Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Just Desserts

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

Just Desserts

Season 4's winner talks turkey and how to get more info on her new project!

Well I was happy to see the outcome of last week finally. Not that I am happy to see someone go, but I think the judges made the right decision I should know better than to try to guess the outcome by the editing alone.

Thanks again for the comments and feedback! Last week was a big week for my new restaurant in that the name and some other details got leaked on the internet. There will be more information to come as things get a bit further and are a bit more secure but for now if you are interested just search for The Drunken Goat Chicago and you can get a little info on the new place.

Back to the show. I must say I was shocked to see Grant Achatz walk into the Top Chef kitchen. Being Chicago's real top chef, many people thought he would appear last season. Of course with all that Grant has gone through recently I was not expecting him last year. It is so great to see that he has recovered from his battle with cancer and is now reaching new heights at his restaurant and with his beautiful new book. Chicago is lucky to have such great talent and I eagerly await my next meal at Alinea.

The chefs begin by pulling knives with seemingly random numbers (I know I could not guess where they were going with this one). Out comes the Top Chef Cookbook comprising of dishes created by chefs during the first three seasons along with Blais' tasty banana scallops from our dessert challenge. I love the way they snuck in a little merchandise plug ... hoping next week the chefs will all be wearing the fabulous "Culinary Boner" t-shirts. Turns out that each number represents a page in the book with a recipe that the chef is to put their own twist on in an hour... a whole hour? Something fishy is going on for sure.

Of course half way through the challenge, once the chefs are well into their creations, in comes Grant announcing he is actually in the mood for soup. Most of the chefs seem pretty happy with the change. Jamie mentions her love for making soup and Carla mentions the final ingredient in soup being love. I have to agree that making soup is very satisfying. You end up with a well balanced bowl of comfort to slirp up and enjoy, well hopefully. For the most part, the soups that we got to see look quite tasty. Seeing Fabio's made me laugh a bit remembering back to the original dish that Mike created while completely high on pain killers, but Grant found his soup a bit flat. Melissa had a bit of a misstep as well. I thought it was a nice idea to recreate a classic Italian Wedding Soup but it seemed to miss the mark. Richard seemed to know he was a bit off with the balance as he ran out of time to add in some lime juice which would have helped with the acidity.

I thought Daniel's looked delicious. Reminded me of a ham hock and leek soup I like to make that stemmed from my love of French onion soup growing up. Just so warming and hearty. I am also a sucker for anything with chickpeas so Jamie's soup called out to me as well. Friends make fun of me for the lack of food in my apartment at any given time, but there are always some chickpeas around. I can imagine that the pickled chilis and cilantro yogurt would have brightened the peas up nicely. Leah was chosen as the favorite for her chilled white asparagus soup. It is a difficult vegetable to work with as Grant points out, as it can turn out quite bitter, though when cooked properly in a soup it can be refreshing and delicious. Leah must have handled it just right.

I would say we all could have guessed that this week's elimination would involve some turkey. Having won the Quickfire, Leah gets the honor of choosing her team. Brings me back to elementary school when we were picking teams for never want to be the last one picked, or in this case the seven not picked. For the most part I probably would have chosen the same team. Even though it is still early in the competition there seem to be some standouts, and I am sure some choices were made based on who Leah gets along with and believes she will work well with. Jamie, Hosea, Fabio, Stefan, Melissa, and Radhika will join Leah on team Sexy Pants. Not sure I want to keep writing Sexy Pants so from now on they are SP for short. Team Cougar, named after Ariane who is apparently the hot mamma of the bunch, will also include Jeff, Eugene, Alex, Daniel, Richard and Carla. I can imagine that Team Cougar feels the extra pressure of proving themselves since they were not the chosen ones, but it seems to me like anyone's game.

