Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Plating Personal History

Gail: I Wasn't Surprised Doug Stayed on Top

Get Doug's Masterpiece Brisket Recipe

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

Plating Personal History

Tom Colicchio reflects on the chefs' personal and emotional cooking.

If you’ve ever been to the Statue of Liberty, you surely remember the letters in the exhibit hall, the hundreds of letters from first-generation Americans telling their stories of coming to the United States, of seeing their first glimpses of Lady Liberty following long and arduous voyages, and of moving through Ellis Island, being inspected for medical issues, being questioned, and, finally, being granted entry into the United States.

Nearly everyone in the U.S. has a story, whether of his or her own journey or of that of a forbearer, and whether their ancestors came of their own volition or, as with those forcibly brought as slaves, they did not pick this land but their descendants have made it their own. Ellis Island saw 20 million immigrants pass through its portals between the years of 1892 and 1954, when it serves as a federal immigration processing center (before that, it was a base for oyster fishing and then the site of a fort). Did you know that prior to Ellis Island’s tenure as an immigration station, immigration matters were handled by the individual states? Neither did I –- my sister-in-law just told me that. Corruption was rampant, so the feds stepped in. Not that they were nicer, though. They would hand out bananas at Ellis Island to the wan and starving immigrants right after their grueling voyages across the Atlantic and would snicker as the immigrants, who had never seen the tropical fruit before and didn’t know what to do with it, would bite right into the astringent peel. Nice. The first immigrant processed at Ellis Island was fifteen-year old Irish native Annie Moore.  She and her two brothers were finally joining their parents, who hadmade the journey two years prior. And the rest, they say, is history. Personal history.

Which is why I really liked this challenge. It was a chance for our chefs to show how very personal cooking can be. Grounding the challenge at Ellis Island felt organic. We wanted the chefs to cook food from their pasts, and this was a very good way of connecting them to those pasts, to their people and their own customs, while also linking the challenge to place: Regardless of the dispute over whether Ellis Island belongs to New York or New Jersey, it is an iconic part of New York’s own story and history and, thus, a great challenge for a season happening in New York.This challenge had a very emotional component to it, and as you saw, our chefs embraced this and allowed themselves to “go there.” I think each one of them was teary at some point in this episode. Partly, this is because they were so tired by this point in the competition that their seeing a beloved family member released the waterworks. But there’s more to it than that. They were asked to tap into their childhood and create food memories by creating food, and they did so brilliantly. Picture Mike, who puts forth such bravado and swagger, and who jokes his way through challenge after challenge. It’s incredible to realize that this Italian-American never ever cooked Italian food professionally because it reminded him too much of his beloved grandmother and he didn’t want to constantly be reminded of how much he missed her. Cooking the food now was meaningful to him, and he embraced the opportunity to feel pain about missing her and to cook his dish in homage to her. Here, in action, is Carla’s theory about being able to “taste the Love in the dish.” I believe this is why Mike nailed the challenge and did his grandmother’s memory such justice. This is deep, deep stuff.

Given the level of cooking, coupled with the great emotional work they each did, how could we send any one of the chefs home? Normally, something in some dish somewhere stands out to all the judges as the flaw that breaks the camel’s back, that gets someone sent home. Here, while we mentioned that one element was a tad salty if eaten on its own, it wasn’t intended to be eaten on its own…and it worked within the larger dish. Etc. We were trying to seize on something to send someone home, but we just didn’t have enough grounds to penalize any one of the chefs for what they delivered that night. Everyone did an outstanding job and it was such a great evening that it was just unacceptable to send anyone home.

So it’ll be a longer finale… but it’ll be great. Stay tuned.