Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Richard, Please Pack Your Knives And Go

Make Melissa's Seared Duck Breast Dish

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Make Melissa's Mom's Egg Custard

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Make Mei's Inspired Duck a l'Orange

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

Richard, Please Pack Your Knives And Go

(No — is not talking to himself!) The Season 4 finalist talks about his personal experiences with guest judge Grant Achatz.

I never wanted to hear those words. And I didn't even like hearing them uttered for a different Richard. But in the end, Richard's cheekiness did him in. It was only a matter of time. There was a small window of time, where it was very stylish to present comfort food in a fine dining setting. It was for a few years in the early Nineties. A time when David Burke was king, and tomato soup with tiny grilled cheese sandwiches ruled. You can still see remnants of the fad on menus all over. Remember Eric's corn dog last year ? and wasn't that Episode 3 as well ? But it's outdated, and so were Richards 'mores.

What isn't outdated is the cuisine of our guest judge Grant Achatz. If anything, it's ahead of it's time. Way ahead. I don't need to go into the accomplishments of Grant or his restaurant. You can find that in just about any food magazine worth it's salt now a day. But what I will share about Grant is something rather personal, and even more telling of his success.

I worked under Grant at the French Laundry as a commis over 10 years ago. Besides an unusual appettite for power bars, and an understandable one for all things related to food knowledge, Grant was the first chef I worked with that understood self expression as a chef. By the good fortune of being one of the least important members of the dinner service brigade I got a chance to travel with Grant, the pastry chef and TK to Hawaii for an event. After this event, in a moment Grant will most likely not remember, he told me about how he wanted to do something different with food. How he wanted to lighten and purify sauces. How he saw things being different from where we cooked then.

At a time, when the French Laundry was quickly becoming one of the best restaurants in the world, and arguably the best in the United States, Grant saw things could be different. And better, to him at least.

This was pre Ferran Adria, pre molecular gastronomy, but all of what you need to know about Grant Achatz as a chef. I've never eaten his dangling bacon, or inhaled his aroma filled pillows. And I don't have to. I want to, but thats a different topic! I did want to eat soup however after the quickfire. I thought that was such a great idea. Anything can be a soup. As a matter of fact I often find inspiration in soup for sauces and dressings. I mean if it's a soup originally it's only a few steps away from being a sauce. Maybe a vinaigrette ? maybe even ice cream or sorbet ? so it was an easy, fun, but totally interpretive challenge.

Leah's presentation was the most built for a dining room. Jamie is just killing it, and her use of vadouvan spice. Well, dare I say it's the new Ras el hanout . I heard someone mention last week there weren't strong female contestants. And I may be quick to the call, but I'm seeing these girls easily in the Antonia, Stephanie, Leanne, and Tiffany category.

Grant mentions a few soups lack acid. Everyone listen up ! This is what separate's good home cooking from excellent cuisine. It's that simple. so make sure your splashing some vinegar or citrus on those Thanksgiving leftovers.

And with the mention of Thanksgiving ( BTW I'm writing from Tampa Florida where I'm at for my Thanksgiving ) we are handed our first massive team challenge of the season. The game's all about improv, so none of the change up's should have been much of a surprise. From vending machines to cooking on the beach, it's all the same.

Leah stacked her team. And I say this not as a fact I know, but one that I trust in her choices. As a viewer, we can form opinions and make guesses, but trust me, the contestants, who spend every moment with their competitors know exactly at this point who's got skills and who doesn't. So I would take leah's choices and cement them as those who should in theory go far.I found myself however routing for the underdogs. Jeff, who the jury's still out on IMHO, shows some considerable leadership and gets the unchosen moving as a team. I couldn't stop thinking of the movie Dodge Ball ( can't believe I just acknowledged I've seen that). I'd say they certainly looked more like a team. While on the other hand, Jamie is showing, in no passive aggressive way mind you, that she doesn't like Stefan. Or perhaps anyone. And she doesn't have to.

There were a few choices that gave us a clear view into the skill of some chefs. Daniels potato fiasco makes me write him off completely as a possible winner. Did you see the potatoes stacked in that oven ? He wondered why they weren't browning ? That's some basic detail. the choice of s'mores, so cheeky, so played, and then so NOT s'mores ? And Jeff with his contribution for the good of the team couldn't keep an eye on his own food. It's tough.

Cooking in a professional kitchen is a team sport. Cooking on Top chef is not. I was actually surprised to hear Tom wax about leadership. This is an attribute often left out of the game in previous seasons judgement table. cough !

And major props to Gene. His cooking with coals was, well, Eu-genius ! What an archaic cooking method, that in this particular challenge was shear technological wonder.

On a side note, because I do that. Melissa danced like the whitest woman ever at the concert. I think, appropriately she was doing the mashed potato. Josea's air guitar. Did you see that, or was it imagined ? And Jamie looked like she was headed to a Stevie Nicks concert. In the end. The underdogs lost like so many do. Barely. And of the bottom three, it was a toss up between Daniel and Richard. With Richard losing on conceptual mistake vs. Danny's technical error. At least we are keeping that consistent, so far.

Check out, my not so updated blog at RichardBlais.net and some hamburgers at my new concept FLIP opening this weekend in Atlanta !

Gail on Innovation (and George's Failure to Push It)

Gail schools us on the science of innovative cooking and explains why George Pagonis' octopus didn't have any legs to stand on.

Bravotv.com: Let's talk about the Elimination Challenge, which was to create an innovative dish that pushed culinary boundaries.

