Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

TC/DC

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

TC/DC

Bravotv.com's Senior Editor talks about her trip to D.C. and breaks down the season premiere.

We're back my little cherry blossoms! My, how I've missed all of you so much. I hope you're as excited as I am to start another season together, dishing on the competition, and all the behind-the-scenes info I'm allowed to share.

First, let me begin by saying that I had the pleasure of going to D.C. a few months ago for Hypefest -- this is Bravo lingo for the time where we all get together for a couple days to do photo shoots, shoot on-air promos, video extras, etc. We hadn't announced where this season would be yet (although some might say it was the worst-kept secret in TV), so I couldn't share all of my fun foodie experiences at the time! But now I can! I finally got to enjoy some delicous burgers and shakes at Spike's Good Stuff Eatery. Spike's super-sweet sister, Micheline, met us and pretty much let us try whatever we wanted, so we obviously went a little nuts. Here I am with our West Coast video predator (that's producer/editor) Galen Newton indulging in the delicious Toasted Marshmallow hand spun milkshake. Yummy!

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I also got to ham it up on the Top Chef on-air promo set, which was truly a highlight:

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As you can tell I really geeked out while I was there. I had also hoped to make another trip to Bryan Voltaggio's VOLT, but unfortunately time didn't allow for it. Next time! (If you remember from last season, I can't go an entire blog post without mentioning Bryan.)

OK -- enough about me -- onto the show! Can I just say something about the opening credits? Did you notice the Food & Wine magazine cover used during the prize description? It's BEAUTIFUL! I know that sounds nuts, but it was the cover from a couple months ago with tacos on the cover. It was literally so pretty I sent an e-mail to Gail Simmons after mine arrived in my mailbox to tell her how striking it was! And now, it's on the show.

OK -- now really onto the show: we really didn't waste any time this season, starting with the Mise en Place Relay Race, and it looks like we decided to keep the High Stakes Quickfire Challenges inspired by Top Chef: Las Vegas. This one was worth $20K. Besides Amanda cutting herself, there were no major injuries, except to people's egos. It quickly became clear that Kenny and Angelo were the ones to beat. After peeling potatoes, chopping onions, and breaking down chickens, the chefs had to create a dish from the ingredients. My parents used to make a killer potted chicken dish with just these three things ... and maybe some paprika. You can make the best one-pot wonders with just some chicken, potatoes, and onions. Our chefs went the more refined route, and Angelo won over Tom's palate. I actually have yet to eat at Angelo's sandwich shop, Xie Xie, right here in Manhattan. I'm sure that will change in the next few weeks! Also, Angelo's kind of a looker. For some reason he reminds me of Pat Monahan, lead singer of Train. Anyone else? Just me?

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs had to cater an event and create dishes inspired by their hometown. This was a great challenge because it reflected the chefs' personalities, and where they're from, which honestly is helping me remember who's who! Meeting helped me with this as well, but, again, if you've read this blog before you know I love to mix up cheftestants, so please don't yell at me about it. It hurts my feelings, and it's not intentional. I kid, I kid -- yell at me all you want!

The Elimination was also interesting because the top four Quickfire chefs had to choose the chefs they would compete against, dodgeball-style. Except, instead of choosing the strongest chefs to compete with, they would select the chefs they deemed the weakest. Mean.

I won't go through every single dish, but let's talk about the ones that stood out. Well, first, let's talk about John's, which unfortunately got him sent home. John's a really, really nice guy. I'm sure you could tell when he congratulated Angelo on his Quickfire win even after Angelo selected him to be one of the easier targets for the Elimination. This guy is a sweetheart and his hair is really, really long. He made maple cream puffs inspired by Michigan. Is it wrong that I had no idea Michigan was known for their maple syrup? Oh well -- you learn something new every day. Not only were the judges not able to taste the maple, but John didn't make his own pastry. Didn't he watch Chef Academy and learn how to make choux pastry? Guess not. Farewell, John.Jacqueline landed herself in the bottom by attempting to make a low-fat mousse. Um. This seemed like an oxymoron to me and to Eric Ripert (we'll get to him in a sec) and, well, all the judges. She might have been able to pull it off, but her mousse was grainy. Timothy also found himself in the bottom, which shocked him. Apparently his sauces were bland and the skin on his fish shoudn't have been there. Timothy and Chef Ripert have actually worked together before a long, long time ago, and Timothy does a fairly amusing Ripert impression. Stephen Hopcraft also landed himself in the bottom with his potato-crusted ribeye. I love potatoes. I love ribeye — it's probably my favorite cut. But this didn't look too appetizing. Eric compared the presentation to a chicken nugget. As much as I love a good 10-piecer, this wasn't a compliment. One word on Stephen: he is HILARIOUS. We shot another Slice and Dice Showdown video series this season (will be up on the website later this week), and he had me cracking up. I wonder how much of that side of him we'll get to see on the show.

OK -- now on to the good stuff: Kevin's lamb dish sounded tasty. Although I tend to steer clear of meyer lemon anything because I find it cloying, I think the pistachio in his marmalade might have swayed me. Kenny's trout dish got criticism for being complex, but I probably would have ordered it. I tend to order dishes more for what they come with than the protein itself, and I'm all about a good polenta. Then there was Alex with his borscht. I honestly don't ever think I've had borscht. I've been around it since before I can remember -- my parents would order it at every meal at Kutschers up in the Catskills on family vacations (where my Long Island Jews at?), and my mom would keep a bottle of it in the fridge. It just never appealed to me. But, I've recently developed an affinity for beets, so I'll let you know when I finally try it. The judges seemed worried about Alex attempting deconstruction, but he pulled it off. I think he had the best idea of the bunch. And, if you haven't noticed, I base a lot of my judgment on whether or not I would order the chefs' dishes at a restaurant; I am a paying customer in the end. Finally, we had Angelo's artic char. Being from Connecticut I had no idea what would inspire him. Nothing instantly comes to mind when I think of Connecticut, but Angelo talked about stream fishing and went for it. He wowed with his artic char which seemed to have tapioca caviar similar to the one we saw from Andrew quite often on Top Chef: Chicago. Angelo probably would have won me over with the bacon froth. Even though he wasn't in the top because of how the teams worked out, according to both Gail and Eric, Arnold's Kaffir Lime dessert was a hit too. I'm a big fan of Kaffir lime anything. Just a couple weeks ago, I had the Kaffir Lime Margarita at Top Chef Master Anita Lo's newly re-opened Annisa. You must go eat there, and you must get that drink!

So, if you look at the trajectory of pretty much every other season, Angelo seems to be the one to watch, but I I dont know — think because of how the first teams were chosen we didn't see some strong chefs in the top because they weren't necessarily the best in their team, but would have been overall. Anyway, I think we're off to a strong start, and I'm excited to see how the next episode shakes out.

Before I leave you for this week, I just want to say how much I'm enjoying Eric Ripert's presence. I gotta say, I liked Toby — he was a pleasure to work with and his blogs cracked me up. But Eric is certainly a welcome edition. I have the joy of filming him weekly for his new video blog, and he is gracious and professional. I was almost a little starstruck him when I first met him in D.C., but that has obviously subsided. I hope you all find him to be a welcome addition to the Judges' Table.

So, tell me: Who are you rooting for? Where have you been eating?!

Leave your comments below, and if you care to stalk me a bit and find out where I'm eating, friend me on foursquare. (And, of course, friend Bravotv on foursquare too!

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!