Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

My Pepperoni Sauce Moment

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

My Pepperoni Sauce Moment

Gail Simmons shares her finale highlights and lowlights.

Bravotv.com: Finale! We start with Sarah and Paul selecting their sous-chefs. Were you surprised that no one selected Marco?
Gail Simmons: I thought it was great that they put him in the mix. I’m disappointed that no one got Marco because he is such a massive talent and would have been such an asset. But what was unusual about the way they did it was that they kind of put the chefs in our shoes for a little. They had to only judge based on what was in front of them; it didn’t matter if they knew people’s backgrounds, who they were, what they did before, it was just all on this dish and it gives people a chance. You don’t necessary know who you’re choosing based on one course. It doesn’t matter if you know they’re a great chef, and if it’s not great or you don’t like it at that moment, you make a very different decision. So, I thought it was really smart and there are so many factors that go into it -- all these chefs are talented. 

Bravotv.com: Were you surprised that Sarah selected Tyler because she thought that Heather made that dish?
GS: You can’t make that s--t up. 

Bravotv.com: Does she really have that dish in her restaurant? That’s so weird.
GS: It was a little weird, but you know there aren’t that many brand new flavor combinations. It’s possible. I felt badly for her because I know that freaked her out, but Tyler could be great actually and I think in the end he really did pull through for her. He’s young, we could tell, and he’s got more confidence than experience right now. This challenge, where all you want to do is win -- you aren’t there to mentor at that moment. 

Bravotv.com: So we go to their restaurants. You started at Paul’s. What was your first reaction when you got to Qi? Tom really liked the simplicity of the menu.
GS: I’m with Tom, Mark McEwen, Cat Cora and, Marco. Overall, I was excited for the menu because I’m always excited by Paul’s food. And I knew this was sort of his to lose. He had done so well over the course of the season -- I think he reached $45-50,000 in wins alone and that’s before he actually won the season. Obviously, whatever he does you’re excited to sample. There were a couple of questions I had on the menu. I thought it was an unusual menu and I wasn’t quite sure while reading it how it was going to go. The fact that he didn’t have any meat, the fact that he had two egg courses -- first the chawanmushi and then the congee -- was interesting, and they could be great or they could go wrong. I was a little nervous for him but also excited to see what he had in mind. Because you know that he did it for a reason, you just have to put yourself in his hands.Bravotv.com: So your group’s chawanmushi was perfect, and the other group’s was not. 
GS: For both Paul and Sarah, there was one course where the two groups experienced very differently and that made it difficult to judge but also really interesting for the dialogue between us. Paul’s chawanmushi was perfect for us and trampled for Padma’s team. Then again, Sarah’s veal cheek dish did not go over well for Padma’s team and Sarah was smart enough to fix it for our team. Whether or not it was successful is another story altogether. But we had two experiences -- the dish had changed and evolved as the night went along. But what is kind of interesting about doing it this way, as opposed to how we used to do the finale where we ate everything at the same time, is that it’s much more like it is in a real restaurant.

Bravotv.com: Next Paul had his grilled sea bass with the dashi.
GS: I thought this was the best dish that Paul made. Every single one of us, every chef and judge was blown away because it was perfect. It was balanced -- there were pickled radishes, the mushrooms, the crispy skin, the whole package. That broth. Every element was thoughtful, was delicious, was tasty, and just enjoyable.

Bravotv.com: Then we have the congee where you thought maybe it should have been a meat course.
GS: It’s not that I needed it to be a meat. I got over that when I understood the feeling that he was going for. Obviously it had an Asian influence, and he didn’t need to put a big steak on the plate, and that he wanted to focus all on fresh seafood. Looking at that in the end, my question became: he really gave us two egg dishes, and I thought that was a strange choice. The chawanmushi, that smooth custard and then the scrambled egg with the congee, both with fish, which just was a little bit odd. Granted the congee was more rich, so you experienced it very differently, but it was my least favorite course on Paul’s menu. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good, and I would still eat it again.

Bravotv.com: Hugh apologizes in his blog for cutting you off at Judges’ Table.
GS: Really?! I actually thought that was great because I’m often asked if we ever disagree and why don’t they show more of it or how the conversation goes. I’m glad they kept that in because it shows we all have different opinions. Bravotv.com: For dessert, Paul served the coconut ice cream and it had this spicy element with the Thai chili foam.
GS: There was a little bit of an issue because the other team had a little bit overcooked puffed rice, and they didn’t like it as much as we did. And then the four of us at our table thought it was a stroke of genius. This to me was the perfect Asian dessert because it encompassed everything that a great dish should have: it had sweetness, salty, bitter, sour, spicy. Every bite had a crunch and I adored it. It was so fresh and light. Thank God we had Paul’s meal first because Sarah’s meal was a lot heavier, in a good way, but I’m glad the tables were not reversed. 

