Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

A Whetstone from Good Meat

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

A Whetstone from Good Meat

The farm fresh challenge really hits close to home for Tom Colicchio as he reflects on the conception of Craft.

"A clever cook, can make....good meat of a whetstone." -Desiderius Erasmus, Dutch priest and scholar (1466?-1536)

And if they try to be too clever, they can make a whetstone from good meat.

This was an interesting episode, insofar as the Quickfire Challenge required cooking with the worst of ingredients while, in contrast, the Elimination Challenge provided the opportunity to work with the very best available anywhere. As Jamie said in dismay upon learning of the Quickfire Challenge, without great ingredients it's hard for chefs to do good work. This could not be more true.

It was my time in France over 20 years ago, working in the kitchen of Michel Bras, that taught me this lesson; what I began at Mondrian and continued at Gramercy Tavern really culminated in my conceiving of and opening Craft, which was created to focus on the ingredients and create meals that honor them. And, in doing so, it also honored the farmer. I work closely with farmers of small, local farms, and I make it a point to visit the farmer's market as often as possible, always striving to get the food from the ground to the table as quickly as possible. Being at the forefront of the Farm-to-Table movement, I have been so glad to see chefs like Dan Barber pick up the mantle, so I was excited that this week's Elimination Challenge would bring the cheftestants to his exceptional farm to cook. He and the farmers of Stone Farms, as well as we Top Chef judges, were really looking forward to seeing what the chefs would do with all of the amazing produce and lovingly raised animals. We were all let down. The ethos at Craft is to take the finest ingredients available and prepare them as simply as possible, so that the flavors and textures of the ingredients themselves will shine. "Cooking simple" is like walking a tightrope without a net -- simplicity isn't as simple as it seems, because there's nothing to cover up mistakes; there are no heavy sauces to hide behind. It requires forethought about how best to help the ingredients sing. It requires skill and precision, and, of course, an abiding reverence for the elements themselves.

When animals are raised as they are at Stone Hill and are fed the right ingredients, you don't need to do a whole lot to them. You don't want to remove the flavor -- and moisture-rich fat from the pork -- that made no sense to anyone. And even worse, you don't want to take a beautiful leg of lamb, which was as tender as such meat could be, and do what Ariane did to that lamb. It was completely hacked up and then rolled. A chef would usually roll lesser ingredients, but here there were these muscles you'd want to keep intact. Ariane's treatment of the lamb showed no respect whatsoever for the animal that died to feed everyone. It was more than disappointing, it was upsetting, most of all to the farmers who had worked so hard to raise the produce and animals. It felt to them like their work just wasn't honored. The irony of Ariane's losing the Elimination Challenge with the very protein that had won her prior challenges is not lost on us. But the work of each chef is judged anew in each successive challenge, and while I certainly overstated in the first sentence of this blog, Ariane's performance this week made her the clear choice for elimination from the competition. I'm not thrilled that Leah and Hosea kicked back and did nothing while that meat was both literally and figuratively butchered right in front of them, but at the end of the day, she is the one who did the actual damage. I will make one more point that did not come across in the episode, about Jeff's choice to make fried green tomatoes. I appreciate when a chef uses something that would otherwise go to waste and manages to create a fine dish. But this episode was shot at the height of tomato season. There is a narrow window of time in which to get a remarkable tomato. This was that time, and the vine-ripened tomatoes at Jeff's fingertips were among the finest to be found anywhere. Dishes with green tomatoes are usually made at the very start of tomato season before they've ripened or at the tail of the season with those that never did. So while I commend the impulse to create with ingredients that might otherwise be overlooked, I question the judgment of doing so under these circumstances.

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!