Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Charlize's Angels

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

Gail Talks OvenGate

Charlize's Angels

The Oscar winner's presence brings out the best in the remaining chefs.


Hello, my little songbirds (muahahahaha!) Before we get to Charlize (!!!), let's talk about that Quickfire. The chefs had to select ingredients from a conveyer belt to create dishes for another beauty, Eric Ripert. There are actually restaurants in this fine country where you select your food off conveyer belts. In fact, I think we featured one such sushi restaurant on The Real Housewives of O.C. I don't know if I could eat sushi off a conveyer belt, but to each her own. I only have a couple comments on the Quickfire: While most of the chefs kinda grabbed what they could, Lindsay stood there waiting for the ingredients she wanted. While I certainly respected her devotion to the integrity of her ingredients, she really could have run out of time, which seemed like a bad strategy! And then there was Chris Jones. All i have to say is, "Poor Chris Jones!" Watching him consistently miss the lobster on the conveyer belt was painful. That was one of those moments where I echo the judges' comments from a previous episode that we're a--holes. Even his competitors were trying ot help him out! That was another case where maybe you just give up the ingredient and make sure you get your dish made! Lindsay's patience paid off -- she actually won the Quickfire making a bouillabaise... a bouillabaise for Eric Ripert. Very impressive, although, she admits, her win was tainted a little by Padma's comment that had Beverly remembered her curried crispies, her dish would have won "by a mile." Ouch.

Finally, the moment we've all been tweeting about. Charlize enters the kitchen! With Charlize next to Padma and Eric, there's too much pretty going on. Word from the shoot down in Texas was that Charlize is scary pretty, just absolutely beautiful, and that she's just plain cool. Yay! Love hearing that. All of the chefs have an intense reaction to Charlize's presence, Sarah, apparently a huge Charlize fan, flips out, and seemed to start tearing up. Beverly also loses it when Charlize describes her character as a serial killer (note to self: make a .gif of Beverly's reaction later.) The chefs are told that they will have to create dishes fit for a queen, an homage to Charlize's character, the Evil Queen, in Snow White and the Huntsman. All of the chefs interpret this differently, but some of them just downright scared me at the grocery store. We saw where all their minds go when they're allowed to, y'know, go there. Line of the episode goes to Grayson for her description of Bevery: "That girl is tiny, but she crazy."That night, the chefs all sit around and discuss their plan of attack for the next day. They all agree that they need to play nice, in fact, my boyfriend Paul says that outright. And they're all pretty much referring to Beverly, who seems to have no idea what they're alluding to. Oh well.

It's serving time! And all the chefs do very, very well. I dont know what it was about this particular challenge that had all of the chefs rise up, but I'm starting to wonder if every episode should feature an Oscar winner. The food would be amazing. (I actually think cooking for Eric Ripert had a lot to do with it too.)

Let's go through each dish, shall we?

Edward started the night off right with a fish dish playing off "good and evil." He started the whole meal off on the right foot.

Lindsay made a stew she holds dear to her and her mentor Michelle Bernstein's hearts. Tom loves it. She moves on. I would've liked to see her step out of her comfort zone, but, hey, you can't argue with good food.

Sarah made another risotto, and although it was met favorably, there were still comments about the risotto itself. She was worried when making it, remembering that Tim Love didn't love the consistency of her risotto earlier in the season, and there seemed to be similar issues this time around. I'm sure risotto is one of the more subjective foods, but it'll be interesting to see if Sarah changes her methods moving foward.

Chris Jones' gadgets were finally put to good use as he made the poison apple for dessert. Chris actually said that every time you make something new, there's a risk it won't work out. That's quite a risk to take during a competition, but fortunately for him, it did work out! Grayson actually loved the idea from the get-go, and it was executed well. Anyone else notice the Chris/Grayson friendship? They're so supportive of each other, it's adorable. Grayson admitted she takes these challenges very literally, and although that's bitten her in the arse before, it worked out this time. She made a black chicken, something she's never cooked before, but something we have seen on Top Chef before, and just killed it. Literally. Her plate looked like a murder scene. When she described the egg on top as representing the egg inside the bird when it was slaughtered, I was, well, frightened, but also intrigued. Grayson has a dark side, y'all! (I never say "y'all," but seemed appropriate.)

Paul Qui won with his "murder song" of a dish. The bloody handprint actually reminded me of the old WB show, Roswell, and I loved it. I just thought it was so artistic, and although his ingredients sounded sweet, I wanted to try it with the bacon. Paul's on a roll.

Finally, we have Beverly.

Beverly made a halibut dish that really didn't seem very wicked at all. I swear I thought she would go out there and be all "This halibut represents the positivity -- me -- as I rise above the evil that Is Heather and Sarah...." That would've made my day, but she didn't do that. And so, Beverly went home. I knew she was dead in the water when the judges started commenting on her weird sauce. None of the other dishes really had negative comments about major elements, other than Sarah's risotto. And, so the great underdog Beverly is out of the competition. Or, is she? She goes up against reigning champ, Nyesha, in this week's Last Chance Kitchen. Watch HERE.

Until then, Have a Nosh!



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!