Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

What a S--t Show!

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

What a S--t Show!

Eric Ripert commends Tom Colicchio and breaks down the disastrous Elimination Challenge.

Full transcript after the jump.

Hi I'm Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin, commenting on Episode 5 of 'Top Chef All-Stars' New York. 

I was very impressed with the Quickfire and seeing Tom. I think it was a big surprise for everyone to see Tom come in and embrace the challenge, which was to cook something delicious in a very, very fast pace, a very timely manner. Tom, he can still kick ass. He's very precise as you can see on the show. And when we look at it, he's very fast, he's very organized, he's very focused, and at the end he created a dish in 8 minutes and 37 seconds which is very, very fast paced. It's exactly like being a line cook. Actually it's more challenging than being a line cook during service, because he had to filet his fish, he had to open his clams, so he had to do a lot of extra work compared to a line cook. And obviously he is the winner of the Quickfire.

Angelo, Jamie, and Dale are in the bottom of the challenge. Angelo, despite what Tom said about not doing raw fish, decided to do raw fish, which is kind of taking it easy on the challenge because 8 minutes to do a raw fish is really easy going. 

Jamie was challenged by the timing, and basically what she can provide is one clam. And the clam doesn't look too happy. It's a sad dish, so she's in the bottom unfortunately. 

Dale was ambitious and tried to make his own pasta, but unfortunately his dish looks really terrible. It's actually one noodle with kind of a strange color sauce, which doesn't seem to taste too good. He's actually embarrassed himself. And at the end of the day they are all at the bottom. 

On the top we can see Mike, Marcel, and Richard. Marcel was very clever by going to Tom's station and picking up his fish while everyone is fighting by the fridge. That saved him a lot of time I think. And to make a good dashi in such a short period of time is an accomplishment, and I think the dish looks good. The judges were pretty happy, Padma and Tom were pretty happy about it. 

The foie gras looked very good as well, and I'm sure it was delicious. Richard made a sauce with his foie gras, he had time to do that. He presented it well. It was very nicely made.

And then Mike made a bronzino with capers and olives. It looks like in terms or harmony of flavors, combinations of colors, and presentation, and so on, and even technique, he deserved the prize. So he's going home with a Toyota Prius. 

So the Elimination Challenge is a sh-t show. And seriously, it's a tough challenge for the contestants, and they are obviously a bit lost. But it's really tough. They have to expedite, they have to present the food to the tables, and they still have to cook downstairs the food for themselves and for the guys upstairs. It's very difficult to do that, especially with food that you are not necessarily familiar with. Dale is familiar with that kind of food, but when you look at Fabio he has no idea what Chinese food is about. So that challenge is probably the toughest of the season so far from what I see.

So Casey is very adventurous, and I admire her courage to take chicken feet and decide to make them delicious. And she goes and discovers that she has to cut the nails, and she spends hours cutting nails of the chicken giving them a manicure. And not only that, but she volunteered to be upstairs pushing the cart, so someone else is going to execute her dish. At the end of the day, chicken feet are already challenging for a lot of people to eat. So she didn't choose an easy ingredient, and she was very courageous. I think she's leaving the competition of 'Top Chef' with a lot of glory actually on her way out. I congratulate her for being such a courageous chef. 

So Jamie's paired with Antonia, she would love to cook some scallops for the dim sum. They are going to do some string beans together. And it turns out that the scallop dish is not really a winner. The string beans are very greasy, or they look very greasy. Supposedly the taste is not right either. And even Jamie is disappointed with her dish, and so she thinks that she's going home. But Jamie is safe, because I think her dish, even mediocre, is better than the chicken feet. So she's going to the next challenge. 

So Angelo and Dale are familiar with Asian food, so I'm not surprised to see them at the top and for Dale to win the challenge. Dale knows how to cook rice for sure, and he found a very original way to present it and to give flavor to his sticky rice. 

Angelo is having fun with making a shrimp spring roll, and it looks like it was delicious. All the judges are happy with the dish. The surprise is actually Fabio, who actually surprised himself. He was happy because he made a great, tasty dish although he was very scared with the ovens not being perfect for what he wanted to do. He could have even maybe won that challenge, which would have been quite an accomplishment for an Italian to win a Chinese challenge. 

So Susur Lee is a great chef, highly respected in our industry, and he definitely knows Chinese food. He has been very famous for having a great restaurant in Toronto in the past and one in New York. He is very familiar with Hong Kong and Chinese cooking. And I think his comments are –- they are very, very short but they are very constructive and very technical at the same time. So for the viewer it is definitely a big advantage to have him commenting on the dishes. 

I am Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin, commenting on Episode 5 of 'Top Chef All-Stars' in New York City.

 

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!