Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Center Will Not Hold

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

The Center Will Not Hold

Anthony Bourdain pinpoints the moment Angelo "lost it."

It is a hard thing asked of these contestants. Penned up for weeks at a time in a bunker, largely incommunicado, with only each other, boxed wine, and gallon jugs of Wolfschmitz for company, TV cameras always hovering, waiting to pounce at any moment of conflict or stress and fix them in their timeless glare. Sleep is a sometimes thing -- and likely to be interrupted at any time by Padma in a shocking print, rallying them to prepare a three-course meal using the contents of a vending machine. These contestants are tired. Isolated, sleepless, subjected to "stress positions" for long periods at a time, running on a schedule that changes capriciously and without discernible patterns, this kind of fiendish punishment can create in a subject, a weakened and vulnerable state of mind. Dick Cheney would blanche at some of the awful things we do these chefs. It's enough to crack anyone.

In the last few weeks of Top Chef, we have observed as extraordinarily gifted, experienced professionals have:

Won an Elimination Challenge with a bowl of steamed mussels.
Completely f---ed up an entire pasta course that any Italian nona could have won with a handful of boxed pasta, some good olive oil, a clove of garlic, and a few chili flakes.
Been sent home for botching a CHEESEBURGER.
Won an Elimination Challenge with a grilled cheese sandwich.
Been given the chop for screwing up what was basically a  liquified version of a baked potato you'd find made better at TGI McFunster's.

What's going ON here?

One need only look at Angelo's face in the stew room. He seemed a shrunken version of himself. Yet to  face the judges, he appeared a condemned man, waiting, ready and resigned to his fate.

These chefs are exhausted. The stress of the last few weeks has visibly ground some of them down them down to virtual nubbins. I felt sadness and enormous sympathy during the EC action, watching Carla wander through that enormous Target's empty aisles, 3 a.m., a a headless chicken blinking under the cruel, fluorescent lights. Tiffany, falling back on some hideous prepared seasoning from childhood as if drowning -- grabbing for it like a life preserver. Angelo and Mike seeking solace and security in each other's company, clinging to their fellow inmate for solace. Given their post-Gitmo state of mind, and the conditions at Camp Top Chef lately, it was an unexpected delight to see the Muppets earlier in the show. Ordinarily, I hate goofy challenges like this: fuzzy, silly, tweenie, or personality-driven guest judges. As a general rule, I'd like to see Joel Robuchon, Eric Ripert, and Grant Achatz sit in on every challenge. But this was, I thought, one of the more unexpectedly delightful QFs in Top Chef history. I tried to resist -- curmudgeonly inclined as I am -- but who among us, what hard-hearted monster could not be charmed by the sight of Richard Blais, explaining himself to Elmo? Angry Dale being heckled by furries, fighting a natural instinct to curse at the Cookie Monster? As a dad -- all too familiar with Elmo and Mr. Noodle and friends -- I was fascinated by the varied reactions as the chefs were confronted by the fact that they'd be judged by Muppets. Blais thought instantly of his own child -- and how cool he'd look later having hung with Elmo. Tiffany and Carla seemed amused. Antonia thrilled and bemused. Isabella took it in stride. Dale was understandably dismayed -- but impressively enough, went on to snatch victory from disgust. It was the expression on Angelo's face, however, that was the "tell." When he first spied the Muppets popping up from behind the table, his face fell as if punched. He looked like someone had just taken a dump on his lap. My theory is that that was the precise moment where Angelo lost it. His will to go on disappeared. From the first second he looked into those three sets of pitiless, googly eyes, he was a defeated man. He had seen the Beast. And it was brightly-colored and fuzzy.

I should interject that no one was more excited by the Great Muppet Adventure than Tom Colicchio. It was all he could talk about after. I've never seen or heard him so excited about any guest judge -- ever! And I understand now. I put off watching the QC until the very last moment -- but was  immediately charmed. And bizarrely enough, no challenge has ever shown us so unblinkingly the true characters of our contestants. As I've said, these are enormously talented people, doing a very hard thing -- under ridiculous pressure. It was great to see them have a laugh. It was great to see a few unguarded moments -- children again.

End of the day, Angelo went home. He may have been a better all-around cook than some. But his soup was far and away the worst. Top Chef is like the baseball play-offs. Doesn't matter who the better team is -- or who has the best season stats. One bad day, one booted slow roller to short, and it's all over. Richard's arepa, while ugly (and its appearance was not a factor in the judging in this case) was only slightly less tasty than Dale's soup and sandwich. Antonia's courageous and delicious soft-cooked eggs were only a hair behind Richard in their wonderfulness.

But Dale? His dish tasted the best. Was executed skillfully and innovatively. And once again, hit that sweet spot with the judges as Dale figured out just right what four jaded palates might crave at 3 a.m. in an empty Target store in New Jersey.

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!