Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Just a Fan

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

Dookie Chase Makes Everybody Cry

Just a Fan

Eric Ripert isn't a judge this season, but he is ready to comment on the All-Stars.

Full transcript after the jump!Hello, I am Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin, and I am commenting on All-Stars New York season of Top Chef Episode 1. Since last season, I have been finishing my TV series Avec Eric on PBS. It's airing right now, all around the country. I have been promoting my new cookbook, Avec Eric, and I'm taking care of Le Bernardin, visiting my places in the Cayman Islands, Philadelphia, and Washington. It keeps me very busy.

So this season I have the luxury of being a fan and not a judge. Jennifer Carroll works with us, she is our chef in Philadelphia, and therefore I cannot judge. It would be very unfair for the other candidates and maybe even for Jenny. So I am watching it and enjoying it so far.

The first episode was very exciting. There are some great cooks, amazing personalities as we know, and I am almost jealous that I am not going to be with them during the season. But at the same time I have a different way of seeing the show, and it's definitely entertaining.

Well of course Jen is our chef, and we wish her the very best. But many of them are really great cooks, and they're doing very well in their restaurants and have proven in the past that they are great cooks, so I don't really have a favorite. I'm waiting to see what's going to happen. Last season in Singapore Angelo got sick in the finale. He maybe could have done better, we don't know. So he's back, I'm glad to see him back. Jen is one of my favorites. I don't want to say too many names. We'll see how it goes.

In the Quickfire, I think Michael Isabella and Jenny did pretty well. It was well thought out, the Las Vegas kind of Mafia, Italian influenced menu that they did. It looked pretty good. I haven't tasted it, so I don't know how it was, but I trust the fact that they did a good job in terms of flavors. Chicago won and they're dish looked pretty good. I liked the idea of the mustard ice cream, it was a good twist, something interesting.

Marcel was paired with Elia, and I thought they did something interesting with the shrimp and the guacamole and the apple taco. It looks like they didn't taste their food. That was very unfortunate, because Tom I think told them it was bland, but that could have been a winner.

So Jamie didn't really want to work with the group. She was very individualistic in her approach, and she did a good soup I think. Tom liked that soup a lot. However that dish became very disconnected. I think it's a shame, because I think if they had worked as a group, they could have made it work better and maybe won the Quickfire.

Interesting Quickfire, interesting reunion. I like the conviviality of the group right now. As we know, it's going to disintegrate very soon. Right now everything's fine.

The Elimination Challenge is very clever, and they have to do something very painful, which is to use the ingredients or the recipe that sent them home. On top of it while they are cooking, part of the group is eating and criticizing them, and that is definitely setting the tone. We are starting to see some harsh criticism. We are starting to see some very emotional reactions. As a viewer it is very enjoyable obviously, but obviously being there must be nerve racking. Elia didn't want to hear what was going on on the TV. I don't know why, she seems to be very sensitive about criticism. She seems to be very defensive when someone talks about her food, and I remember myself judging one episode in the Los Angeles season where she was also very defensive on my comments. And she seems to be the same, nothing has changed. Fabio was very sensitive about the criticism of Anthony of his dish. And he was very animated and very critical and attacked Anthony. He basically blamed him for making fun of him and criticizing his dish without being constructive. Anthony, you cannot do that! You have to be a nice gentleman. In Washington, Anthony was making fun of me because supposedly I was the evil man and he decided to be very nice, so, Anthony, I'm giving it back to you. Be careful! But I think Anthony was right about the criticism of the presentation. As a viewer, the pasta didn't look good. The fact that it was on paper … Why was it on paper? It doesn't help, it doesn't do anything to it. And I would say, Fabio, watch out, because Anthony is married to an Italian lady and she knows her pasta and Anthony knows his pasta now.

Stephen was all over the place. He had a lot of dishes to prepare, and he was not ready, and he almost didn't make it actually. I think it's a miracle he was selected to go to the next episode. He very well could have been eliminated by not being focused and not being ready on time.

So Richard did a good job. The dish seems to be fantastic, it looks fantastic. I liked the technique that he was using also. But he didn't plate on time and therefore was disqualified. It's the rules of Top Chef, you have to be ready when it's time, exactly like if it's a restaurant. You have to be ready when the clients want to eat. He lost an opportunity to win, but I think we will se a lot of successful dishes coming from him.

So Jamie was eliminated at Le Bernardin with the black bass, the braised celery, and the Serrano ham sauce. And she hated our dish, and I respect that very much, some people don't like certain dishes. It happens in every restaurant. We are probably not her style. I'm happy that Jamie has mastered many of the skills that she didn't have before, because I recall seeing Jamie struggling at Le Bernardin filleting fish. She didn't know how to filet a black bass, and she spent most of her time filleting the fish. That day she actually burned the sauce at Le Bernardin, and there was black smoke coming out of the pan. This time she seems to have mastered the sauce, so that's definitely an improvement. And as for the braised celery, which was absolutely inedible because of the salt content, she seems to have found a way finally to braise celery and make it acceptable. I congratulate Jamie and wish her a great season. I see that her knife skills have been improved, although we have to see for the rest of the season how much she has improved those knife skills.

So Angelo won, and he did one of the dishes that I actually tried in Singapore during the finally. That dish was actually pretty good in Singapore. I guess he perfected it and made it even better, and therefore he won that challenge.

Elia went home and her fish was raw. It's a no-no. You cannot send raw fish to anyone. She did not think about tasting the dish. It is very surprising, because if you do not think about tasting your food as a chef, how can you know if it's going to taste good or not for your clients? It's very sad to see her go so early, she's obviously very sad and humiliated by that. But someone has to go, and I think if she did the worst job, which is to serve raw fish when it's supposed to be cooked, she deserved to go home.

I am Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin, and I was commenting on Episode 1 of Top Chef All-Stars season in NY. Next week I will be commenting on Episode 2. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I would be happy to answer them.

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!