Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Wow – Down to the Final Four

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

Fin, Found, Floundering

What Danny Meyer Taught Gail Simmons

'Top Chef' Goes to Hog Heaven

Gris Gris Boucherie Ya Ya

Brian and Travis' Dud Spuds

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 Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

So she's going to take more time shopping at Whole Foods -- and ask for the best of Melissa's basket and Adam's shrimp.

Bravotv.com: Let's dive right in. How did it feel to go shopping?
Gail Simmons: Shopping at Whole Foods was fantastic and hilarious. It made us realize that you need to be strategic, which was the point of the exercise for us. They gave us 30 minutes, but we took a little longer. We didn't let the producers push us around! We’re not contestants and we weren't going to stand for it! So, you realize how little time you have, and how big Whole Foods can be. You spend a lot of time running around.

 

My strategy with my pantry was to get a lot of fresh, delicious food that you can cook in lots of different ways. A good balance of proteins, fish, fruits, vegetables, spices, fresh herbs, grains. But I didn't want to get too much. Everyone has different strategies; Padma got a ton of different ingredients. Tom's pantry was very pared down. Richard and I were somewhere in the middle.

 

Bravotv.com: Let's start by talking about the two dishes that came from your pantry?
GS: Katsuji and Melissa. They used the same protein, but their dishes were very different. They both used shrimp which one of the proteins that I bought. I bought something else too, something that I know has given people trouble in the past (which is why I specifically chose it) -- chicken wings. And I really wanted people to use them. Instead, they chose the easy way out because shrimps cook quickly.

Melissa's used a lot of fresh vegetables, which I was hoping she would: dill, mint, artichoke. I was so excited about all of it. I think it was beautifully done, a lovely salad with that little shrimp on top with spiced yogurt. But it was just a salad with a quick-cooking seafood. It was so similar to what she had done in Restaurant Wars when she made a scallop with grapefruit salad. I believe she could have done so much more. Melissa keeps saying she wanted to focus on her knife skills, and, of course, your knife skills have to be precise. But I need to see more than just knife skills. I want to see cooking skills, I want to see roasting skills, braising skills. I want to see her hands get a little dirtier and her dishes not be as superficial. It was a light, lovely dish. I was happy to eat it for lunch. But when you're competing against six other really talented chefs, we all want to see a little more depth. Katsuji on the other hand went big. He used his ingredients in a really powerful way. The potato salad, the poached shrimp had bold seasoning and I loved how they went together. It was a great dish. It may not have been the best of the day, but I was actually really happy with what he chose to make.

 

Bravotv.com: So for the rest, let's talk about who was on top and who was on bottom.

GS: At the top there was Gregory who really was going for Padma's heart there. He did great with his coconut milk curry. A really balanced, powerful dish. But it's something we’ve seen from Gregory many times in the past. In fact, in the first challenge he made a similar spicy curry dish with chicken. As much as we thought it was a delicious bowl of food, it was so typical of what we expect from Gregory. George's food was really exciting for us. This was my first time tasting his food and meeting him on Top Chef. He did a great job. The kebab was moist, seasoned really well, and the lentils were beautiful too. My only small issue with the dish is I couldn't understand why he separated the lentils from the kebab in two separate dishes. Why not put lentils on the plate and the kebab right on top, with a dollop of the yogurt? It seemed a little bit disconnected to me. But all-in-all, a really strong dish. Doug had the winning dish of the night. He used Richard's crazy pantry in a way that I thought was smart, clear-cut, and creative. The chorizo and mussels and peppers, just how Tom said, go together well, as do the cauliflower and the garlic. There was sweetness, there was spice, it was light and fresh but had a soulful, rustic flavor we all loved. You could see use of technique. On the bottom were dishes that tried to stretch and didn’t come through. Mei did a great job overall, except her lamb was undercooked. You want lamb medium, medium rare, but the center of that meat was raw to the point where the texture was chewy and almost cold. It would have been better if she had been able to cook it five minutes longer. We talked about Melissa's mistakes already, which also landed her on the bottom. I totally applaud Adam for trying to make a quick-flash marinade. He's been in the middle for so long and he thought "I gotta go big or I gotta go home." He tried to go big and unfortunately, he went home because of that technique. I get the idea of what he was doing, I don't doubt that it could've been successful if it were perhaps done in a different setting, with a little more control. But the flash marinade of his shrimp did not cook it as needed. It was still grey, it was still raw, and the texture of raw shrimp is not appealing. It's squeaky, it's squishy, and it becomes sort of mushy. We wanted it firm and cooked through. It's not like fish that you can eat sashimi-style Unfortunately Adam's hard work, his big risk sent him home.

I will miss him. I think he's an incredibly articulate, clever chef. I think he has an extraordinary career ahead of him. I'm excited to see him back in New York City. I can't wait to eat his food again. Also I want to say of this entire episode that was it was thrilling to see our superfans in the kitchen. We've never let people come into the kitchen in that way before, even though people ask us all the time. It brought so much good energy to have basically a live audience with us for the day. Everyone was so psyched. It was amazing to be around people who really love the show, to let them eat food from our talented chefs. SO much fun!