Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

She's a Vegetarian ...

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

She's a Vegetarian ...

Gail Simmons wonders why the chefs had so much trouble with this challenge given their resources.

A little known fact: I was a pesco-vegetarian (pescetarian) for over eight years. Hard to believe, considering what I’ve chosen to do for a living. But between ages 14 and 22, I would not touch, cook, or eat meat at all. It just did not agree with me. I found it difficult to digest (both literally and ethically). I did eat fish and seafood, but I will never forget how frustrating it was to skip over three-quarters of the menu at most restaurants to find something I could order. Even when I did find an appropriate dish, it would usually be less satisfying than what my fellow diners were eating, more like a collection of garnishes on a plate than an actual meal. Thankfully, respect and options for vegetarians have come a long way since then. Just look at the fully vegetable-based menus at award-winning restaurants such as Gramercy Tavern or Per Se in New York. But I still pay close attention to vegetarian dishes when I eat out and am always curious as to how both fine-dining and casual places alike treat their meat-avoiding customers. My basic question: Why can’t we find a decent vegetarian meal in many restaurants today, considering that cultures around the world can create complex, substantial cuisines using little or no meat, and in view of the extraordinary bounty of produce, grains, legumes and dairy products available in America?  

That was at the heart of the questions we posed to our cheftestants on this week’s episode. The setting: an intimate dinner we hosted for actress Natalie Portman and her friends at Tom’s Craftsteak at the MGM Grand. Natalie is a passionate food-lover and committed vegetarian—and one of the show’s biggest fans—so we re-created a scenario that regularly occurs in most restaurant dining rooms: a demand for one superlative vegetarian dish that tastes and looks as delicious as anything else on offer. Tom was quick to mention that even at his meat-focused emporium he believes strongly in respecting customer preferences and strives to make sure there are always a great variety of non-meat choices on hand at all times. His kitchen walk-ins were overflowing with every variety of produce one could imagine. And his pantry was stocked with more dry goods than could be used in a lifetime. So it should not have been an excruciating task for our remaining seven competitors to fulfill, right?

Well, perhaps our chefs could not recover from the surprise we threw at them having assumed that, in this venue, they would be butchering and serving sides of beef and racks of lamb. Or perhaps they were all distracted by Natalie’s natural charm (it is hard not to be, in all honesty). Whatever the reason, the dishes they presented that evening were, for me, among the most disappointing of the season. It is not that they were all poorly cooked, necessarily. They were just so much less imaginative than I had hoped for and expected. With the exception of the delicate lentils under Eli’s Confit of Eggplant, Garlic Puree & Radish Salad, and the scant garbanzo beans, which did not even make it onto everyone’s plate in Robin’s Stuffed Squash Blossom with Beet Carpaccio & (overly salted, garlicky) Chermoula, there was virtually no protein presented across the board. No beans or legumes, few eggs and little dairy were used (despite their being encouraged to do so). In addition, Michael’s Asparagus Salad, Japanese Tomato Sashimi & Banana Polenta was the only dish that used a grain (yes, corn, from which polenta is made, is technically a grain).

Thankfully, a few glimpses of brilliance emerged. Eli’s smoky eggplant and perfectly firm, flavorful lentils did show a significant amount of skill. And although it took some getting used to, I will never forget the playful sweetness and creamy, bold texture of Michael’s banana polenta. As I write this I am still in awe that he chose to make it—and that we all could not get enough. But it was Kevin’s Duo of Mushrooms, Smoked Kale, Candied Garlic & Turnip Puree that saved us. As much as Michael would like to believe it was thrown together in an amateur way, this dish was far from simple. The bright taste and integrity of each individual vegetable was apparent with each bite. What’s more, they all made perfect sense when eaten as one harmonious creation. Cooking vegetables this way is no easy task. It was decadent and robust, and exactly as Kevin had promised in his description.

It seemed that the rest of our chefs’ goals were just too lofty, too precious, and more focused on making their food look pretty than on making it taste good or feel substantial. Jennifer’s Charred Eggplant, Braised Fennel, Tomatoes & Verjus Nage was little more than a side dish. Bryan’s Artichoke Barigoule was barely any better. Finally, there was Mike Isabella’s Whole Roasted Leeks with Onion Jus, Baby Carrot Puree & Fingerling Potatoes. I am still unsure how he planned on passing off those stringy leeks as scallops. A trick of the eye cannot fool a hungry vegetarian stomach, I assure you. Most of all, his food was undercooked and tasteless. His dish was by far the weakest of the night. It is no wonder that as soon as Judges’ Table ended that evening we all went out for a second dinner, to this amazing little Japanese robata spot just off the strip that chef Paul Bartolotta introduced us to (he is the chef at what I believe to be the most spectacular restaurant in Vegas and one of the nicest people I know). The restaurant, to everyone’s delight, had plenty of delicious vegetarian options on the menu!

Make George's Cravable Breakfast Sausage

George decided the best way to satisfy New England Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski  was with a hearty breakfast. Make it for yourself at home.

Pork and Veal Sausage Patty With Sunny-Side Up Egg and Potato Hash

 

Ingredients
3 lbs pork butt
1 lbs veal
4 garlic cloves
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp coriander
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 bunch chives
1 bunch parsley
1 Tbsp fennel seed
Pepper (to taste)

 

Directions
1. Grind prok and veal using medium dye, reserve and keep cold

2. Toast cumin, coriander, and fennel seed in a sauté pan until aroma is released. Grind in spice grinder, reserve

3. Chop parsley and chives fine, reserved

4. Chop garlic super fine, reserve

5. Mix meat with spices, smoked paprika, herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper

6. Test a small batch in fryer. Taste and adjust seasoning

7. Form into patties, place on grill, then finish in oven