Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

OK, So Jamie’s Gone: NOW What are You Mad at Me For?

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

OK, So Jamie’s Gone: NOW What are You Mad at Me For?

Tom Colicchio reveals that he's been asking for a fishing challenge for years.

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows anything about me that fishing is one of my grand passions. I’ve been campaigning the producers of Top Chef for a fishing challenge for ages, and I was so excited to finally get one this season, in Montauk, no less, where I love to fish. I can’t tell you how lucky we got that day. It was a perfect day to fish, as perfect as it gets. You must understand that when we set up a shooting schedule for the season, that’s it –- it’s set and unmovable. If the weather had been nasty and uncooperative, or had there been one or more of the various factors such as the phase of the moon that adversely affect whether the fish will eat, the challenge would have failed the chefs.

We lucked out. As I said, the conditions were perfect, the chefs caught a variety of fish, and they caught a lot of them. As for Dale’s fish, I don’t think the editors quite realized what a big deal that catch was. That fish weighed 37 pounds. It was a trophy fish –- the catch of a lifetime! When folks have a good day on a boat, the captain justifiably considers the catches his/her catches, too, and believe me when I tell you that folks throughout the area heard about that fish –- the captain of Dale’s boat spread word about it!

Kerry Heffernan was the perfect guest judge for this particular challenge. My friend of 20-plus years and my fishing partner, Kerry probably knows more about fish than just about any chef out there. He’s very, very knowledgeable about the various species, about fish conservation, and, of course, about their preparation. It was a treat to have him judge this episode.

As soon as we were through introducing the challenge and the chefs had gone out on their two boats, Kerry and I headed out to a different area to fly fish for false albacore, which you don’t eat –- you throw them back unharmed. And periodically we would head over to the chefs’ boats to see how they were doing. Some of the footage of them was shot from a crew on our boat.When I’m fishing for food, though, I am sure only to keep what can be used. One of the reasons I wanted a fishing challenge is that when you catch and then take the life of what you eat to feed yourself, you have a very different respect for it than you might have had previously. You realize that something shouldn’t die and then go to waste. You also realize that conservation is so important. Back when I was fishing with my grandfather in the '70s and '80s, striped bass such as the ones caught by our chefs were in such decline. Ironically, it was the rise in PCBs in the Hudson that helped bring them back here. General Electric was dumping PCBs in the Hudson to the point where the level of PCBs in stripers was too high for them to be eaten. Robert Kennedy, Jr. was very active in bringing about the reduction of PCBs in the Hudson by prosecuting corporate polluters.   The striped bass continued to proliferate all the while they weren’t commercially viable, though, and their numbers came back. Meanwhile, regulations were put in place to further protect them.  In New York State below the George Washington Bridge, you’re prohibited from keeping anything under 28 inches long. So we just don’t keep the smaller ones. I personally will keep one striper, knowing that I will keep some for myself and my family and will give the rest to others.

I thought the challenge was great and that the chefs overall did a very good job. Did you notice the chefs’ enthusiasm about the farmer’s market? They were so excited to be buying produce that had just been picked that morning. This is Chef Geekdom on display –- this is what jazzes us. Angelo was on the mark when he said that the market’s offerings were dictating what dish to create. Once you’re an accomplished cook, this is how you cook. Chefs don’t work from recipes; they’re just cooking. It’s not about the recipe –- it’s about the produce, about what’s in season. The yield will speak to you, and if you know what to do with it, a great dish will emerge.

Part of knowing what to do with your options is knowing what you’re cooking for. This was a beach challenge, with the very freshest of fish and produce. The dishes need not have been overly complicated, as Richard, Marcel, and Fabio’s was. The dish was overly complex, to its own detriment. With fish that fresh, you want to highlight the fish.Jamie professed to want to do that, but when you’re cooking with minimal amounts of ingredients, everything has to be really good. The food must be seasoned perfectly –- you can’t hide behind anything, can’t mask anything with a saucy sauce. The fish was pristine; it must then have been properly fileted, cooked, and seasoned. Jamie’s was just bland; it was waterlogged. The cucumber water didn’t do anything for the fish. She needed to add some sharp acid, and to brighten it up with some herbs. The fish wanted it, but she didn’t do it.

Tiffani’s dish just disappointed. It went too far in the other direction: Far from bland, it was far too fishy because she left in the bloodline. I tried to point out her mistake to her during my walkthrough, asking specifically, “You’re leaving that in there?” but it went right over her head. This is probably why most people don’t like bluefish –- most places that serve it probably mistakenly leave in the bloodline. I’m surprised that Tiffani is gone so soon –- I thought she would have gone a lot farther in this competition. I did think her comments in her exit interview were very gracious and showed real growth, and I know she will continue to do very well as a chef as she goes forward.

Contrast with Richard, Marcel, and Fabio’s overly complex dish with Antonia’s Po' Boy. It was my favorite dish of the evening. It was just what you’d expect from a great fried fish sandwich, with beautifully fileted and prepared fish and a good amount of acid and relish. Once again, a chef in this competition has proved that if you give us a great rendition of a simple dish, it will resonate with us. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just good. As Richard, Marcel, and Fabio showed, fancy but less than good doesn’t fly. It wouldn’t have, even had we not been on the beach, seeking beach-appropriate food.Dale’s taco was conceived in the spirit of the circumstances, and, like Antonia’s Po' Boy, was beautifully executed. But Carla’s clever take on New York’s smoked fish and a bagel edged out Dale’s taco. Bluefish has enough fat in it to carry the smoke flavor –- smoking that fish was a smart way to go, and then Carla took a smart idea and elevated it to witty… and her perfect execution cinched the win.

For more about Top Chef and other topics, follow me on Twitter:  tom_colicchio.