Gail Simmons: I was really happy that Wylie was there for this challenge, of course. But I think the set up was a little anti-climactic in honesty. As a viewer, you didn't get a full explanation of how and why they were given this challenge. It was specifically because there are so many people pushing these boundaries, many of whom are in Boston, and particularly Michael Brenner. He is innovative for a lot of reasons -- he’s a physicist, but what he’s become known for in the culinary space is teaching an in-depth course at Harvard about the science of food and cooking, incorporating people like Wylie and as well as a long list of exceptionally talented and renown chefs from around the world, like Ferran Adrià among others. It is exciting and extraordinary, and having him there allowed us to present our chefs with this challenge. We always think about how the dishes taste and look, whether the meat is cooked well enough or the appearance of knife cuts are appropriate. All of that stuff is in affect science -- cooking is all chemistry and biology, reaction of cells to knives and fire essentially. Everyone has their own definition of innovation, and I think there was a lot of pressure to "innovate" in this challenge. Our chefs did well, but I wish they had been given more time to really push their own personal boundaries more.

 



Bravotv.com: Let’s start with the winner, Melissa, who had the seared duck breast with farro, walnut miso, and pickled cherries.

GS: Melissa really has stepped up her game and soared in the last two challenges; she won the last challenge (and a spot in the finale in Mexico), and now she’s won this challenge, too. Her duck was beautiful, though not necessarily the most groundbreaking dish I’ve ever seen in my life. But she was innovative enough that we felt her flavors were new, but the dish was at the same time beautiful, delicious. Here’s the tricky thing about being innovative, which I think George touched on when he was talking about the challenge too: is it takes time and practice to truly innovate. I can only assume that someone like Wylie tries a dish fifty times before it goes on his menu as a full formed creative work, that changes how we all perceive food. Innovation takes patience and some serious brain power. To come up with something in a few hours is a tall order when it needs to be totally delicious AND have a level of innovation that surprises and impresses us. Melissa knew her strengths and perhaps was more relaxed then she would’ve been otherwise, so she made that walnut miso pesto and incorporated it in a really creative, unusual way. It made her dish stand out, and by far it was the most delicious.

Bravotv.com: And then we had our runner, Mei, with her duck curry with vadouvan and yuzu yogurt.

GS: There was something about Mei’s dish that made me think it was the most innovative of the day in a number of ways. However it wasn’t the most successful, and that’s why Melissa took the win. Mei’s dish was not only breathtakingly stark and beautiful, looking so modern on the plate, but she also combined several unusual ingredients, which made for a very untraditional, very modern curry. It was innovative and it stayed with us. You could even see in Tom's reaction that it was a dish to think about. When you tasted it, you weren't sure it worked, but there was something enjoyable about it; the dish didn't simply come together in your mind. It wasn't straight forward. You needed to take a pause, then a second bite, and by the third and fourth bite you started to understand all the different parts, which were very exciting. I think with a few more tries, Mei would’ve really nailed that dish. I was proud of her for pushing us all that way.

Bravotv.com: Then in our bottom two we had Gregory and George. Gregory did the salmon in tom kha broth with roasted tomatoes, crispy chicken skin, and crispy salmon skin.

GS: There were a lot of fun, tasty components to Gregory’s dish. If this challenge had been to show us an interesting representation of salmon or Thai flavors, he would’ve gotten it right. The thing with Gregory is that as skilled as he is, we were really hoping that he would come out of his comfort zone. The flavors he used were what we have seen from him previously. We didn’t really see a lot of innovation from him. That doesn’t mean we don’t think he worked hard or didn't do a good job. He gave us something that he felt was different in presentation, but the flavors were definitely in his usual wheelhouse. As he said himself when cooking beans in the Quickfire, he felt uncomfortable because he's more accustomed to using Asian flavors and ingredients. So here he was in the Elimination Challenge using Asian flavors. On the other hand the dish tasted great! We loved it, we just didn’t think he fulfilled the challenge of being innovative like we know he could have. And then there was George. . .

Bravotv.com:  Yes, he had the charred octopus, yellow split pea puree, and green apple harissa.

GS: George also stayed in his comfort zone in some ways -- he's cooked us octopus before, so charring octopus did not feel innovative at all for him, I actually felt disappointed when he told us that's what he had made. However, there were probably twenty other components of that dish that did make it feel somewhat innovative. The green apple harissa was one of them for sure. The fact that he called it harissa may be taking some license, but that's OK. I loved it, it went so well with the octopus, and it was something new that all of us had never seen. That said, the rest of the dish didn’t make sense all together. At least three or four of the garnishes he added didn’t serve a purpose on the plate, rather, they detracted from the dish. He spent his time making too many components. They may have shown technique, and you could tell that he was really pushing himself, but it all still has to be one cohesive plate of food, first and foremost. I think it didn’t work because he let himself get preoccupied with all the other pieces instead of focusing on doing one thing really well in an innovative way.

Charring octopus did not feel innovative at all for him, I actually felt disappointed when he told us that's what he had made.


So George's was the dish we least enjoyed eating and thought was the least successful, that’s why he went home. I think George did a tremendous job. He came back once already, and he could come back from Last Chance Kitchen again. He’s a great cook, has a great attitude, and I think he absolutely gave his best throughout the competition, which made everyone better. I don’t always say that, but I think when he came back, he really changed the game and the whole season was better for it.

Now, onward to Mexico!