Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Two Sides of Cooking

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

Two Sides of Cooking

Stephanie Izard contrasts the canned food and fresh food challenges.

Well tonight we got to see two sides of cooking. There are meals that are created from all canned and processed foods and those that are created with the most beautiful and freshest ingredients directly from the farm. Of course most people would prefer to cook and eat the latter, especially chefs, however this is not always possible for everyone. From time to time a home cook may be in a bind and have a short amount of time to make a meal with what they have in the pantry.

I was a bit surprised as I figured, as most of the chefs did, that Hung was there next to a big fish tank. Or at least a whole bunch of chickens for the chefs to try to break down as fast as his did during his culinary relay, a moment he will remain known for for quite some time. Of course the connection was a bit less obvious and the quickness that is represented by Hung will affect the time allotted for this Quickfire. I remember back to our rice challenge when we had only 15 minutes and it really is not much time. Especially once you push the others out of the way to find some ingredients to work with.

What hurt a couple of the chefs was making more of a snack than a full dish and not really creating but rather mixing cans of food. Rad was called out for making a basic dip of combined canned items while Jamie simply tossed some veggies together with some canned mussels and put it on some toast. Possible that these had decent flavor but they just lacked a little creativity. Leah just went a bit crunchy on her waffles. Even her man Hosea made a bit of a face when she got called out and said she had fried them. Who knows -- I kind of like my waffles on the crisp side but I guess Hung does not. I am not surprised and was quite happy to see that two of the chefs who used Spam were in the top. I have been a big fan ever since my trip to Hawaii some years back when I ate Spam at many meals. Served over fried rice for breakfast or even the Spam sashimi would turn anyone into a Spam fan. Hosea creates a split pea soup garnished with Spam and pork rinds ... who doesn't like pork rinds? Sounded like the soup was well balanced and I am sure the rinds added a nice texture. Seemed Hosea wanted to kick himself after sharing the Spam with his nemesis Stefan who wound up winning the challenge. I think that what put him on top was the other use of a seemingly unpleasant ingredient, Velveeta (it is a cheese that you buy unrefrigerated which may be a turn off). It really does just melt better than cheddar as we have all heard before and on a grilled cheese makes a great late night meal as Hung mentioned.

Out come the knives and I am immediately happy to see some tasty animals being drawn. I am always a sucker for pig but all of these proteins are great to work with. The teams divide up and I do feel a bit for Ariane as she is stuck with the two love birds, but she did do well with lamb once before so at least she has that. Group challenges are always difficult because everyone is just not going to agree and there will without a doubt be some butting heads. Jamie and Stefan are two of the stronger personalities on the show so having them in a group together was bound to be a bit rough; however, they are two of the stronger chefs left so chances are if they can put aside their differences they have the best chance.

After a late night of menu planning the chefs are up before sunrise which is never really all that pleasant, especially for chefs who are more likely going to bed at 5 then up to head to work. Off to the farm they go. I was quite envious watching them pull up at Stone Farms as I have not had the pleasure of visiting there and after a great meal at Blue Hill in the city I look forward to heading to the second location. The teams divide up with farmers and get to go around and pick ingredients to use. Even chefs that are very farm to table focused do not often get to pick the ingredients themselves. Plus they get to go play with the animals which I love (big fan of the petting zoo). It would have been pretty sweet to see the chefs butcher their animals for the challenge but I guess even Bravo can not go that far.

Back at the kitchen they have partially broken down animals and a wide variety of produce to choose from. It would be a bit of a challenge to redo the work that went into menu planning but with such fresh ingredients, it would be hard to go wrong.

Butchery seems to be a bit of a problem for the Lamb and Pig teams. Since Ariane won for knowing how to cook a lamb rack a few weeks ago, she was given reign over the lamb. It kind of seemed that she took butchery in the more literal sense of the word and butchered the crap out of the beautiful baby lamb. I respect that later in the episode she admitted that this was not her strong suit but she should have mentioned it a bit earlier and Hosea who seemed to be the strongest with butchery should have taken over. Was not a big fan of Leah making snide comments behind her back about not being able to tie the lamb properly ... well then show her how to do it and at least do it right yourself. Or just hang out and make a tomato salad. Whatever works. In the end some poor decisions were just made by all on this team it seemed.Over on the Pig team, it was not so much that Jeff did not know how to butcher pork as it was that he likes to take off the tastiest part. I thought the lamb looked nice on the plate but it looked like a fatless and therefore very low in flavor tenderloin. Pork fat is your friend. It is even tasty as lardo on its own. Aside from that Jeff did a nice job. He has consistently come across as a leader and I am a big fan of green tomatoes so it was nice to see them used. Fabio made raviolis ... again. I am actually looking forward to some day trying Fabio's pasta as I am sure it is great but it just seems so obvious for him to go in that direction. I am also just not a huge pesto fan. It is such a strong sauce that if it is used it needs to be used in moderation and not served with what was described as a delicately flavored ravioli filling. Rad seemed a bit slow this week. She has mentioned before that she does not always move that quickly (while cleaning duck was mentioned). When you are on a team you just have to step it up a bit and contribute as much as you can.

Team Chicken wound up getting past any disagreements and putting together a nice lunch. Chicken gets the shaft sometimes and is considered ordinary, but when done right I absolutely love it. Especially farm-raised chicken. The whole plate looked simple and delicious as chicken should be. I guess the chicken soup could have seemed a bit odd on a hot day, but if you have the bones to work with why not turn them into a delicious consomme. Looks like Carla is our star pastry chef this season. She just makes a damn tasty pastry crust and when served with farm fresh fruits and a little lemon cream you cannot go wrong. Again, simple but delicious.

Seemed that the issues with the butchery of the lamb were the standout mistakes in the judges' minds. Though Arianne was at fault as it was her work that went wrong, I thought the whole team was equally to blame for how it all went down. And after watching the previews for next week I am already sick of the Leah and Hosea game. Just hoping the producers do not bring us into the real world and that we can move past this little romance.

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.

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