Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Too Many Cooks ...

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

Too Many Cooks ...

Richard Blais explains why the taste test Quickfire challenge is the only one that really matters.

Of course, cooking is all about taste. At the end of the day, nothing else matters. Presentation is fun and technique is usually the means to an end. But flavor is most important. No serious chef will argue this. It is simple fact.

So the palate test, although it's taken many a shape in our Top Chef world, is the most anticipated by the contestants. And the most feared perhaps! Win this one and it means more than any other Quickfire. Bottom out and it hurts the most. There's no team to blame. No guest judge to disagree with. Nothing at all to deflect the embarrassment.

This particular version had an odd fusion of Name that Tune and March Madness. The tournament style was very entertaining, but as a chef I felt this group got off a lot easier than past seasons. The sauces they tasted were classics and should have been easily recognizable to any professional diner, no less a chef. A heady fish soup and two of the most flavorful sauces in the history of all food in green curry and mole?

First off, those tastes should have registered like when someone asks you to say the alphabet. These are recipes that chefs, once they experience for the first time, run right to the bookshelf to demystify. Then to the kitchen to make firsthand.

The first time I tasted green curry and mole I absolutely had to know what made it taste that way. There wasn't an option; it was a mission. It's the same drive that got me to start playing with liquid nitrogen, or experimenting with any and all food additives listed on processed foods now. A chef has to know something ... about everything. I found it mind-boggling, that some of the chefs just cashed out and let the challenger name three or four ingredients?

I think I'll make some mole tomorrow. A great way to use some of that turkey you may have plucked in the freezer BTW.

Hosea wins the taste test. Like I said, it's the only Quickfire that really matters. It was our season's palate test, where my good friend, Antonia Lofaso, emerged as a serious competitor. Will it be the same for Hosea? Only time tell, will we? (thats Yoda).

I got some serious flashbacks when the chefs broke into a mass production small team challenge. These are the worst challenges IMHO. The team isn't large enough to sway to a natural leader. The team may randomly not contain a leader. Or the team may have too many leaders and become split.

This was very evident tonight.

With three obvious leaders on the "old" team, they made a wise decision in presenting a dish where each individual chef would be responsible clearly for their effort. I didn't like Stefan's dismissal of attempting sorbet. Although, I agree it's technically difficult and a risk for a large plating. It's also that exact philosophy that makes caterers boring. The girls on team "borrowed" nailed it. Using lamb on Top Chef is like gobbling up a cherry in Pac Man. Go find a lamb dish that hasn't done well in this competition. It's bonus points right away. It's a chef's meat. Vadouvan spice makes another appearance in what looked like a perfect carrot puree. And the raita? I loved it. Sometimes I think about rubbing it on myself in the shower. This team showed tremendous composure, natural collaboration in the name of flavor, and produced a dish that I would order in a restaurant. I don't find myself thinking like that usually.

On a side note... We are really starting to see a very unflattering side of Jaime. One guarantee you get from going on Top Chef is the opportunity to learn how to take criticism. Jamie is revealing that she is a sore loser and doesn't receive critique well. I had a guest tell me that her pickles were too vinegary the other day. I easily could have crossed my arms, told her she was an idiot and marched away. Instead, I listened and smiled politely. And then gently walked away and thought to myself that she was an idiot. A chef needs these tools to be successful. In this show, and well, in life.

"Blue" team gets a tough buzz word, and then doesn't get inspired; it's that simple.

And then we have, what Tom accurately identifies, as a conceptual nightmare. The "new" team. For the record, I would have enjoyed receiving this buzz word. It's almost a free pass to go super creative at this stage. Instead of new, they go with sushi. Now I'm sure, that even in the smallest of midwestern towns, sushi, is not new. Nor is salad in a wonton basket. Beef on a skewer. Or fried shrimp. I recently just played the Top Chef video game (where my silhouette gets PYKAG!!!). You'll have to play it yourself to truly get this. But New team's dish looked like the plated dishes in the game. It looked like what a plate might look like if you were hungry and marched down a buffet filling your plate with offerings from different dishes. It was a stuffed potato skin, and mozzarella stick away from being the sampler platter at a LT McSpiffs. Not even ranch dressing could have made this right. And let's face it, ranch dressing makes everything better.

And the worst. Listening to Danny say he loved the dish after both of his teammates and all the judges dogged it. This, my friends, is where you take responsibility for your actions and say you made an error. That you know it. That if you escape you will not make it again. Or. You can just basically tell a Michelin starred chef, a world-traveled gourmand, and the heartbeat of the most exciting and prestigous food magazine in our country that they don't know what they are talking about.

Tom wanted to let them all go. Yikes!

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!