The fun twist this week is that they will cooking for the Foo Fighters. They claim to be long time fans of the show (not sure if I buy this but what the heck) and are hoping for a Thanksgiving feast for themselves along with their crew and roadies. After the chefs do a walkthrough of the arena in Rochester, they are walked outside to their lovely kitchen. Yes, outside with microwaves, toaster ovens, and one burner. A step up from a row of Easy Bake ovens but not quite what the chefs were hoping for. Both teams begin to go through their menus once again and strategize on use of the equipment. Jeff emerges as a natural leader once again, helping stop the chaos of seven chefs talking over each other and organizing the team's menu. rianne is a bit disgruntled as she seems to have the most insight into catering yet no one is really listening to her. She has chosen to do the turkey which is of course the center of the meal and it seems a few of the chefs do not trust she is up for the task. I think it is a great opportunity for her to prove herself after a couple of close calls on the chopping block. Team SP seems pretty confident, as most of the members of that team have been doing very well thus far. After a quick trip to the store the cooking gets underway. I would say that the most impressive showing is by Eugene. He actually used his brain and made a make shift roasting grill for his pork. I think that when this challenge was given to the chefs, the hope was that rather than restricting their cooking with toaster ovens, they would come up with creative ways to cook their food. I had some friends who made a roaster for a suckling pig this summer out of two metal gates and some cinder blocks. Chefs in general tend to have creative minds and it is fun to see them at work.

Other than that, the chefs just did the best they could with what they were given. There were not many super standouts, but it is Thanksgiving and I think it is best to stick with the classics and just execute them well. With the Foo Fighters, the vegan stuffing that Radhika made was the best dish of the evening while they were also happy with the little burnt marshmallows team SP had on the sweet potatoes. Arianne pulled through with the better of the two turkeys served which was great to see. Sure she was relieved not to be in the bottom two again this week. The bread pudding, however, was very dry and did not compare to Rad's stuffing and Daniel tried to sneak in some crunchy potatoes that had not cooked all the way. Much easier to get a potato soft in the microwave before you cut it. Seems time just got the best of him and as Tom pointed out he would have been better off making the decision not to serve them at all. That is a tough decision to make especially if that is your only offering to the table. Would you go home for serving nothing?

A bit of a struggle in the dessert area again seems to be the deciding factor. Hosea makes a decent fruit crisp and Fabio makes a pumpkin Tiramisu. I am not a pumpkin pie person but that Tiramisu looked light and delicious. A great alternative to the classic. Jeff attempts to change up the classic pie as well but not in a good way. The berries and pumkin did not seem to really compliment each other and the pumkin "mousse" was a strange texture which the Foo Fighter's did not quite get. Richard decided to make banana S'mores based on the rider listing bananas dipped in chocolate as a favorite of the band. I am a huge S'more fan but what he made did not really seem to resemble what I love about S'mores. Warm gooey marshmallow with melting chocolate on a crisp graham cracker. Makes me hungry just thinking about it. The dessert Richard wound up with just did not have the same effect, and the band was a bit turned off by the "spit" garnish. So team SP gets to go have a goof time at the concert while the Cougars have to hang in back and clean up. Kind of rough. Gives them a lot of time to wonder why the other team was chosen and who is going home. It was very close seeing as neither team was perfect and Arianne actually had the better turkey. Radhika's stuffing must have been damn tasty and the Cougar desserts must have lost them the fun night out.

At Judges' Table, Jeff is spoken very highly of by his teammates for his leadership skills. This is a big part of being a chef. It is not just about the food so although he put out two very mediocre dishes he pulled through by showing he has the ability to run a kitchen. Richard was just not able to hold on with the dish he put out this week. I am sure Tom will miss the weekly remarks on how hot he is. Looks like Team Rainbow is down to one but Jamie seems to be holding strong.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Hope many of you are enjoying a tasty deep fried turkey!

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Hugh Acheson wonders about the health of the kids at Emerson College and debates the cost of roasting that much foie gras.

In this, the tenth episode of this 12th season, we open in the kitchen of the chefs super secret lair. Katusji has taken his wit, wisdom and wherewithal back to his Kosher Japanese Cal-Mex empire to work on a masa matzoh ball taco. He is described as "the most loveable dick in the entire world," which seems pretty on point. These remaining five seem saddened because Katsuji provided respite from the drudgery of competition. They mourn as well, because all understood, though it was never talked about, like a solemn vow, that they could all beat Katsuji in this cooking game. He was the San Diego Padres of Top Chef, the team that all the other competition knew would be an easy beat when the time came.

So the quintet of Mei, Gregory, Dougeeeee, Melissa and George remain. They are all have the stuff that could allow them to win the dough, but Mei and Gregory have really shown that if we must have hierarchy then they are the top two contenders.

Quickfire begins with Andy and his college roommate. Andy just told the roommate that those "games" they played late at night in their bunkbeds WILL be talked about in his next book, so Dave, you have some explaining to the wife and kids. Andy, we are told, is "known for his antics." That he is.

Andy exorts the contestants to hook up with each other and I immediately think of Dougie spooning with Georgie. I then have to wash my eyes out with steel wool and bleach to remove the image. This hurts and still the image remains.

