Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Best Thing I Ever Ate

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

And Don't Call Me Shirley

Gloopy, Soupy, and Radish Dresses!

The Best Thing I Ever Ate

Gail Simmons can not say enough about Paul Qui's Elimination Challenge dish. So the Quickfire Challenge was… interesting. What did you think?
Gail Simmons: I thought it was fascinating. I think we’re so used to using all our senses when we cook, it’s such an interesting lesson when you take one away and realize how much you rely on it. I think we could have been a little nicer though and started them in the pantry. What did you think of the winning dish? It was kind of an interesting combo – corn soup with onions, peaches, and mushrooms.
GS: It’s interesting because we always preach “if it grows together it goes together.” I understand Tom’s comment to Sarah that mushrooms and corn shouldn’t really go together because mushrooms are very fall/winter, and corn is such a prime summer ingredient. They have a different seasonality, and it’s a strange combination of flavors, but it seemed to work. Sarah had it in her head that she was going to do a soup, which was smart in case she picked an ingredient that didn’t make sense. It’s easier to put everything in a blender, if you can get it cooked in time. And if you have really good ingredients, then you have to do very little to them, and a soup lends itself perfectly to that. I loved that she used our wood-burning oven to roast those mushrooms. Corn chowder is delicious. It sounded like a great dish. But so did Ed’s for that matter. That was really smart with the casings.
GS: Ed killed it. I thought he would win just for those pork casings alone. I mean, they are not something that you usually want to eat, unless you’re making sausages or pate. It’s the stomach lining of a pig! So the fact that he had about seven minutes to incorporate it into a dish, and obviously he didn’t have time to make sausage with it, I thought it was genius that he put it in water and used the briny, porky flavor as a stock. That was So the fifth chef comes back from Last Chance Kitchen, and it’s Beverly. What was your reaction to that?
GS: I knew obviously that she was coming back, and I’m really proud of her for it. It proves that this isn’t a popularity contest -- if you cook well and your food is great, that’s all that matters. I know that this was probably difficult for our chefs, especially Lindsay and Sarah, who weren’t huge fans of Bev. Look, anyone coming back makes their lives more difficult and enhances the competition. They thought they were the final four people and then we threw someone else at them, out of nowhere. But you know what? She deserves to be there, for all the reasons you can see on For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs mentors all come back, and all the chefs really started breaking down. Were you surprised to see like Paul crying?
GS: I was really surprised to see Paul crying, but I loved it. I think at this stage in the competition every season, our chefs are at the end of their rope. They are on edge. They are under so much stress. They’re exhausted. They miss their families. They feel alone. I think that’s why bringing back their mentors was so perfect at this moment. Firstly: because it obviously brought out so much emotion in them. It meant so much for them. It came at a time when they really needed someone who was on their team cheerleading for them, not judging them, not fighting against them. And secondly, it inspired them and reminded them why they cook in the first place. Of anyone it also just happened to be that these mentors are all pretty extraordinary. It wouldn’t have been the same if it had been five different chefs. The only chef I didn’t know personally was Sarah, but she’s super lovely and obviously accomplished. Tony, Frank, Michelle, and Tyson I know well and I’ve eaten at all their restaurants. I just couldn’t have asked for a better group to have inspired our chefs. It’s just amazing how far our chef’testants have come under their tutelage. I think this challenge was just as meaningful for the mentors in many ways, as it was for the chefs. Going back, were you surprised at all that Sarah chose immunity over the car? There was kind of a debate over whether she should cook anyway, even though she won the Quickfire.
GS: That’s such a conundrum. Interestingly, I think if other chefs had won they would have made the same choice, when it came down to it. Either way there are pros and cons, and why we give them this amazing choice: get a car or get a free ride to the finale. I think the others chefs felt that if you take that free ride you might regret it, or you might feel like you cheated yourself out of really cooking your way into the finale. But I think they all need to lose the guilt. Stop the martyrdom. Sara deserves to be in the finale, and she has proven that many times over. So at this stage, any advantage you can get, you should take. She would be silly not to. So what if someone else just gets the car. That’s not why she is competing. She’s competing to win. So let’s talk about each dish.
GS: The great thing about Beverly’s dish was that I think they were all very skeptical when she came back, and they probably didn’t think she had it in her to do this well. They were a little condescending to her, but her dish was the second best dish of the night. She made a very complicated dish. This wasn’t just some stir fry like you make in your college dorm room. She used a professional wok. She made a very complicated Singapore noodle dish, with a complex curry blend. She cooked her shrimp beautifully. That’s a very hard thing to do for eight people all at once. That’s a lot of balls to be juggling in the air, so to speak, and she did it really well, which takes a lot of experience. It was a fantastic dish and I adored it.