Bravotv.com: Did you find it amusing at all that it took a second for Barbara Lynch to kind of step back and not be the head chef?
GS: It’s totally normal, but I think in the end it ended well. I loved that that Sarah had to deal with Tyler and that sort of set of circumstances in her kitchen and Paul had to deal with the opposite set of circumstances. Paul had a way more experienced kitchen whereas Sarah had to sort of babysit Tyler. On the other end, Paul, in contrast, had to deal with coming to a real ground with a chef who owns multiple restaurants and has been cooking for probably ten years longer than he has. That was another big lesson I think.

Bravotv.com: On to Monte Verde. So this was a heavier meal overall. Starting with the spot prawns and coconut over the pasta.
GS: It was a tartare. She chopped up spot prawns raw and treated them with the coconut and the chili. I thought this was Sarah’s masterpiece. I’ve never seen this before, a raw tartare you fold it into your pasta. I was incredibly impressed. That hit home and it really was a killer dish, one that I think about all the time, I crave. I’m going to Chicago next week, and I really hope it’s on Sarah’s menu. It was just an inspired creation. Her pasta was perfect, as it always is, the spot prawns -- you can’t get anything more fresh and local than that. The spices were so cool. 

Bravotv.com: Was this your pepperoni sauce moment?
GS: This was a pepperoni sauce moment! Bravotv.com: Next she did the rye-crusted steelhead trout with the beets that were undercooked/under-pickled.
GS: This was Sarah’s least interesting course, not that it wasn’t good -- it was very nice, the rye-crusted trout was beautifully-cooked -- it was just not interesting. It didn’t have the same inspiration that the other courses she made did. The fish was lovely, the beets were raw. It was seasoned well it, but it just didn’t excite me the same way that her first course did. 

Bravotv.com: Were you guys surprised at all to see her bring in other influences besides Italian?
GS: Yes, as I said on the show I really think she took more risk in that way because as she told us when she was explaining her dishes and her menu concept, that not only did she want to show us her Italian and German roots and what she loved to cook, she also wanted to show us how much she learned over the course of the season and give a nod to the flavors that she’s been introduced to. So she really took a risk. She brought in that dashi, which was really a nod to Paul. Which I thought was generous and courageous of her. That said, as much as I applaud her for doing it, and as much as I thought it was a very interesting course, it was the least delicious course that she made. I didn’t love the flavor. I thought the dashi was an interesting thing to do and I respected the reasons she did it, but I personally didn’t think it worked. I was the odd man out. I didn’t like the dashi -- it had a brininess that to me didn’t fit well. I don’t really want a fishy flavor with my meat. I think it was better for us than it was for Padma’s team. This dish, although it was her riskiest , boldest dish, I think it was the least successful, for a number of reasons.

Bravotv.com: Everyone seemed to love her dessert.
GS: Yes, her dessert was fantastic. The roasted white chocolate was super-cool, beautiful hazelnut cake, delicious flavors, very similar flavors actually to the dish she cooked in the Whistler challenge. That final dish that she made with the rabbit with cherries and the hazelnuts. It was a very similar flavor profile if you can imagine rabbit and hazelnut cake. It sounds weird but there were a lot of similar flavors and elements there. It was spectacular, I was very happy. I would be happy if I ever got to eat that again.Bravotv.com: How long were you deliberating?
GS: We were there until almost 6 o’clock in the morning. It was a really long one, it was seven or eight hours, as it should be in the finale. We wanted to take our time and we really were split, we had some frustrating moments -- and not because we disagreed and were angry and arguing but because we all were proud and excited by both meals. We didn’t want to have to make this decision. But that’s our job, good problem to have. 

Bravotv.com: So Paul won.
GS: In the end, we chose Paul because overall in his menu we just thought the tiny details he managed were a little better and the dishes flowed a little more, and by a hair, by a measly hair, we thought his meal was a little more complete, a little more mature. That said, Sarah is a stupendous talent and I know it was hard for her because she put everything, and I mean everything, into this competition. And she deserves an enormous amount of praise and celebration and lots of success. 

 

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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