Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

I Have No Soul.

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

I Have No Soul.

Bravotv.com's Senior Editor didn't cry once this episode.

Hello my little Statues of Liberty! Thank you for all of your comments on last week's episode. I fear I may have incited somewhat of a comment riot against Mike Isabella, but I guess there's no going back. I will see him at the reunion taping, and I'm just hoping that he doesn't read this! I can just see it now. "So, um, Monica, you think I'm grimey?" And I'll be all "Whatever, whatever." But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

For now, let's focus on this week's challenge: the one where I didn't cry. Not one bit. At all. And where I learned that I have no soul.

For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs get on a boat traveling towards... Ellis Island (!), and are tasked in creating a dish out of the concession items laying around. They were cooking for none other than Dan Barber, one of the most recognizable figures in the world of sustainable cooking (and you know how much I enjoyed Blue Hill when I went.) The irony of Chef Barber having to eat basically nothing but preserved food was not lost on me, so, yeah, it was funny. While Tiffany and Antonia sorta stuck to thinking inside the box, Mike Isabella went for the disgusting with his bread soup. It literally looked like something you'd see at a camp lunch table. Like, at the end of the meal -- when little kids mix together all the leftovers with whatever bug juice is laying around and make the grossest mixture ever. Richard innovated the common hot dog, but Carla's orange salad prevailed. Probably should've figured it would since it seemed to be the only fresh dish offered. Richard "Debbie Downer" Blais didn't look too pleased with the defeat. He never does.But there was no time to dwell because the chefs' ultimate destination was Ellis Island where their family members were waiting for them. All of the chefs -- the exhausted chefs -- were emotional. I wasn't. But, I did enjoy seeing the private side of the five chefs. Then, they were surprised with information about their genealogy, and we learn that Antonia and Mike are related. I mean, that's just crazy. What are the odds?! Probably pretty good I guess. The chefs have to create dishes based on their background. We did this for Heritage Week in third grade, and I made a Persian rice dish. See? We can all be Top Chefs! Anyway, the judges sit at the dinner table with the chefs' families. This reminded me of the Season 6 finale where Kevin, Michael and Bryan's moms' joined the judges at the table. This seemed a little more intense, though. These relatives knew how to talk about food! Richard tweeted during the show that his wife should be at Judges' Table, and I thought, "Um, yeah, she should." She speaks so intelligently about food! I was also struck by Richard's conversation with his wife after the meal which was all about getting intel about the judges' comments. We know Richard's intense, but I guess his wife (whom I've actually met, and she's kinda gorgeous) is too -- he even mentions that she's an athlete who wants to win. They're a power couple! Um, and Carla and her husband met on Match.com?! Does that mean there's hope for me?! Maybe I should have Carla write my dating profile....

And then there was Mike's heartbreaking revelation that he doesn't cook Italian food because it reminds him of his grandmother. And, again, I didn't cry. Everyone else cried -- Gail, Andy, my editors. But not me. And I always cry! Maybe I'm still mad at Mike about last week's Quickfire? Either way, I'm a monster. It's official.

All of the chefs did such a good job that no one went home. Antonia's mom joked about a final five, and she got her wish. All of the chefs are going to the Bahamas! Although, Richard might be going with a few extra gray hairs, because Padma made him believe he was going home. Good one, Padma! All of the dishes sounded pretty hearty and delicious, but I, like Tom, don't like okra. Just the other night my best friend made gumbo with okra, and I ate around it. It was actually frozen okra, so it wasn't slimey, but something about knowing that it was once slimey, I just couldn't get behind it. Maybe I need to try Tiffany's! As I said the sign of a great chef is one that can make you like foods you thought you didn't, so I think Tiffany really proved herself with that dish.In fact, they all really proved themselves. What I found most interesting about this episode is that all of the chefs were essentially forced to cook with "soul." Cooking with soul is something that has been a sticking point with many of our chefs throughout the seasons, most notably with Hung Huynh in Season 3. Sure, the judges always knew Hung could cook, but he was criticized for not having soul, for not showing his roots. Obviously, he got over that in the finale, and won, but I wonder what would have happened had he had a challenge like this week's before the last episode. Hmmm...

Something to think about before we head to the Bahamas next week! 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.

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!