Lindsay’s dish: Her mistakes were obvious to all of us, and even to her. She knew it from the moment she brought it to us. She used dried spices that she didn’t cook through enough so they tasted raw. There’s no substitute for fresh spices, and if you’re going to use raw ones, you need to use them very gently and very carefully, or else it can be overpowering. The other issue was Lindsay’s addition of cream. It was a last-minute, impulsive decision that she didn’t need to do. I would have been way happier if it had been a brothy sauce, as opposed to an emulsified cream sauce. The flavors in the dish were very Mediterranean, which you don’t associate with cream. That’s much more Northern European. It was a beautiful dish with a gorgeous seafood stock and beautifully cooked seafood, which showed incredible expertise. Her cooking skills did not go unnoticed. She just made these two errors that made her dish not as good as the top two. But she should still be very proud of her work. I know that Michelle was.

I actually don’t think we conveyed just how extraordinary Paul’s dish was. I can actually say without hesitation that this dish was the best dish I have tasted from anyone all season long. Hands down. Possibly one of the best dishes ever cooked on Top Chef. It was un-f--king believable. If you asked me a month ago if I remembered a single dish from the entire season, I wouldn’t be able to tell you a single dish, because the second they're done it’s all a blur to me. They all go into the archive of Top Chef dishes that I’ll never have to eat again. But this single dish, I could recite every single ingredient, every detail. It was a chilled soup, which is so deceptively simple. I’ve never tasted anything like that in my whole Chilled soups can be gross. 
GS: Yes! I didn’t think anyone could get me excited about a chilled soup. But Paul did. What did Tyson say?
GS: Tyson loved it. He tried to stay quiet because he was so obviously biased. He didn’t have to say anything, because all of us sat around that table literally licking our plates and moaning in pleasure. It was embarrassing. It was quite obvious at the time to the eight of us sitting at that table. Dashi is a Japanese broth, very intensely flavored, made usually with bonito flakes (dried fish flakes). That, combined with these very fresh, beautiful ribbons of vegetables, and pureed sunchokes (which are somewhere between a potato and an artichoke, with a very creamy texture) was simply stunning. I’m so curious as to how he thought of that soup. Had he made it before? Was this just a total inspiration out of nowhere? I can’t imagine it was, this dish tasted like a three-Michelin star restaurant dish in Tokyo. It was not something you just make on the fly. And then Edward bought canned oysters.
GS: A lot of Edward’s dish was really great. The pork crackling was beautiful. The actual meat itself was cooked really well, had a lot of flavor. He made these amazing pickles that were a great counterpoint of sour and acid to the fatty, porkiness. And then he made this oyster sauce. Smoked oysters pureed with cream. Do I even need to say anything else? It was just so off in conception and in execution. He fell into that usual trap that a lot of chefs fall in: they get that idea in their head and even though they can’t find exactly what they need to execute it properly they can’t get out of it, they’ve gone too far down that path. I don’t know why. He should have changed direction when he realized there weren’t fresh oysters at the market. It’s not that oysters in a cream soup, fresh oysters, I mean, don’t work -- case in point: Carla’s oyster stew in penultimate finale episode of Season 5 in New Orleans! But this was a smoked, canned oyster. It had a very rubbery texture and an overpowering, almost synthetic smoky flavor. It was too bad because everything else he made to that point in the challenge had been great. All he had to do was not serve that sauce. And yes, it’s upsetting, but that’s how the game is played. I’m crazy about Ed. He’s a fighter. He’s an amazingly talented chef and I will be visiting him often in Louisville Kentucky. But we will not being seeing him compete in the finale... Well next week, we’re off to Whistler. 
GS: Sneak peek -- we are heading to my homeland. I am very proud of that. It will be cold and snowy, but beautiful. I can tell you that this next episode is for sure the most physically demanding episode we have made, for all of us, but especially for our chefs. We put them through an “Olympic”-style hazing.

