Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Shot with His Own Gun aka The Best Laid Plans

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

Shot with His Own Gun aka The Best Laid Plans

Anthony Bourdain thought this episode would suck, but as he admits, he was wrong.

Anyone for tennis?

I was watching from home this week and I'll tell you straight off: I thought this episode was going to suck. Early on, as I got the idea that somehow "tennis" and "Swanson" were going to be involved, I reached blindly for the bong. Tennis is about as interesting to me as golf. And I find golf as deeply fascinating as what a Kardashian might say next. Coming up bong-less, a Louboutin Barbie (those spike heels hurt if you don't pick up em just right) snapped me back to reality. Wrapping my wound, I dug in for what I assumed would be an hour of painfully obtrusive corporate tie-ins and silly themes: "Using only a hot plate and the thawed contents of these Hungry Man Dinners, you have 20 minutes to feed 200 drunk-ass tennis fans -- and special guest, Bindi Irwin!"

How wrong I was!

Instead, it was classic Top Chef! A slaughterfest! A high pressure face-off in which the tennis theme served as model in only the best possible way: chef against chef. And in the end, only skill, ability and endurance --not strategy, not guile, not luck --prevailed. The best food won.

Instead of the worst -- this was in fact the best kind of Top Chef: Skill-based, gimmick-free, requiring the cheftestants to draw on all their talents at cooking, work under pressure, and at end of day, (hopefully) make smart, delicious food that tasted right for the situation.

What we got to see -- as we do in only the best challenges -- is who these chefs really are. We got to lift their skull-tops and peer inside for a second, examine their true natures (and how deep their skills). This was a very revealing episode. There was heroism, drama, cowardice, bloodshed, suspense, and conspiracy. And at end of day, an unexpected victor emerged from the carnage, clambered out of the rubble with a knife between her teeth to claim victory.Was Marcel wearing a "Members Only" jacket in the confessional? Are they coming back? I'm confused.

Casey made what can only be described as a "deconstructed" stuffing, a decision that would have worked only if Santa Claus was a communist.

Carla's "Un Done-tay" quinoia was certainly an inauspicious beginning to the day. But she managed to bounce back (big time) from this hilarious mea culpa in Elimination Round.
 
Fabio improvised a polenta and cheese stuffing by grating cheese on a wire rack shelf, congratulating himself while doing it by commenting "That is genius!!" No, Fabio. Actually, that is "clostridium perfringens," the third most common cause of food poisoning.

Tre's Southwestern, cornbread stuffing won the QF -- immunity and $20K. I, of course, (as the father of a little girl) was rooting for him from afar. Two girls? He'll be needing that money.

Things started to get really interesting after the Elimination Challenge was announced. Spike suddenly reverted to Sneaky Spike of years past, enlisting his team on a High Security Secret Mission to outwit, outflank and out-strategize the opposing team. Of tantamount importance to his Master Plan, however, was that Jamie -- who it was assumed would make a crappy dish -- would go first, putting her presumably lame-o offering up against one of the opposing team's stronger efforts, thereby causing them to "waste" it. One would think that Jamie would feel slighted by the near instananeous assumption by her teammates that she was incapable of coming up with anything worthwhile. But no.

"Whatever," says our hero. "If I can avoid fighting, I'm going to avoid fighting."

Jamie might actually be the most brilliant of all the contestants. At the end of this episode she will have survived THREE weeks without cooking anything other than a quick tomato soup. Her strategy seems to actually be: "If I can avoid cooking, I'm going to avoid cooking." And it appears to be working. As the tension mounted, The Artist Formerly Known as Angry Dale doubted Carla's spicy peanut soup. But she persisted. Then she neatly whacked off half her fingernail. Let me tell you, I've had the same injury on any number of occasions. And that f---ing HURTS. But Carla, unlike the previous patient, tells the medic to shove off, wraps her finger up and soldiers on -- referring to her wound as "an inconvenience." I need not pursue this subject, I think. Res Ipsa Loquitor. The thing Speaks For Itself. Carla? Rottweiler. Jamie? Malingerer.

First match-up and suddenly, Jamie refuses to even go in the tank for her team. Her chickpeas aren't cooked. As anticipated, she has nothing to serve. According to Spike's master plan, she was supposed to take a dive, but now, she doesn't even manage to make it into the ring to take one for the team. It doesn't matter. Fabio triumphantly beats Casey with his gnocchi -- taking what looks like a victory leap over the net. Nice to see Fabio so unabashedly happy for a change.

Tiffany F. whupps No-Longer-Angry Dale by a mile.

Marcel, dutifully doing the producer's bidding by jacking up the drama quotient in confessional, describes walking out on the tennis court by saying he "felt like a gladiator entering an arena." To which I'd suggest, "Not in that jacket."

Angelo, whose mackerel has gone mysteriously slimy, tries to beg some salmon off of Tre, who wisely rebuffs him. He then edges Marcel with some borrowed tuna -- possibly because Marcel has chosen to put cream in his tuna dish.... Other than vitello tonnato, I'm having a hard time thinking of a tuna preparation that is improved by the addition of cream. But I guess anything is possible.

Tiffany Derry falls to Antonia -- who I like more than ever since her remark early in the show that her chosen sport in high school was "smoking a lot of pot." At which point we arrived at one of the more epic, nay -- Shakespearean -- moments in the history of Top Chef: The moment where Spike was defeated by himself, where the dark prince and conniver fell victim to his own web of deceit, the puppetmaster overwhelmed by his presumed puppets.

I underestimated Spike after his first appearances on the show. I applauded his guile, his stealth, his craftiness. He seemed -- then -- to make up for what he lacked in cooking skills with shrewdness, cleverness, and tactics. But I have since come to learn that he is also a very, very talented cook (and businessman). So far this season, he's been straight up cooking -- and doing mostly very well. He outwitted himself this week in the confusion of battle. Too busy looking at the big picture, he allowed the hyperactive Angelo to roll right over him. Suddenly, Angelo was lovingly inserting some unwanted "yuzu gelee" into Spike's dish -- and Spike, preoccupied managing the Eastern Front, perhaps -- or blinded by the Fog of War -- let it happen! In the end, he outsmarted himself. How did this happen?

I'm sure Spike will be asking the same question of himself for some time. God knows the warning signs were there. When Angelo starts talking about putting something "in" your food, it pays to be wary. He's always going on about putting "love" in his food -- and I've never been entirely convinced there's not actual penetration involved. The fault, dear Spike, lies not in the stars -- but in ourselves. Forget about strategy. You should have just cooked. You're good. Not that that's gonna make you feel any better. You will have to console yourself, I guess, with a wildly successful and rapidly expanding business empire.

What made ME feel good this week was the seeing chronically underestimated Carla walk away with the Big Win. Against all odds. Against the advice of those who doubted her choice of dish, who doubted her, she stuck with her plan. Never wavered. While sporting a painful finger wound that would have sent lesser mortals running off to the hospital, she showed us all what a professional is. Nicely done!

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!