Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

I Have No Soul.

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

Fin, Found, Floundering

What Danny Meyer Taught Gail Simmons

'Top Chef' Goes to Hog Heaven

Gris Gris Boucherie Ya Ya

Brian and Travis' Dud Spuds

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 Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

So she's going to take more time shopping at Whole Foods -- and ask for the best of Melissa's basket and Adam's shrimp.

Bravotv.com: Let's dive right in. How did it feel to go shopping?
Gail Simmons: Shopping at Whole Foods was fantastic and hilarious. It made us realize that you need to be strategic, which was the point of the exercise for us. They gave us 30 minutes, but we took a little longer. We didn't let the producers push us around! We’re not contestants and we weren't going to stand for it! So, you realize how little time you have, and how big Whole Foods can be. You spend a lot of time running around.

 

My strategy with my pantry was to get a lot of fresh, delicious food that you can cook in lots of different ways. A good balance of proteins, fish, fruits, vegetables, spices, fresh herbs, grains. But I didn't want to get too much. Everyone has different strategies; Padma got a ton of different ingredients. Tom's pantry was very pared down. Richard and I were somewhere in the middle.

 

Bravotv.com: Let's start by talking about the two dishes that came from your pantry?
GS: Katsuji and Melissa. They used the same protein, but their dishes were very different. They both used shrimp which one of the proteins that I bought. I bought something else too, something that I know has given people trouble in the past (which is why I specifically chose it) -- chicken wings. And I really wanted people to use them. Instead, they chose the easy way out because shrimps cook quickly.

Melissa's used a lot of fresh vegetables, which I was hoping she would: dill, mint, artichoke. I was so excited about all of it. I think it was beautifully done, a lovely salad with that little shrimp on top with spiced yogurt. But it was just a salad with a quick-cooking seafood. It was so similar to what she had done in Restaurant Wars when she made a scallop with grapefruit salad. I believe she could have done so much more. Melissa keeps saying she wanted to focus on her knife skills, and, of course, your knife skills have to be precise. But I need to see more than just knife skills. I want to see cooking skills, I want to see roasting skills, braising skills. I want to see her hands get a little dirtier and her dishes not be as superficial. It was a light, lovely dish. I was happy to eat it for lunch. But when you're competing against six other really talented chefs, we all want to see a little more depth. Katsuji on the other hand went big. He used his ingredients in a really powerful way. The potato salad, the poached shrimp had bold seasoning and I loved how they went together. It was a great dish. It may not have been the best of the day, but I was actually really happy with what he chose to make.

 

Bravotv.com: So for the rest, let's talk about who was on top and who was on bottom.

GS: At the top there was Gregory who really was going for Padma's heart there. He did great with his coconut milk curry. A really balanced, powerful dish. But it's something we’ve seen from Gregory many times in the past. In fact, in the first challenge he made a similar spicy curry dish with chicken. As much as we thought it was a delicious bowl of food, it was so typical of what we expect from Gregory. George's food was really exciting for us. This was my first time tasting his food and meeting him on Top Chef. He did a great job. The kebab was moist, seasoned really well, and the lentils were beautiful too. My only small issue with the dish is I couldn't understand why he separated the lentils from the kebab in two separate dishes. Why not put lentils on the plate and the kebab right on top, with a dollop of the yogurt? It seemed a little bit disconnected to me. But all-in-all, a really strong dish. Doug had the winning dish of the night. He used Richard's crazy pantry in a way that I thought was smart, clear-cut, and creative. The chorizo and mussels and peppers, just how Tom said, go together well, as do the cauliflower and the garlic. There was sweetness, there was spice, it was light and fresh but had a soulful, rustic flavor we all loved. You could see use of technique. On the bottom were dishes that tried to stretch and didn’t come through. Mei did a great job overall, except her lamb was undercooked. You want lamb medium, medium rare, but the center of that meat was raw to the point where the texture was chewy and almost cold. It would have been better if she had been able to cook it five minutes longer. We talked about Melissa's mistakes already, which also landed her on the bottom. I totally applaud Adam for trying to make a quick-flash marinade. He's been in the middle for so long and he thought "I gotta go big or I gotta go home." He tried to go big and unfortunately, he went home because of that technique. I get the idea of what he was doing, I don't doubt that it could've been successful if it were perhaps done in a different setting, with a little more control. But the flash marinade of his shrimp did not cook it as needed. It was still grey, it was still raw, and the texture of raw shrimp is not appealing. It's squeaky, it's squishy, and it becomes sort of mushy. We wanted it firm and cooked through. It's not like fish that you can eat sashimi-style Unfortunately Adam's hard work, his big risk sent him home.

I will miss him. I think he's an incredibly articulate, clever chef. I think he has an extraordinary career ahead of him. I'm excited to see him back in New York City. I can't wait to eat his food again. Also I want to say of this entire episode that was it was thrilling to see our superfans in the kitchen. We've never let people come into the kitchen in that way before, even though people ask us all the time. It brought so much good energy to have basically a live audience with us for the day. Everyone was so psyched. It was amazing to be around people who really love the show, to let them eat food from our talented chefs. SO much fun!