Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Antonia's Last Supper

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

Gail Talks OvenGate

Antonia's Last Supper

Childhood memories surface as the three remaining chefs cook Michelle Bernstein, Morimoto, and Wolfgang Puck's "last suppers."

Hello my little spaetzles! Anyone else having serious heart palpitations from this episode? Seriously, what a roller coaster! Let's start with the Quickfire, which was just impossible. Each chef had to complete a different classic Quickfire. This actually felt very Masters to me, but, hey, these guys can handle it, right? Mike gave Antonia the canned food challenge. Richard got the hot dog challenge and that left Mike with the one pot wonder. Antonia thought that Richard's choice to give Mike the one pot wasn't a smart one because it wouldn't restrict Mike from any specific ingredients. In the end, she was right. Of course in the middle of the chefs' cooking, they were presented with three twists. Mike couldn't use any kitchen tools, Antonia shared an apron with Carla, and Richard had to cook with one hand tied behind his back. At this point, I can't even say what was the hardest. These chefs are probably so nervous and delirious that any little change seems like the Apocalypse.

In the end, guest judge Wolfgang Puck, not throwing any donuts this time, gave the win to Mike. And Mike's winning streak continues!

In the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are met by three culinary heavyweights: Michelle Bernstein, Morimoto and, of course, Wolfgang. This was Morimoto's first appearance on Top Chef, and I was pretty psyched to see him. I smiled at him at our Season 7  finale party, and that's my anecdote about him. Good story, right? Want me to tell it again? So, the chefs are paired up with a legend and have to cook their "last suppers." We've actually done a challenge like this before back in Season 5 with guests like Jacques Pepin and Lidia Bastianich and Marcus Samuelsson. I think I cried during that episode and I cried a little bit during this one. Just hearing the chefs talk about their childhood memories of food got me choked up. I'm sure this has much to do with the amazing food memories I have of my late mother's cooking, but no need to talk about that here. I wil say though that this episode did make me think about what I'd want my last meal to be. I think I've mentioned this before, but I thiiink I'd either want an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and nova or chicken parm with extra cheese on the side. Growing up my mom always put extra shredded cheese in the pan for me, so when it cooked it was just this extra blob of melted cheese, and it was amazing. What would you want your last meal to be? Tell me in the comments below!Anyway, Michael chose to work with Michelle Bernstein. I found it amusing that he said when he chose her that it would probably be the least challenging, but then later told Antonia that he chose Michelle for the challenge. Antonia quickly called bulls--- on that. I will say though that Michelle may have seemed like "the easiest" choice, but the easiest dishes are the ones whose flaws are most obvious. But let's get back to Mike and Antonia in a moment. Let's talk about Richard's dish first. He had to make traditional Austrian food for Wolfgang Puck. He said he was very comfortable with goulash, and it seemed the tough spaetzle was the only real complaint. The strudel was a winner. The only knowledge I have of how difficult it is to make strudel is based on the Quickfire Challenge in Top Chef Just Desserts where the chefs -- pastry chefs! -- had to make strudel and had quite a bit of trouble keeping it together. So, I was actually fairly shocked Richard had a seemingly easy time with it. He moved on to the finale. Mazel tov, Richard!

Mike and Antonia vied for the second spot. Let's start with Mike: He decided to tweak the traditional dish a little bit, and was given that creative license by Michelle herself which was pretty cool of her. He sous-vide the chicken, which ended up not being the best idea, and made an egg yolk empanada which I thought sounded freaking delicous. As much as I love a Pillsbury biscuit (I eat it layer by layer), I would love to try one of those empanadaas. Growing up in a Jewish home, I was really amused by Chef Bernstein's story. We never made fried chicken in the house, but we had our fair share of KFC. I remember begging my mother to cook for her once -- she usually wouldn't let me because I made a mess (still am) -- and I made fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and crescent rolls. I recall getting rave reviews, but I haven't made it since. Ah, memories.

On the opposite end of the culinary spectrum, Antonia had to make traditional sashimi and rice for Morimoto. The look on Antonia's face when Morimoto was explaining his childhood was just priceless. She looked positively terrified (and confused). But I loved hearing about Morimoto's baseball past, and how his mother worked in the fish market. So, Antonia made a bento box, which is usually my go-to at any Japanese restaurant because a) it's filling and b) it lets you sample a few different things from the restaurant. She nailed the rice and some of the pickled vegetablees. but the star, the tuna, didn't go over so well. Although Antonia wisely changed course once she realized the hamachi she originally wanted to use wasn't good (thank G-d she tasted it), she mucked up the subtle tuna with too many things, and apparently the scotch bonnets (holy heat!) were just too much. The judges however needed one more challenge to decide who would move on with Richard. I was exhausted just watching the episode to this point, so I can't even imagine how the chefs mustered the strength to keep cooking. But, they did. They had to cook one bite! Although both looked a little big to me, I wanted to try both of them. Antonia stuck with a grouper dish and Mike made surf and turf. It was close, but Mike prevailed. I'm sad to see Antonia go -- I really enjoy watching her, but she's very talented, and I know she'll be just fine. Mazel tov to Mike! His winning streak in the Bahamas thus far is fairly epic, and he should be proud (and exhausted!)

Next week we see Richard and Mike go head-to-head for the ultimate win. The episode is insane, and possibly even more heartwrenching than anything we've seen yet, so grab some blood pressure medication and a box of tissues because it's a wild ride.

Until then, Have a Nosh!

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. . .  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!