Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Ice Ice Baby (Too Cold, Too Cold)

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

Ice Ice Baby (Too Cold, Too Cold)

Gail Simmons explains why Sarah Grueneberg's dish's flaws didn't get her sent home.

Bravotv.com: Now we are in Vancouver.  
Gail Simmons: The Quickfire was at Bao Bei. We ate there away from the cameras as well, and it was one was one of my favorite meals of the trip. That’s a great place.

Bravotv.com: The chefs seemed to think the “fire and ice” theme was really open to interpretation. 
GS: We said they could leave it open to interpretation, which was fine. Fire can come in many forms -- heat from temperature, heat from spice -- we were totally fine with that. And the cold? It didn’t need to be frozen. We were happy with interpretation. We just wanted to see that there was an effort and an idea behind the two in some way. Did I think that they knocked it out of the park in terms of the fire and ice component? No. But some of the food was really good. 

Bravotv.com: Paul won with his king crab and sunchoke dish. That Paul loves a sunchoke!
GS: The cocktail was great, and it had a little bit of heat in it too. I love chili in a cocktail, and I think it just cuts the alcohol so well and it has such a great, fun flavor. This was also his second time cooking with crab, King crab. He did King crab in that ice block challenge, and he did sunchokes in the mentor challenge, but that’s OK because it was delicious. I mean, the dish was really aromatic as it should be, that lemon snow had a lot of flavor, and it was really smart. That was his ice component. Bravotv.com: Padma commented that it wasn’t hot enough, but they had also gotten him in the Quickfire for putting too much chili in it. 
GS: So he played it down, and that’s a delicate balance obviously. You don’t want to blow peoples' mouths out because heat is not a flavor. Chili has flavor, but it also has power and you need to be very careful because you don’t want it to be so powerful that you can’t actually taste it, and it just kind of dulls everything else and you can’t taste anything in the dish. But the dish was really balanced and it was really lovely as we had hoped.

The circumstances were a lot harder than they seemed from the outside. First of all, it was freezing in that room because they kept all the doors to this event space open, this old salt factory that they were cooking in. We were actually in Olympic Village where all of the Olympians stayed, and now they are converting them to really nice condos. And we were in this old salt factory; it was really cool. But they were cooking in a very makeshift kitchen behind the event space, and most of the people who were at that party were chefs from around town, chefs from Vancouver, as well as people from Canada Tourism, a lot of really well-traveled, well-versed people in food, so it was actually a really good group to cook for. It was just freezing in there, which did not help the contestants when they had to carry the food from across the event space into the party. So that also was sort of a challenge in itself. But I thought what Paul did was smart -- it certainly showed a range of flavor and technique. 

Bravotv.com: Next we have Sarah’s dish. 
GS: Sarah’s dish was really fantastic. The pasta, of course, was, for me, the best part. She’s really a master when she makes fresh pasta. She does it so well; it’s flawless and soft and melted in your mouth. The greens had tons of flavor, it had the chilies, the garlic, but I also wanted to see way more heat. I didn’t really get the fire in this dish. And I actually, of all of us, had the most issue with this dish from Sarah with the frozen sformato. She put it right on top of the pasta, and it was frozen into a block. So when I used my fork to push down into it, to cut it, not only was it very difficult to cut, and so frozen, but it also pushed down on the pasta and squished out all the filling from the pasta which I think actually was a flaw in the conceptual presentation of the dish. That said, once you got the sformato into your mouth, it was so flavorful. It had some spices in it, it had a curry flavor, it was delicious, it was creamy as it should be. It really was more like a semi-freddo than a sformato even though it was partially frozen. And I know there was an ice challenge, but you still have to make it work in terms of how the dish feeds and I don’t think it was totally successful which is why she didn’t win, but her flavors were so strong and the balance of the ingredients was so great and her cocktail was excellent too, so that’s also why she didn’t lose.Bravotv.com: And then we have Lindsay, who did go home, with her halibut.
GS: Lindsay’s dish was sort of interesting to me. It was very complex; there were a lot of elements. When I first started eating it I really enjoyed it, but then when I started looking at it more closely and taking apart the individual components, there seemed to be too much there. Too many layers that didn’t quite go together. And then her cocktail was a little weak. It was a Bloody Mary, which I’m all for, but it was a little watered down, it didn’t have the punch it should have -- we wanted more heat, we wanted more flavor, and a little bit more personality. The other two dishes were very unique -- a Bloody Mary is something that we see everyday at home. 

Bravotv.com: So we have two left. 
GS: It’s the final showdown between Paul and Sarah. Who would ever have known it would come to these two? And the next episode is just straight-up  cooking as they were meant to cook -- we are leaving the fire and the ice and the gondolas and the guns behind us and you will see some pretty extraordinary food from these two chefs. 

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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

 



Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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. . .

Bravotv.com:  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!