Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

TC/DC

Gail: I Wasn't Surprised Doug Stayed on Top

Get Doug's Masterpiece Brisket Recipe

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

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 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

 



Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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. . .

Bravotv.com:  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!