strong person, a good cook and will have a successful. I just don’t think this was her day.

Next episode: the judges hit Whole Foods!

Read more about: