Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Heather's Attitude Issues

Gail: I Wasn't Surprised Doug Stayed on Top

Get Doug's Masterpiece Brisket Recipe

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

Heather's Attitude Issues's Senior Editor tries to understand Heather's behavior.

Hello, my little doe-eyed deer. Just to address some of your comments from last week about Heather winning using Edward's recipe. It doesn't matter -- he gave her the recipe. And Tom brought up a good point in his blog that had Ed made the cake, which he could have, he might not have executed it as well. So, Heather won the Venza. I'm not sure how I feel about Heather's attitude in the kitchen, but we'll get to that in a moment because it's really interesting to dissect.

So, this week's Quickfire was all about tequila! Padma also introduced this week's guest judge, Tim Love. As I may be so bold and inappropriate to say this, Chef Love is, well, really good-looking in real life. OK, hopefully that'll be my only 14-year-old girl moment of the blog. Now, onto the Quickfire! This challenge actually reminded me of another handsome chef -- Eric Ripert. Eric loooves tequila. And good tequila. He's not a shot-doer, he drinks it like you're supposed to and as Chef Love reiterated -- by sipping it. As I get older, I appreciate tequila more and more. Someone once told me it's the only non-depressant alcohol, so I like to spread that fun fact (or fallacy -- who knows!) far and wide. But I can't sit there drinking tequila, unless it's in a cocktail or done as a shot. This challenge was about bringing out the flavors of the various types of tequila. Like Chris Crary, I would've selected blanco as well. (I'm really making myself sound like a lush, huh?) I have to be honest and say that, although they were successful, I'm not a huge oyster fan (blasphemous I know), and the thought of pairing an oyster with tequila amost made me vomit in my mouth. As did many of the seafood preparations. Maybe I need to get out more! Even though Heather's didn't work out, the first dish that came to my mind was shrimp too. There used to be this amazing tequila shrimp dish at Eatery in NYC. (Just looking on their website, and I'm not sure it's on the menu anymore -- sorry about that!) Anyway, I'm curious if Chef Love or Padma got drunk from this challenge because it looked like they were finishing all their pairings! Do you know how much tequila that is?! Anyway, Ty-Lor wins this one with his clams. What a nice redemption after his lackluster steak last week and a fairly bad injury.

Onto the Elimination! Chef Love invited his chef friends as the diners for the challenge. They were all impressive, but I was especially excited to see Top Chef Master Anita Lo (if you haven't eaten at Annisa, go!) And the awesome guys from Animal. On my trip to L.A. a couple months ago, I made sure I ate at specific restaurants, and Animal was one of them. It was ridiculous! I can't express enough what an enjoyable low-key meal you can have there. Here are a couple pics from that meal...

poutine, oxtail gravy, cheddar


sticky toffee pudding, mascarpone, orange 

Anyway, the theme of this meal was game. The chefs' experience with game ranged from people who said they've actually hunted their own food, like Nyesha, to people who felt slightly uncomfortable working with game. And perhaps some chefs were just uncomfortable working with their partners! I thought this episode was especially revelatory about which chefs feel compromising with a partner is the best route (and I don't mean Heather's use of the word "compromise," which means to just use her idea) and which chefs felt like they could trust their partners enough to simply go with their ideas.

Perhaps Edward and Ty-Lor won because they worked well together. Not that the judges know anything about what happens int he kitchen, but working well together should produce good results. Also, they used sorghum. I had never heard of sorghum till my friend was looking for it for her boyfriend a couple weeks ago, and then Hugh Acheson mentioned it on his latest appearance on The Nate Berkus Show. Looks like sorghum is the new black!

OK, now onto Heather and Beverly. Oof.  

I'm really torn on this one. I think it's really easy to say that Heather is too tough on Beverly. And you know what? She kind of is. That flower in your hair isn't fooling anyone, Heather! Ha! But, I'm admittedly a very assertive person (OK, maybe aggressive), so I try to put myself in Heather's shoes, to see how I would react to Beverly's personality, and you know what? I'd probably get a little saucy too. That certainly doesn't excuse Heather, though. The problem is that a good manager knows how to get the best work out of people, and Beverly does not respond well to aggression. So, Heather needs to try another tactic. Beverly has more than proven that she's an excellent chef, so Heather needs to start trusting her more. Heather isn't necessarily wrong about her ideas. She was worried about the rendering of the duck fat, and you know what? The judges didn't think it was crispy enough. But how do you do your best work when your "partner" is watching over you, forcing you to hide your cooking style?

Heather brought up that their dish sounded too Asian. While this statement left a bad taste in my mouth, I think I understood what she meant... sort of. Whenever you put labels on dishes, the judges have expectations. Right, Chris Jones? I don't think Heather wanted to get caught in her own sweet potato fence. But the thing is, she needs to express this sentiment better. Why should Beverly tone down her style, when she has to "compromise" on your rustic one?

Heather at Judges' Table was, well, bizarre. She obviously had some things she thought she needed to get off her chest about the last challenge! Enough about the shrimp already, Heather! It's irrelevant -- the judges don't care. And more importantly, as Grayson pointed out (who I'm loving more and more with every episode), you're shooting yourself in the foot! Is it worth it to throw Beverly under the bus just to be right?! Grayson (who seems to be having her own issues with Heather) did the right thing by telling Chris to stop demeaning their dish. Heather could have taken that advice. When in a team, you're not just making your teammate look bad, you're making yourself look bad.Phew. OK. Glad I got that off my chest. Looking forward to seeing all of your arguments over this one in the Comments section below.

Unlike Heather and Beverly, I think Paul and Sarah had a great dynamic. Paul had more faith in Sarah than she had in herself, and knew that even if Sarah wasn't happy with her sausage she would figure it out. They were yin and yang, and it worked. Unfortunately, Sarah cried, though. But, don't worry, Sarah. Beverly says its OK to cry.

P.S. Is Paul Qui the most adorable thing ever? I think i have a Season 9 crush on him. That little knit hat in his interviews! Sigh. Also, he seems so mild-mannered, but he's like a silent killer. 

Grayson and Chris were close to going home. Grayson walked a fine line of trying to steer Chris in the right direction -- away from a failed sweet potato fence, and not taking the reins when she saw her partner was in trouble. I'm not a trained chef, but I felt for Chris. I don't think sweet potatoes have ever come out the way I want to. They're just so temperamental. I'll let you know how my sweet potato latkes come out this year, though!

Oh, I almost forgot the twist! The chefs had to pick the bottom groups. I think they were all pretty constructive in their comments. Even Heather was dishing out compliments! It got a little dicey when they actually had to vote for the bottom three groups, but it seemed that everyone agreed on the final decision.

Utimately, Dakota and Nyesha are sent to the Last Chance Kitchen. So, watch to find out who will move on to next week's challenge.

And until next week, Have a Nosh!



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. 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. 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. 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. 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. . .  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!