Gail: It Wasn't Keriann's Day

Gail can't believe that Keriann wouldn't have shown her teammates how she wanted her dish executed. This week was Restaurant Wars!
GS: Restaurant Wars is always an exciting episode because it’s so hard to do what we are asking of chefs to do. Opening a restaurant is truly so difficult, on a good day if you’re dealing with people you love and work with all the time, let alone with three people you’re competing against and have never worked with in this way before. You don’t really know their strengths and weaknesses, and this is where that it all comes out. So looking first at the Grey Team, Melissa, Doug, Mei, Adam
GS: I knew it was a strong team from the start, but we’ve had plenty of strong teams that have failed in the past. You never know until you sit down at that table to eat their meal. I could tell that they were all serious and they have all performed pretty well up to this point though. Although the other team was stacked too, with Gregory who's won a lot and Katsuji who was coming off his win in the Thanksgiving challenge. Keriann and Katie have made some great dishes too. It was anyone’s game.

I think it was smart of the Grey Team to chose Adam as their front of the house man. He’s gregarious, he’s affable, he is a great storyteller, a great talker, and he has a sense of urgency and confidence. Sometimes he can be over-confident maybe, but I think you want someone working front of house who’s willing to take on that risk. Plus he’s done it before. He understands the importance of that role.

Putting Keriann in the front of the house could have been a good move too. She’s certainly a lovely person. She’s well-spoken and definitely wanted to take on the challenge. I just wasn’t sure if they put her out front because they didn’t want her in the kitchen or because they really thought she’d be good for that role. Either way, that’s the way the cards fell. Katie taking on the chef position I thought was a real risk -- she doesn’t run a kitchen day-to-day. I was proud of her for wanting to do it, maybe because she runs pop-ups, she knows how to do something really quickly like this and that experience could come in handy. The other team chose Doug as their chef, who also doesn’t run a restaurant every single day; he is a sous chef. But you can tell he has that drive and understanding of service, he expedites every day in his restaurant and that’s a really huge piece of how a good restaurant runs. It seemed like everyone knew their roles and everyone was happy at the start. They weren’t forced into anything.

I actually liked both restaurant concepts in theory. "Four Pigs" was family style, rustic, comforting, American, bold flavors, relaxed environment. I think that suited who they were, and I think they did a great job. The concept of "Magellan" was a really great idea too. Magellan being an explorer, the spice route, all of the dishes having complex spice elements. The issue you run into with that concept though is that if it’s too loose, everyone is literally all over the map (pun intended). So even though the idea’s inspiration is exploration, when you as the customer sit down and eat that meal, do you really want to be eating things from all over the map? Do they go together? Sometimes the chefs get carried away by the idea of that exploration, and forget that a meal still has to feel cohesive. I don’t know who would want to be eating seven different cuisines all at one table. There needs to be a common thread between them more than just that they all have spice. All spices don’t taste good when they’re combined. I think that’s the first issue this team had. They were all making their own dishes and not really discussing how those dishes would talk to each other when they were actually put on people’s plates. So, let’s start with the dishes from the Grey Team.
GS: The Grey Team started with Adam’s salt-baked clams with ramps, bacon and sunflower seeds. Very seasonal (we filmed this in the spring), very New England. I love clams from that part of the country. We saw that he got in a little hot water when he lost his first set of clam shells, but he was able to completely bounce back. The dish was tasty, it was a perfect starter, a savory little bite. And you were really able to taste all of those flavors without overshadowing the clam itself, which with ramps and bacon is a hard thing to do.

Mei’s chicken liver toast with plum puree was also delicious. The plums cut through the fat in the chicken liver which I loved. It was a little bit too wet though, so the chicken liver dripped and was a little bit looser than what I wanted. I like it to be just a little thicker so there’s a more texture to it, and also so it doesn’t drip all over your hand. It did remind us of a very sophisticated peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was salty and tart, and had just enough richness from that liver to satisfy you but not fill you up. Beautifully presented.

We all loved Doug’s braised pork shoulder. The baked beans, onion, and mustard went so well together. The mustard lightened up the dish and the pickled onions of course did too. It was a homey, comforting dish. The pork shoulder just melted in your mouth. I wish I had a bowl of it right now actually.

