Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

If it Grows Together, It Goes Together

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

If it Grows Together, It Goes Together

Gail Simmons explains why the reasons Grayson went home were actually three-fold. So, Pee-wee Herman as guest judge!
Gail Simmons: I loved him. I spent a lot of time with Pee-wee as a child on Saturday mornings. So did everybody I’m sure, but my older brother and I always watched Pee-wee Herman on Saturday mornings together and would make the voices of the characters. I loved Chairy. He loved Terry the Pterodactyl. Looking back, it was such a memorable part of my childhood, so it was an honor and pleasure to have Pee-wee with us for a couple of days.

Oh! I think the best thing to come out of this entire episode is that he put me on his Christmas card list. He makes the best Christmas cards I have ever received in my life! So we’ll start with the Quickfire. They had to make pancakes, and we had a lot of extremes, from super whimsical to a little more elevated.
GS: I have to say, watching the Quickfire made me really hungry for pancakes. And I never eat pancakes. When I eat breakfast or brunch I am an egg girl. I’m a savory girl in the morning. But I really was craving pancakes coming out of that Quickfire. It seemed like they all did a great job and were very creative. Even just looking at the list of flavors – blueberries, raspberries, bacon, champagne dipping dots, peach compote, cocoa nibs, whipped cream, marcona almonds -- it just all sounds delicious. And Edward won with his little bits.
GS: Yes! His actually was the one I was most skeptical about, until I saw that it was the best pancake that Pee-wee had ever had. That was On to the Elimination Challenge. I thought this was the most difficult challenge, maybe we’ve ever had.
GS: I agree. I think it was definitely the most difficult challenge we’ve ever had, certainly this season and we’ve had some pretty tough ones. There were different skills required. If I look at other difficult challenges like the overnight BBQ challenge, which was certainly physically demanding in its sleeplessness and the quantity of food, that challenge was really about long term endurance and quantity/volume. This was completely the opposite, in terms of what we were asking the chefs to accomplish. This was much more about flexibility, adaptability, thinking on your feet on the short term. Even though the quantity they were preparing for was only four people. They were given a bike and a hundred bucks, and had to literally scavenge for their food and scavenge for a place to cook and then get it all to the Alamo for lunch! They also had to take into consideration Pee-wee’s likes and dislikes and the fact that it was lunch. We gave this challenge to the chefs at this stage in the game because we knew that with only five left they are the strongest five and they could do it. We’d never have given this challenge in Episode 4. It would never have worked. There’s method to our madness. And they all really did succeed. All five of the chefs gave us great lunches. We were choosing the least best to go home, as opposed to the worst. I think the person that went home has a big fan base.
GS: Yes, she certainly does. It’s going to be a hard one. And I also have to say it’s going to look like we sent her home because she put tomatoes and squash on the plate. But I think that all three (Sarah, Ed, and Grayson) that we put in the bottom, made mistakes, were flawed -- although not by much. We were kind of splitting hairs as we always say. The problem with Grayson’s dish was actually three-fold, I thought. First: the flavors didn’t meld so well. People might not understand why Tom was hung up on that idea of tomatoes and squash. They’re grown in distinctly different seasons so they don’t make for a great flavor combination in terms of all the vegetables she could choose. With tomatoes you think Mediterranean. And with squash you really think a colder climate, a colder season. As we love to say, “If it grows together, it goes together.” And those two just don’t. So there was sort of a bit of a disconnect there, but that wasn’t her greatest issue. Second: Her portions were massive. Her dish was disproportionate to everyone else’s in size. Third: she made a specific claim that she purposefully took the skin off her chicken to make it healthy, because Pee-wee likes to eat healthy. (He’s actually incredibly fit. He rides that bike like nobody’s business.) But at the same time she stuffed her chicken with egg yolk and gorgonzola cheese and drizzled it with bacon vinaigrette! So, for us, it was a real discrepancy in her conception of this dish. You have to remember that when you make decisions, like taking the skin off chicken, there’s a reason that people cook with the skin on the chicken, because it gives it moisture, it gives it flavor, and it helps to cook it properly. Without it your chicken risks being dry and flavorless. But then she put all this fat in it afterwards, but at that point you can’t change the doneness or texture of the meat. That’s not to say they weren’t a great idea and they weren’t delicious, for a different challenge. But if you’re trying to give Pee-wee Herman a healthier dish by taking the skin off. I would have much preferred to eat the fat of the skin then bacon, gorgonzola, and egg yolk. It was a conceptual issue, that to us didn’t sit right.That’s not to say that everyone else’s was perfect and hers was terrible. It still was a good dish, and I guarantee that if she had made this exact dish five episodes ago, she would never have gone home for it. But that’s where we are in the game.

I wanted to mention Lindsay and Paul's food too. What we loved so much about Lindsay's was that she set herself apart. She was the only person who didn’t do chicken or egg. She used beef. Her dish had a ton of flavor, despite her difficulties in getting to the Alamo. Conceptually she thought a lot about her dish. It was very appropriate for lunch. The portion was right. It was easily transported because she chose to use these very substantial squash "boats," as Pee-wee liked to call them. That made it very contained. Very easy to transport, which is very much part of what they had to do, and then easy for us to eat. It was totally appropriate. It was just a well-conceived dish for the challenge. We really felt that it fit both.

Paul’s dish really was beautiful too, a little on the sweet side, not quite as balanced, which is why he didn’t win. He knew it. But it was also a great concept, and we loved that he took into consideration that Pee Wee likes spicy food. It felt a lot like Paul’s personality, Paul’s style, very refined but fun and understated.

Ed and Sarah both made good food but also made mistakes. Sarah under-seasoned her food, which is critical at this point. And Ed made a mistake of execution, choosing to poach the chicken in beef fat. I just don’t know why he needed that step. Poaching chicken is OK if you’re doing it let’s say for a soup or a stew. But poaching it for this purpose was just an added step that didn’t actually add anything to the flavor or texture in a positive way. Instead it made it sort of rubbery. Of all the ways to cook chicken, I could think of 17 that would have been better. That said, we still liked it more than Grayson's over all.Grayson’s a great young chef. I love her. She’s a super fun chef. And she’s a totally sunshiny, bright, wonderful person. She makes me happy. Although we sent her home, she’s going to go far in her career. I just know it.

Next episode is a tear-jerker. I will say this: it is the most emotional challenge, to date. We’ve done really emotional challenges before -- cooking for families, the armed forces. We’ve certainly done things that have tugged at our heart-strings. This is the Ellis Island episode of this season. What I mean is that the Ellis Island episode from last season, I think was the best episode of all time of Top Chef (we should have won an Emmy for it, but whatever...). This episode is similar in that it is so emotionally inspiring and the challenge causes our chefs to create what I believe is the best food they have made all season long – which is exactly how it should be in the episode before the finale.

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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