Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Falling From Grace

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

Falling From Grace's Senior Editor finds Casey's elimination sort of amusing.

Hello my little chicken feet! Before I dive in to this week's episode, just want to thank all of my faithful readers for defending me in the Comments section after my last blog. Your coming to my defense warmed my heart, but we can cut CuriousCook some slack. As a writer, I always strive to improve my skills, and realize not everyone will be down with my style. I"m obviously very casual in this blog, and appreciate readers' criticism as much as their praise.

Now, most of you probably won't understand the reference in my blog title this week to Fay Ann Lee's 2006 film, Falling for Grace, which I rented very recently. Why did I see this movie? Because Gale Harold is in it, and I was obsessed with Queer as Folk. The film deals with Chinese assimilation, and Fay Ann Lee, who is also the female lead, Grace, portrays the daughter of a restaurant owner in Chinatown. And so, the film talks a lot about food, obviously Chinese food specifically, and one of the featured dishes is chicken feet! So, Casey's dish choice struck a chord with me.

Let's start at the beginning, though -- a very good place to start. Every season we gets tons of comments and e-mails asking for Tom to compete. And he never has... until now. (Wasn't that dramatic?) Tom created a seemingly simple, yet apparently flavor-complex dish in eight minutes and 37 seconds, which is not a lot of time at all. Tom's time determined the chefs' time for creating their own dishes. I have to say I was happily surprised with most of the chefs' dishes. Dale's and Jamie's seemed like the only real failures to me. I really don't know what Dale was thinking trying to make noodles in that amount of time, but I applaud his ballsiness. I really, really wanted Marcel to win this one. He got a nice compliment from Tom about his dashi, but, alas, Mike Isabella's dish just tasted better. Marcel won in my eyes though. Not only did he show great tenacity in grabbing Tom's fish to work with, which was truly badass (and I never use that word because I hate it.) But he also won me over, once again, with comments that literally had me busting out laughing. His "Jersey accent" literally made me guffaw. And I don't guffaw easily. (OK, that's not true -- I laugh at everything, and it freaks out my fellow editors while I'm watching the episode in our shared office.)The Quickfire may have seemed tough, but it was apparently a piece of cake compared to the chefs' Elimination Challenge -- dim sum service at Grand Harmony restaurant in Chinatown. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never done proper dim sum, so this was a fairly enlightening challenge for me. Richard called it pretty early on that the whole thing would be a disaster, and boy was he right. Mike Isabella was expediting because he had immunity, but others needed to help him eventually becuase the diners were getting cranky. Poor Tom even had to enter the kitchen to tell the chefs what was what. There was so much chaos in the kitchen, and the thing that honestly pissed me off was how much kvetching was going on, instead of cooking. This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves when working in groups -- when people complain about mistakes being made before the task is complete. I always say, "Solve now, blame later!" Did I just quote myself? Ew. 

Time to break down the dishes: Not surprisingly, Angelo and Dale were on top. As Dale said, this was his challenge to lose. Tiffany Derry rocked it out with a pork bun. Just looking at the "marshmallow-y" ouside made me want a pork bun immediately. Although David Chang's are "the best," I have always preferred Hung Huynh's. They're a little more pulled pork, a little less pork belly, which means less fat in my mouth. Fabio also rocked it out with short ribs. It seems he finally got out of his own head, stepped out of his comfort zone, and succeeded. He got a nice compliment from Susur Lee, which is nothing to sneeze at.

One more quick note about Fabio: The sight of him walking his pet turtle was adorable. I had the opportunity to try turtle soup at Brennan's in New Orleans, and although I usually try to order exotic items as often as possible, I just couldn't do it. I was hungover hungry, and wanted something I knew I could/would eat. Have any of you ever had turtle soup? If so, what's it like?

Fabio's classic "Top Scallop" line was also revived this episode. Now, I know I'll get a barage of comments that Jamie, once again, should have gone home. She even admitted she thought she would. But Tom used the word "inedible" when referring to Casey's dish. Once he said that, I knew Casey was dead in the water. As soon as Casey got cut, I had visions of a "black widow" montage for Jamie at the reunion, Antonia Season 4-style. She just keeps sending people home! Carla's roll was beautiful, but apprently too noodle-y, and Antonia's shrimp toast was good, but she contributed to the poor long beans, so she found herself in the bottom. Casey, obvoiously, lost control of her dish. I don't quite get what happened in telling the others where/how to cook them (in a wok vs. a deep fryer), but it sounds like she didn't give specific instructions and that was her downfall. It's actually kind of hilarious when you think about it. Although I, Carla, and all of you have hopefully now realized that Casey wasn't responsible for Carla's Season 5 finale loss, Carla was sent home for letting someone else have too much say over her dish. Ultimately, Casey was sent home for the same thing. I will miss Casey's insightful comments this season -- she was very good about recognizing other people's weaknesses and commenting on them.

Next week, the chefs travel to my hometown of Long Island for some fishing. This should be interesting.

Oh, before I forget! I had a request from commenter Jantina to see what I ate at Blue Hill the other week. Good news: I saved my tasting menu! It's after the jump. And, I am finally dining at Ma Peche this Saturdy night, and I'll be sure to share -- in detail -- what I eat. Until then, Happy Noshing!top-chef-all-stars-team-top-chef-blog-80

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!