Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

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

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's Senior Editor is a little too excited about the new season.

Yes my little blog all-stars, this season is truly my beautiful dark twisted fantasy. (And I must confess that I'm also listening to Kanye's new album while I write this.) I can't describe the feeling I got when I first heard this season's theme. I got chills. My eyes got wide, and I lost it. For a Top Chef fanatic like myself, there's really nothing more exciting than an all-star season, so it is with great pride and a general 14-year-old-girl zeal that I write my first blog of the season.

I love all these chefs, but I have to admit I was most excited to hear that Marcel was coming back. I didn't watch Season 1 until the finale, but would race home to watch Season 2, and it was because of Marcel. I can fairly say that he is the reason I'm obsessed with the show, which is the reason I'm obsessed with Bravo, which is the reason I applied for a job here. So, I guess you can thank/blame Marcel for that. While many viewers and even some all-stars think Marcel's immature, I've always thought he was misunderstood. But, hey, Pete Campbell is also my favorite character on Mad Men -- are you recognizing a pattern?!

At the start, the chefs all meet at their home-away-from-home and we learn a few things:
1. Fabio's new 'do will probably be polarizing, but I'm on Team Long Hair!
2. Tre is lookin' goooood. (I saw him at the shoot for the new season, and I can confirm he looks as good in real life.)
3. Antonia and Spike may get into it.
4. Marcel and Fabio may get into it.
5. "Interesting? That's the kiss of death." I love Carla. Hootie-hoo!
5. Fabio will probably have the best lines of the season. Here's a quick taste so far:
    - "We're going up, but it feels like we're going to hell."
    - "I'm like the underdog. Italian dog ... good one."
    - "I squashed my balls on Season 5, and that's not going to happen."

Well, I probably could've done without that last bit, but I'll take it. Also, is it just me or does Fabio seem a little more sarcastic this time around? I just want to give him a hug.

So, after all the not-so-pleasantries, the chefs get down to work in their Quickfire Challenge, where they work in teams based on their season, making foods inspired by where their season was filmed. There were only two dishes that gave me pause: 1. Richard's mustard ice cream could've gone either way. While I obviously have all the faith in the world in Mr. Blais, Tom likes simple food, and he could've thought there was no added value in the molecular gastronomy. Luckily for Richard, Tom liked it enough to not only give his team the win, but to call out Richard's component for praise. The New York team didn't fare so well. Their dish sounded sketchy from the start in that the challenge was a team challenge, and the chefs didn't work together at all. I love Jamie, but i was a little disappointed to hear how down she was on her fellow chefs. Oh well -- I guess that's how you win shows! And considering Tom called her element of their dish out specifically as the best part, I guess her instincts are good. I wonder, though, if they had all worked togheter, how much better their overall dish would have been.

Onto the Elimination, which i'm going to assume was difficult for most of the chefs -- literally staring their failures in the face and remaking the dish that sent them home. For some of them, the dish that literally cost them the title of "Top Chef." The twist? The chefs didn't know but they'd be cooking for each other. AND the chefs would be able to hear the other chefs' comments. Yikes! While most of the chefs took it in stride, Fabio and Elia seemed to have particular trouble with the critiques. Elia couldn't even watch it. Apparently Elia knew something we didn't, because her dish was not received well, and she was the first of the chefs to go home. Although she felt embarrassed going home first, I would say to her that it's probably better to be on the bottom of the very best, if that makes any sense. It didn't? Oh well. Fabio landed on the bottom with Elia with a dish Anthony Bourdain found particularly offensive.

I would like to take this moment to talk about Anthony Bourdain for one second. When it was mentioned on an early conference call about the new season that Bourdain might be joining, I nearly had a coronary. The man could probably just go by one name, "Bourdain" -- he's that awesome. Men love him. Women love him. I'm sure most of the animal kingdom loves him too. As a young and naive editor at it was my privilege to receive his blogs each week for posting. Unless I'm re-writing history I think his blog may have been my idea. I figured, hey, I'm a fan and I want to hear more from him, I bet others do too. I am so excited that he's back blogging for the site! Say what you will about his food, which I've unfortunately never had the pleasure of eating, but the man can write. So, welcome, Anthony -- or, as everyone else calls him, "Tony"!
Tony certainly has a way with words. It's entertaining, it's colorful, and usually exactly what you're thinking. But, apparently Fabio didn't appreciate it this week, and spoke back to Anthony at Judges' Table. I don't know that I've ever seen Fabio that pissed. Anthony talks about the confrontation in his blog, and even says he feels bad about it! Read on... I didn't really get the whole pasta on paper thing either, but I actually kinda like crunchy greens, especially spinach. But apparently Fabio's greens were greasy.

Stephen also found himself in the bottom. Stephen cracks me up, and although I felt bad for his problems in the kitchen this week, I found it amusing. He's a little rusty, and just trying to find his bearings in the kitchen. I guess we'll find out if it ever happens for him!

Angelo won the first challenge, which is a big deal on Top Chef. As longtime fans know, many of the winners of the first challenge go on to win the whole thing. I guess we'll see if he can be a part of that legacy.

Jamie also did well, recreating a dish she hated making in the first place. Shooting Eric Ripert's vlog was particularly interesting this week because he had a few choice words for Jamie. Watch:

Remind me to tell Eric how much I love braised celery next time I see him!
Richard was also in the top, but because of those pesky rules, he was disqualified for the win. Eh, seems fair.

And then there was Spike and his frozen scallops. If I never have to hear about the frozen scallops again it will be too soon. It was a bit of a nightmare at the time, and besides, this is Top Chef, not Top Scallop!

I feel like that were a lot of hilarious things that happened in this episode because I remember giggling like a jackass when I watched it the first time, but I'm blanking! Help me out! Also, help me out by leaving comments -- reading them really makes my day.

I hope you're all as excited about this season as I am -- that "On this season of Top Chef..." was certainly intense enough.

Until next week, Happy Noshing!

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!