Melissa’s scallop was probably the weakest dish on that team. By no means does that mean it was awful. It was a lovely idea, light and fresh. Scallops and grapefruit and radish are a perfect combination. It felt a little bit more like an appetizer salad though than a main course. Her scallops were on the salty side and a little bit overcooked too. We wanted them a bit softer, a little more rare in the center. It was a really nice dish, but compared to the other dishes on her team, it felt a simple and slightly out of place. Everything else had a soulfulness to it and this seemed to be sort of off in the corner, but I was still happy to eat it.

Mei's brussels sprouts was their side dish and they were also really tasty. Brussels sprouts and anchovies go surprisingly well together! But they was over-dressed and the brussels were a little overcooked. They just needed to be toned down. I can remember when we were finished eating them, there was a pool of vinaigrette at the bottom of the bowl. If she had been a little more light-handed on the vinaigrette when she tossed it, it probably would have been a better dish.

Melissa’s dessert was very well-made -- apples, mixed-berries, cardamom cream, a classic fruit cobbler. I just wish she had done something a little more interesting. Berry cobbler is something anyone can make at home. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a good dish. You’re a professional chef though, and this is Top Chef so if you’re going to give me a cobbler, show me cobbler in a way I haven’t seen before. Whether that’s a special biscuit on top or a combination of flavors of fruits, or a presentation I haven’t seen. In every way this cobbler was basic. I enjoyed eating it, it just was a little boring. And then Magellan…
GS: Oh Magellan. We all were really excited when Katie’s roasted beets came to the table. It sounded fantastic. But she made the dish in a composed way, meaning that the beets were on one side, the curry was just underneath. Everything was separate, so it was very difficult to taste all together. Her flaw was that there wasn’t a conversation going on between all of the components in the dish. She left the beets completely dry on the side of the plate, but she had this beautiful curry and this coconut and this pickled cauliflower, she could have dressed them wonderfully, had she mixed them up, had she presented the dish in a different way. It really shows you that ingredients are only one piece of the puzzle. You can have five different beautiful ingredients, but unless you put the dish together in a way that highlights them, it falls flat.

Katsuji’s hamachi sashimi was totally fine. The hamachi was very big and cut in a bit of a ragged way. I wish they had been smaller or more smoothly cut, so that they weren’t as messy to eat and a little more refined. But the dish itself was perfectly well made. I liked his dried pozole too; I thought it was very interesting. A little odd, a little out there, but I applaud Katsuji for pushing boundaries of what we think of as pozole with it.

Gregory also made two dishes. His seared haddock was my favorite dish of the night. The fish was great, the tomato was flavorful. I thought the dish came together nicely, it was cohesive. I liked the garam masala. Although he could have probably simplified a little bit. His pork tenderloin was perfectly cooked too, it sounded so rich and delicious in its description, but was a little disappointing to eat because it was a little less flavorful than I expected with all of those components. Like Katie, he also separated out all of the ingredients. I was hoping to get a dish that was really bold in these Chinese flavors, the hosin and the XO sauce. I wanted it all to be mixed in a way that every bite had all of those tastes and it wasn't.

And then there was our dessert, Keriann’s vanilla crepe. I’m still totally confused as to how she wanted it. She wanted it room temperature, she wanted that mousse to be stiff and hard, not spreadable? I can’t understand how it would’ve been served that way and been successful either. But I do know that the way it was served definitely didn’t work. As much as I’m sure she was devastated by the way her team chose to change her dish, and especially that they didn’t tell her before they did so, I still think it would not have been a successful dish had she served it her way either. I’m just totally baffled by how it was supposed to be, and how she didn’t notice until the second half of service that it was being served in a different way. What I especially don’t understand is how she didn’t plate one for them first. If she had just plated a full dish, showed it to all of them and they all tasted it before she went out to service, they all would’ve known exactly how she wanted it and would’ve done it that way. How do you create a dish and leave people to execute it but not show them how it’s supposed to be? That’s why we decided Keriann had to be the one to be eliminated. There were a lot of problems with service at Magellan. Clearly, customers weren’t getting dishes, or they were getting dishes twice. No one knew where anything was, it was impossible to get water or a server. It was impossible to find Keriann. She put food down and then walked away without explaining it. There were so many times when we were completely thrown off by the service. And, in addition to all this, her dish didn’t make sense -- not only because of how Katie and Katsuji changed it, but in her vision in the first place. Keriann worked hard, she pushed herself, I’m proud of her. I think she’s a strong person, a good cook and will have a successful. I just don’t think this was her day.

Next episode: the judges hit Whole Foods!

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