Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Magical Elves' Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz: Band on the Run

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

Magical Elves' Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz: Band on the Run

The production team behind Bravo hits like Top Chef and Work of Art answer our questions about their latest project: Justin Bieber's first film.

Dan Cutforth (l) and Jane Lipsitz with Never Say Never director Jon M. Chu

Monica Reyhani: How was the premiere?
Jane Lipsitz: It was amazing. It was a purple carpet, and it was overwhelming. You know there was so much press, and screaming fans, and I mean it was a huge, huge event. And it was incredibly exciting for us.

Dan Cutforth: It was actually the first time I’ve been back to Nokia since the Emmys.

MR: I can’t even imagine what it’s like being even in his vicinity right now, with all those kids. What is that like?
JL: It’s sort of like the thing that you see in movies. We’ve all seen Hard Day’s Night. You can’t really describe it in words until you’re actually in the midst of it. I was on the road with him for two weeks when we were shooting the film, and it’s a really unique experience, and it’s an incredible moment in time for this teen idol. And I think it’s really kind of refreshing to know that in every generation, there’s still this genuine love of a pop icon. It just felt really innocent and ‘90s, really touching in a way that this is an ongoing tradition or a right of passage for young girls, teenagers.

MR: Did the fan-demonium cause any unexpected either problems or anything during production?
JL: Actually, I think our crew had an amazing time on the road, because if they just walked out, the girls were screaming at them. Our audio guy would walk down the line and just lift his hand in the air and the girls would go nuts. So I think it was a really fun experience for everyone on the road, just because by association everyone sort of became part of that, an extension of that level of fame.

MR: That poor audio guy!
JL: He loved it.

M: So the vibe on set was just really joyous?
JL: Yeah it was. Although, I will say at one point there actually was a moment at Madison Square Garden, and we saw a couple of white-faced producers come running in the door. It reached such a level of pandemonium that I think there was a moment where they were in fear for their well-being.MR: So how did this project come to you guys?
DC:...we just got a call out of the blue from Adam Goodman over at Paramount. He was someone we had known many years ago, because he asked to meet us when he was over at Dreamworks, when we had done Bands on the Run for VH1, which is actually the first show that Jane and I collaborated on. He was a big fan of that show, and so we met with him a couple of times after that. But I think we hadn’t spoken to him in probably eight or nine years, and when this project came up he felt like the sense of the musician’s life on the road that he had seen on Bands on the Run was something that he wanted to bring to this movie.

We just went in. And we were really excited about the opportunity. And we were also very well-placed to make something happen at very short notice, because we have a production company and we have people that we know we can call and get out there who will do a great job. So they had a very tight turnaround and a couple of weeks later we were in Toronto and then Jane was on the road for two weeks with the Bieber Army.

JL: ...when we got the call I was standing in the airport and was literally doing the interview with 10 Paramount executives that at the time I did not know. And I think literally two-and-a-half, three weeks later, I was back in the airport heading to Toronto. So it was quite an amazing turnaround.

MR: I know you did Air Guitar Nation -- is this your second feature?
DC: Yes it is.

MR: Are you guys looking to do more films?
DC: I think that’s something we’re definitely interested in doing more of ... we actually had a great experience doing Air Guitar Nation a few years back. And that movie actually was distributed theatrically both in the U.S. and internationally and got us a great press. We’re still paying for it. So, it was a very different experience from this. But you know, it’s funny, we had the whole kind of indie film experience, and now we’ve had this sort of incredible studio movie experience with you know the big premiere and the whole thing. It’s pretty incredible.

MR: What was it like because this film was also unique in that it's 3D. What was that experience like and do you want to do more of that? Maybe have a Top Chef 3D episode?
JL: It is fun to think about that. Honestly, director Jon Chu was really focused on the 3D elements of it, but we learned a lot from him and the experience, and it is kind of an interesting additional creative challenge to think about what’s meaningful in 3D or what’s fun in 3D versus the 2D experience.

MR: What kind of surprised you guys most about working with Justin Bieber? I’m assuming you went in with some sort of preconceived notions about what it was going to be like.
DC: I will say it: I was surprised by how prodigiously talented he is. And I mean clearly you don’t achieve that kind of success without talent, but I just didn’t know how deep it ran, and I think one of the things that’s really cool in the movie is that you get a sense of that this is a kid who’s been a really talented musician his whole life has been sort of amazing his friends and family and neighbors for years, and now he’s doing it on a global scale.

