Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Wow – Down to the Final Four

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

Wow – Down to the Final Four

Stephanie Izard puts her money on Carla.

Wow down to the final four. I am sitting on the couch getting ready to watch tonight’s episode and really have no idea what to expect. It is always anyone’s game as one little mistake can make all the difference. I just want to find out who I am cooking with in Aspen this year … think I will just write tonight’s blog as I get closer to finding out.

I was just in New Orleans myself, and it is a great town. The locals are so proud of their city and heritage and of course of the cuisine. Emeril Lagasse has made a huge career with his Creole cooking and it would not have made sense to have not had him in the finals. 

A Top Chef first of course … the last three kicked off are given a chance to come back and compete for the finals. It is a great opportunity for Jeff, Leah, and Jamie, though I really would not want to have to get kicked off twice. Leah makes a gumbo, pretty gutsy with Lagasse around. Jeff goes with grits and crawfish which seems pretty simple yet delicious. Jamie’s dish looks the most original and tasty to me, big fan of corn pancakes, though the judges really have their poker faces on with this one. 

Not a lot of explanation from Chef Lagasse for his choice, but Jeff is the lucky man who has to win the Elimination Challenge to move on.

No way! I was in Mardi Gras World during my visit. It is an amazing place where all of the floats get to hibernate. Here comes the car again. When Richard won the car in Puerto Rico, we felt like we were on The Price Is Right. A good-looking guy got out of the car as it pulled up and walked towards Richard. Unsure if this was a local chef that I had not yet met, I wondered, did Richard win the car or the hot guy?So two dishes and a cocktail, one dish of which must be influenced by Creole cooking. I am sure all of the chefs have learned from past seasons and studied up on the regional cuisine. It is always a bit tricky to impress the locals though, especially in New Orleans. I was never a huge fan of the food down there, until my last visit. There are bold flavors with just the right amount of spice. 

OK gonna have to just watch for a bit … way too much goin on.

OK so Carla was making me the most nervous. There are some great oysters down there but I have never had them in a stew. Happy to see there were no pre-shucked oysters around as they are much better freshly shucked. Then came the non-alcoholic beverage. I was thinking, there has got to be someone in that city who likes virgin beverages. Turned out she really pulled it all off. The stew was a big hit and her beignets sounded delicious. A freshly fried beignet with great flavor is hard to resist. Plus the fizzy cocktail was refreshing and delicious. I think my money is on her.

Stefan seems full of himself as always. It has never really bothered me since he has proven to be a talented chef, but this episode is different. The smoking thing does though … going out for a smoke in the middle of a challenge? WTF. His attitude altogether seems elevated from how it was the rest of the season. I would have thought that after watching himself on TV for weeks, he would have lost a bit of the attitude. Seeming like it may be his downfall. His beignets had good flavor but did not take the time to fry them to order. He also did not take the time to make his roux as dark as the judges would have liked.  Jeff  really put forth a great effort as he seemed to do throughout the season. His fried oysters looked delicious and the crawfish dish was one of the favorites of the night. To top it off, his cucumber mojito was the top cocktail of the night. I could go for one of those right now for sure. No matter what the outcome, he should be proud of a strong finish.

Fabio goes for it by baking fresh bread. With the short amount of time they were given, it was pretty impressive. His pasta dish looked like something I would love, but it seems like it did not have much New Orleans flare and spice. His Maque Choux looked delicious but did not seem to really impress the judges. I actually like the new faux hawk, but it looks like this may be the last we see of it.

Hosea’s gumbo seemed to really impress the locals and the judges. He took the extra time to get a very dark and richly-flavored roux that is what the dish is known for. I thought it was also nice that he was cooking some crispy catfish to order with a great balance of flavors and a bit of tobasco to cut through the rich beurre blanc. I will have to agree with Lagasse about the Hurricanes down there. The heat alone is enough to melt your ice before you are halfway through. 

Congrats Carla! She is really proving to be a strong contender which I would not have guessed from the beginning of the season. Jeff was so close to getting another chance, but he had a great near-comeback and really left on a strong note. 
I was pretty shocked about Fabio going home. Even though Stefan was my pick from the start as the next winner since he has proven to be a strong chef, his performance in the last challenge and then especially tonight has made me second-guess this thought. He just did not seem to put one hundred percent into his cooking in this semi-final round, and his attitude was irritating as sh*t.  

Really have no idea what will happen next week. I would think that being in the bottom will push Stefan in the final round to really show what he has got. Even still, Hosea and Carla are going to be hard to beat.

Wish I had the inside scoop …

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. . .  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!