Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Hostess with the Mostest

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

Hostess with the Mostest

Gail Simmons describes the chefs' new environment in Dallas.

Bravotv.com: How was Dallas different from Austin? 
Gail Simmons: So here we are in Dallas, and it has a totally different feel and vibe, especially this episode because we were in a very “schmancy” part of town. Dallas just felt like a much bigger, shinier city. 

Many exciting things happened in Dallas when we were there. The first thing was that we were staying at the W Hotel across from the American Airlines Center. Well, we had a night off and a bunch of people from the crew and I -- about 10 of us -- went to see a Rihanna concert there. This was her infamous show this past summer when the stage caught on fire and we were all evacuated from the arena, in the middle of her show! There were fireworks as part of one song and the stage literally caught on fire, No one was injured, but it was really pretty amazing. So that is my first impression of Dallas.

While I was in Dallas, I had some really great meals, and went to an amazing gay cowboy bar one night with like 40 members of the crew where we learned the two-step. 

Anyway, on to the episode: I got on a plane to Dallas instead of driving like the contestants did, but the one thing I remember everybody telling me after that Quickfire was that the field they were in was not supposed to look like that. It was not supposed to be a field of mud. They had scouted the location and made all the preparations and the morning they got there, someone, presumably the farmer, had plowed and tilled the land by accident and turned it into an entire field of mud. Yuck! 

Bravotv.com: After a difficult Quickfire, we’re onto the Elimination!
GS: Yes! On to Highland Park Village. Another interesting note is that we got ready for that whole day in another house. There was a fourth house, a friend of one of the guests let us use her family’s home. I think it was her brother-in-law’s house that she uses sometimes, which was right in the neighborhood, to get ready. This house was incredible; it may not have been as big as the others but it had the most beautiful modern art – Damian Hearst, Koons, all the big guys. As I got a closer look at the house we realized there were all these pictures of George Michael with another man and a few really good-looking dogs. And then we found out that it was his and his partner’s house! I guess his partner is related to one of the girls that was on the show, and they’re from Dallas and this is their house. Let me tell you, George Michael has aged well. He was looking good.

Bravotv.com: I’ve never heard of a progressive dinner party before. 
GS: It seemed like a fun idea. I had never attended one until that challenge though. I imagine you need a staff if you’re having one. If you’re at someone’s house having appetizers and your house is where the main course is supposed to be, it’s hard for you to be eating in one place and cooking in another. Which is why we had the chefs do it for us!

I think the funniest moment in the whole episode was when I jokingly asked, “Oh did you have like 700 people at your wedding?” and one of the ladies said, “Actually 1,200.” And she wasn’t joking!

Bravotv.com: “Who knows 1,200 people?”
GS: Right?!! I will say they were the sweetest people. We had a really nice day with them. Kim Whitman is the bomb. She was awesome. I loved her. She is smart as whip, and I really enjoyed talking with her.Bravotv.com: So let’s start with the appetizer house, which actually had the winning dish which was Paul’s, and Sarah’s, which was in the top as well. 
GS: Yes, Paul’s was the winner because it had so much texture and he used ingredients that the diners didn’t know they liked, but when they tasted it they couldn’t help but fall in love with it. It was the right size for an appetizer. It was appropriate. What Paul said at the beginning I think was so right on: “Listen to the woman of the house.” You are catering an event for a dinner party, and especially a dinner party for a woman like Kim Whitman, who is very particular, entertains a lot, and is considered somewhat of an expert on the subject. Do what she says -- not too little and not too much. The guys will go along with it. And he was right in this instance. He did something that the ladies enjoyed because it had great vegetables, it was light, but it had some depth. The grilled prosciutto was delicious. It was the right size. It was easy to eat. It was absolutely delicious.

I loved Sarah’s artichokes too, and I really liked Lindsay’s salad, but we thought Paul’s just embodied what we asked them to do the most and was done with the most… finesse.

So then we went to the main course house. And the main courses were mostly disappointing. Beverly’s was pretty good. Nyesha wasn’t bad either, but a lot of them were just way too big, way too bulky and clumsy. If there was just one main course or two that would have been one thing, but no one scaled his/her dish to be appropriate for the venue and the challenge. Not a single one of them scaled back the size of their portion or the scope of what they were doing to accommodate for the fact that we were eating four or five main courses. Of course you want it to feel like a main course, but, especially Ty-Lor’s and Chuy’s, were mammoth. I mean they were bigger than massive. Bigger than Texas-sized portions even. And because they were so big, they felt sloppy and disproportionate to everything else. That was our first issue. Our other issue with Chuy’s was ultimately, exactly what Tom said, the dish just didn’t work. If you have to overcook the salmon to make the cheese work, then something in the basic concept of the dish should be reexamined. Salmon should not be cooked that way. It was totally dry, so it was really unappealing. And the goat cheese! I mean, goat cheese and salmon? When you think of cured, cold smoked salmon it could work. Maybe that’s what he was going for. But it was not successful with hot salmon at all. Not only did it not work from a flavor perspective and a texture perspective, but the goat cheese took on this mealy, sort of curdy consistency, which made it even more unappealing. It actually didn’t feel like the rest of the food I’d eaten from Chuy to date. So in the end, we felt that Chuy had to go. Chuy is awesome. He’s like a little ball of fire. He’s super high energy and really skilled. He is really young, and I know he’ll have a long, excellent career, but he made some bad decisions that night. 

And just to touch on the desserts because well, that’s my sweet spot: I liked Dakota’s and I like Grayson’s. Edward’s was just mediocre. But Chris’ was exactly what we all said – overdone, no consistency, and no underlying thought to it. It felt like he just threw everything onto that plate without thinking it through. You don’t need 17 flavors. They don’t go together. There’s no dialogue.

Bravotv.com: It kind of reminded me two dishes from the past. Ilan’s “gluttonous” dish from Season 2, and Stefan’s finale dessert.
GS: Stefan’s dessert in the finale was better than this. It wasn’t good enough to win, but it was better than this. 
And just one note about the other Chris and his appetizer cigar: I want to say that I do applaud him for taking a risk and trying to give us something new and innovative, but he got stuck in the trap that a lot of chefs get into when they are trying to push a modernist concept on a dish. There needs to be a purpose for it. I always say if it doesn’t make it taste better, if it doesn’t make it more efficient in the cooking process, or make it look more beautiful, why are you doing it? Do it not just for the sake of doing it. I think Chris got caught up in the idea of it and lost track of the challenge because of it. It did not fit any of the criteria that we asked for, and it was not appealing or enjoyable to eat at all. But I get his inspiration and appreciated that he challenged himself to do something different. He just was listening to what was in his own head instead of to our clients. 

 

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!