JL: I think the other thing is just seeing the juxtaposition, going literally from one minute in the arena with hundreds of thousands of screaming fans or being on stage in those huge arenas of stardom, and then stepping off and getting on a Segway and squirting water at his friends. We tried to capture it with the film, which hopefully we did. But it is really incredible -- there aren’t a lot of people in that position.MR: I think that you know something you kind of said Dan, you were sort of surprised by the skill. I think the reason a lot of our viewers watch Top Chef is they want to see really talented people. What do you think a Bravo fan, or a Top Chef fan maybe specifically, would like to see in this film or really get out of seeing this film?
DC: I feel like a lot of the shows that we’ve done have been about people in pursuit of their dreams, people with talent in pursuit of their dreams. And that’s really what this movie is about too. I think that the movie has a lot of heart and has a story to tell as well, and I think that it’s a story probably only partly familiar to a lot of the audience. You would be hard-pressed to find a more cynical group of people than the people we work with, and they literally walked out of the premiere the other night with tears in their eyes. Not even kidding. Our head of production said he cried four times during the movie. I think that people may have the expectation that this movie is sort of a kind of puff piece, or, you know, a sort of promotional tool, but we really did set out to tell a story, and I think that that’s something that I really feel that the Bravo audience will respond to.

We know from testing the movie that a lot of the kids in the test audience obviously came with their moms, primarily, and the movie really resonated with them, with parents. It really did well with them, and people who were not expecting to like the movie, liked it a lot. So, hopefully [it will surprise people], and you kind of get that tone from the reviews, that “Wow, this was actually kind of good.”

JL: I went to the New York premiere and a lot of my friends and family that were there, they all walked out of it saying, “I’m totally converted. I would recommend this movie to my friends with kids and my friends without kids.” And it was a really good feeling because I think that our goal is the same as with Top Chef, that we try to tell good stories, and we hope that that’s what this movie will deliver. And honestly, it’s a feel-good movie, it really is. And you know you can’t help it, his music is so catchy that you love the music as well by the end of the show.

MR: Well I wanted to ask, you know you guys obviously had to listen to a lot of his music. Do you have a favorite song?
JL: I like “One Time” which is his first single, and I also love “Dance with Her?” which is his ballad, which is at the end of the movie, which brings tears to my eyes.

DC: I don’t know why I answer this question truthfully because it makes me sound so lame, but my favorite song is “One Less Lonely Girl.”

MR: There’s no shame in that. If you could give any Top cheftestant, or judge, the Bieber haircut, who would it be?
DC: I have to go Colicchio.

JL: Oh yeah definitely.

DC: Maybe Mike Isabella.MR: Speaking of Top Chef, we’re halfway through All-Stars and the fans are loving it. What do you think of the season so far?
DC:I love it. I mean it’s always sort of hard to say, but I feel like this might be my favorite season of the show ever. Obviously the cast is incredible, but I feel like we’re really proud of the creative that we put together this season, and the challenges that we had them do. And it was funny, so many of the chefs came back and said at the end of this all that this was like boot camp in a great way, that it stretched them in ways that they didn’t think, it stretched them to do things that they didn’t think they were capable of. They absolutely really loved and embraced the challenges. It was just really a fun season on every level. It’s been a really fun season.

JL: I think it’s also nice to have a season that you feel has a lot of energy around it in the public eye. You can feel a positive buzz and a big energy around a particular season.

MR: Do you have any sort of production secrets from the film that you can divulge? That maybe people might not know while they’re watching?
JL: It was pretty down and dirty. We were running. For being a huge studio picture, it was a lot of run and gun, and back to basics. The way it was shot was just as similar, ironically, to Bands on the Run, which is why we were brought in in the first place. It all came full circle.

MR: Did this change anything about the way you might produce things in the future? Anything you learned from this production because it was on a such bigger scale?
JL: Anytime you do something in a different genre, it just makes you think about the way you do storytelling, and thinking about original ways to tell stories or multiple voices. It was a really amazing experience for us. I think we learned a lot from the experience, and we hope we can bring that to our television production as well.

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!