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Hugh Acheson wonders about the health of the kids at Emerson College and debates the cost of roasting that much foie gras.

In this, the tenth episode of this 12th season, we open in the kitchen of the chefs super secret lair. Katusji has taken his wit, wisdom and wherewithal back to his Kosher Japanese Cal-Mex empire to work on a masa matzoh ball taco. He is described as "the most loveable dick in the entire world," which seems pretty on point. These remaining five seem saddened because Katsuji provided respite from the drudgery of competition. They mourn as well, because all understood, though it was never talked about, like a solemn vow, that they could all beat Katsuji in this cooking game. He was the San Diego Padres of Top Chef, the team that all the other competition knew would be an easy beat when the time came.

So the quintet of Mei, Gregory, Dougeeeee, Melissa and George remain. They are all have the stuff that could allow them to win the dough, but Mei and Gregory have really shown that if we must have hierarchy then they are the top two contenders.

Quickfire begins with Andy and his college roommate. Andy just told the roommate that those "games" they played late at night in their bunkbeds WILL be talked about in his next book, so Dave, you have some explaining to the wife and kids. Andy, we are told, is "known for his antics." That he is.

Andy exorts the contestants to hook up with each other and I immediately think of Dougie spooning with Georgie. I then have to wash my eyes out with steel wool and bleach to remove the image. This hurts and still the image remains.

Padma gets Andy back on task and she introduces the Quickfire. It is a collegiate showdown of ramen proportions but the catch is that they must use the contents of the fridge of some poor frosh. Out come the stoner, the nerd, the sorority girl, the lady who should have graduated in '05 and one other innocuous soul. Their fridge contents make me worry about a scurvy outbreak at Emerson College.

We are regaled with stories of the craziest things they all did in college. Melissa built a 24-story beer bong. I went to school in Montreal so my craziest times were hanging out at Biftek on St. Laurent and getting drunk playing pool. Oh wait, I DID THAT EVERY NIGHT until I dropped out of college. Luckily I had some cooking skillz.

Gregory concocts a bacon, Doritos, leftover pizza broth, and I am immediately worried about the future of our country. Dougie has made a Cobb salad ramen with a "coconut-pineapple" broth, and I start looking for my Canadian passport. George, who has no idea what ramen is, 'cause Mike Isabella has never let him out before, is cobbling together a version of SpaghettiOs 2.0s. It has a hint of hot dog, but so does Andy, so this may be well liked. Melissa is making a "Crunchy Carbonara Ramen" which is probably already dispensed out of a coin machine in Tokyo and actually sounds pretty tasty. There is hope. Mei makes a smoked tomato miso with upcycled sushi. Sounds okay, so I stow the passport back and the "go bag."

There is no immunity but the winner gets 5K. Not bad for fifteen minutes of work/fame. Bottoms are Mei and Dougie. Tops are Gregory and George with Melissa winning this murky challenge.

They go to the little room of stewage and watch Julia Child. Then Jacques Pepin stops by and everyone gasps in amazement. I do too because if you don’t love Pepin you are not a nice person. He da bomb.

The Elimination Challenge is to come up with a dish inspired from Julia's cooking. Three hours to cook and one hour to finish on site tomorrow. They chat with Jacques for a while to learn the secrets of Julia, other than the fact that she was totally a CIA spy.

Doug is silent because of where he comes from. Texas shrugs as he says, "I grew up in East Texas and here I am meeting Jacques Pepin." Then he follows this ode to the state of Texas with, "I am from Texas so I can't pronounce things very well." C'mon Doug, your state gave us that Rick Perry character! He's fun to watch!

Doug is insistent on making a whole roasted foie gras. George is braising some veal and presenting it with some vegetables and pommes puree. There is some French going on around here. Melissa is challenging herself with shortribs. Mei is making duck a l'orange but you know it will show off some of herself. You can't spell Mei without ME. Gregory is making Coq au Vin. Tom wanders in during cooking to advise them to channel Julia and then they all try to sound like Julia. None of them will ever be known for their impersonation abilities.

We eat. It's outside. It's beautiful. The diners, or the we, are Dana Cowin, Jacques, Alex Prudhomme (related to Julia), Tom, Padma, Boston chefs Barbara Lynch, Joanne Chang, Mary Dumont, and little old me. I am hungry so don't talk much.

The food is really good overall. There were some issues like drier ribs, monotonous veal, raw foie, and maybe some flabby duck skin, but pound-for-pound they did the dishes well. Tops are Gregory and Mei, and the verdict is an interesting one. Gregory nailed a classic, but it was like he channeled Julia too much and did a textbook version, while Mei nailed a riff on a dish with her duck a l'orange. It is arbitrary who should win but Mei pulls it off and wins a just decision.

Not so arbitrary but still close is the bottom trio of Melissa, George, and Doug. Melissa erred in rib cookery. George cooked stunning veg but it was the veal that was a yawn. Alas, Doug bows out with his dish, a dish that he had never done but dreamed about. You don't just do roasted whole lobes of foie at the restaurant you work at, cause the owner chef would probably stab you if you ruined the 300 bucks in product. But this is TV money so he took a chance. The problem is that cooking whole foie is tricky. You can''t sear it too much or you will render away the beauty, and then you need to temper-roast it in a medium heat oven. Then it comes out and you rest it on a wire rack. It is pretty much served just warm. He did all of those steps, but over-seared it and then cooked it a hair hot, and not long enough, resultingin a greasy, yet raw internal. Funny thing is that the rest of the stuff on the plate was awesome. Well Doug, you were a favorite of ours and I wish you much success in Last Chance Kitchen.

And now we are four. Until next time.

For a good time, follow me on Twitter @hughacheson

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