Padma gets Andy back on task and she introduces the Quickfire. It is a collegiate showdown of ramen proportions but the catch is that they must use the contents of the fridge of some poor frosh. Out come the stoner, the nerd, the sorority girl, the lady who should have graduated in '05 and one other innocuous soul. Their fridge contents make me worry about a scurvy outbreak at Emerson College.

We are regaled with stories of the craziest things they all did in college. Melissa built a 24-story beer bong. I went to school in Montreal so my craziest times were hanging out at Biftek on St. Laurent and getting drunk playing pool. Oh wait, I DID THAT EVERY NIGHT until I dropped out of college. Luckily I had some cooking skillz.

Gregory concocts a bacon, Doritos, leftover pizza broth, and I am immediately worried about the future of our country. Dougie has made a Cobb salad ramen with a "coconut-pineapple" broth, and I start looking for my Canadian passport. George, who has no idea what ramen is, 'cause Mike Isabella has never let him out before, is cobbling together a version of SpaghettiOs 2.0s. It has a hint of hot dog, but so does Andy, so this may be well liked. Melissa is making a "Crunchy Carbonara Ramen" which is probably already dispensed out of a coin machine in Tokyo and actually sounds pretty tasty. There is hope. Mei makes a smoked tomato miso with upcycled sushi. Sounds okay, so I stow the passport back and the "go bag."

There is no immunity but the winner gets 5K. Not bad for fifteen minutes of work/fame. Bottoms are Mei and Dougie. Tops are Gregory and George with Melissa winning this murky challenge.

They go to the little room of stewage and watch Julia Child. Then Jacques Pepin stops by and everyone gasps in amazement. I do too because if you don’t love Pepin you are not a nice person. He da bomb.

The Elimination Challenge is to come up with a dish inspired from Julia's cooking. Three hours to cook and one hour to finish on site tomorrow. They chat with Jacques for a while to learn the secrets of Julia, other than the fact that she was totally a CIA spy.

Doug is silent because of where he comes from. Texas shrugs as he says, "I grew up in East Texas and here I am meeting Jacques Pepin." Then he follows this ode to the state of Texas with, "I am from Texas so I can't pronounce things very well." C'mon Doug, your state gave us that Rick Perry character! He's fun to watch!

Doug is insistent on making a whole roasted foie gras. George is braising some veal and presenting it with some vegetables and pommes puree. There is some French going on around here. Melissa is challenging herself with shortribs. Mei is making duck a l'orange but you know it will show off some of herself. You can't spell Mei without ME. Gregory is making Coq au Vin. Tom wanders in during cooking to advise them to channel Julia and then they all try to sound like Julia. None of them will ever be known for their impersonation abilities.

We eat. It's outside. It's beautiful. The diners, or the we, are Dana Cowin, Jacques, Alex Prudhomme (related to Julia), Tom, Padma, Boston chefs Barbara Lynch, Joanne Chang, Mary Dumont, and little old me. I am hungry so don't talk much.

The food is really good overall. There were some issues like drier ribs, monotonous veal, raw foie, and maybe some flabby duck skin, but pound-for-pound they did the dishes well. Tops are Gregory and Mei, and the verdict is an interesting one. Gregory nailed a classic, but it was like he channeled Julia too much and did a textbook version, while Mei nailed a riff on a dish with her duck a l'orange. It is arbitrary who should win but Mei pulls it off and wins a just decision.

Not so arbitrary but still close is the bottom trio of Melissa, George, and Doug. Melissa erred in rib cookery. George cooked stunning veg but it was the veal that was a yawn. Alas, Doug bows out with his dish, a dish that he had never done but dreamed about. You don't just do roasted whole lobes of foie at the restaurant you work at, cause the owner chef would probably stab you if you ruined the 300 bucks in product. But this is TV money so he took a chance. The problem is that cooking whole foie is tricky. You can''t sear it too much or you will render away the beauty, and then you need to temper-roast it in a medium heat oven. Then it comes out and you rest it on a wire rack. It is pretty much served just warm. He did all of those steps, but over-seared it and then cooked it a hair hot, and not long enough, resultingin a greasy, yet raw internal. Funny thing is that the rest of the stuff on the plate was awesome. Well Doug, you were a favorite of ours and I wish you much success in Last Chance Kitchen.

And now we are four. Until next time.

For a good time, follow me on Twitter @hughacheson

Read more about: