Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Bring the High Hat In

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!

Bring the High Hat In

Hugh Acheson hopes Lindsay knows that she has a lot to be proud of.

We have whittled down to a triumvirate, but that implies a team and though these chefs seem friendly to one another, they all still want to win this thing. Three Mooseketeers. Three wise women and a man. Three’s Company. Three’s a crowd. 

As the sun sets on Canada, we are treated to an Alpenglow evening in Whistler before they Sienna down the mountain to Vancouver. Makes me think of the Meat Puppets song "Comin’ Down," which is more about coming down off of heroin, but you get my drift. If you have never been to Vancouver, you should go. It is a stunningly beautiful place with great people. You can be looking at the ocean and turn your head to snow capped peaks. Vancouver also has a great food scene. I loved Bao Bei, Meat & Bread, and Vij’s. They were all great. Vancouver also has some kickass coffee culture going on that gets me all excited. Never seen so many Clovers in my life. (To the Google! Clover Coffee Machine).

Sarah is happy that Bev ain’t coming back. How sweet. Not one bit of, “Hey, against all odds, Bev did a pretty great job.” Did she not realize that those were cameras pointed at her, waiting for her to say mean things about Bev? I guess the wait was pretty short. 

Is the name game a degrees of separation game? I am wondering how Barbara Bush and Hillary Swank are connected. I think you would need more than six degrees to link them. Q-Tip comes up in the conversation as Sarah asks whether there is a rapper with that name. That’s like asking if there’s a tennis player named McEnroe. What’s the scenario? They arrive at the Fairmont in Vancouver. I am “hiding” at the hotel bar. “Hiding” is drinking, but I “hide” in plain sight. The chefs go to a Quickfire at the Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie. Badass restaurant. We ate like kings there one night and then the manager approached me as we were leaving to tell me he had just cooked the collard greens from my book for their holiday party, to awesome accolades. Made my year. 

Masters level sous-chefs with Asian food backgrounds come out of the kitchen. They have been living there at Bao Bei for the whole season, so they are happy to finally see the chefs. Anita. Floyd. Takashi. Yes, Paul you are expected to win. If it was a grits battle I would be the favorite too. It has little to do with lineage and more to do with what you cook everyday. 

$20,000 on the line. The Masters start for 10 minutes and then the three Musketeers cook for 10 minutes and then Masters and then the Musketeers finish. Floyd fondly remembers never winning a Quickfire on Masters. Don’t be saddened Floyd -- you won the whole season! 

Paul: Mirugai (Giant clam) with yuzu dashi and a lot of thai chile. “Emeril and I both happen to like a lot of chile, but that’s a lot of chile.”Lindsay: Scallop three ways. Her sauce work was a bit overpowering for the scallop. Whatever, scallops are my nemesis too.

Sarah: Pan seared cod with crab curry and amaranth. Could’ve used more acid. Bam.

Bev: If the Korean gnome suddenly appears she will be making a shortrib street noodle. FTW. And it would win. 

Flo-rah wins. Terlato money is exchanged. The Masters move on. 

Lindsay is mad at Sarah for winning and also at herself, cause that’s how she rolls. Paul is mad at the Scoville scale, himself, and the expectations of most of America that the guy who cooks Japanese food everyday would win the Asian challenge.  

Fire and Ice time. Dinner for 150 people. They have to cook a course and provide a matching cocktail with fire and ice components. 

At the Whole Foods, Paul wants 1000 grams of king crab. Love the man, but learn to speak metric. Didn’t this man deal dope? That’s a kilogram, Paul. Guess he missed those Miami Vice reruns. That’s how I learned metric. If Tubbs is holding 4400 grams of Colombian gold, how much would that be in kilograms? 

How many times can these people throw Bev under the bus? Lindsay is cooking halibut because Bev fucked up her halibut last time. She makes this abundantly clear. In another world Bev is cooking those tender prom queen ribs with a creepy, distant grin. Sarah is cooking a frozen moose over stuffed noodle. Very Canadian. 

Lindsay is roasting whatever is left of Bev’s self-esteem. 

Paul is looking for essential oils. And special vitamins that make you unbeatable. Warning: if the unbeatable feeling lasts longer than eight hours, go and see your medical practitioner.  

Sarah dropped out of high school to pursue chefdom. Somewhere along the line, perhaps in the hazing stage, she was carried through kitchens by men with high hats. High hat is an interesting term, meaning disdain, and she learned it well. Now, at this point in her career, she is giving the high hat to Bev.  

Sarah bring the high hat in
Sarah bring the high hat in
Sarah bring the high hat in
Sarah bring it

(To the Google my people! Search Tyler, the Creator and high hat)

Paul is forecasting a shitshow. So are the teasers. I don’t think its going to flounder that badly. 

To the train depot. Paul is pulling the claws off live lobsters. This will make the animal rights people really happy. He is finally letting his emotions show. Lindsay is grating tomatoes, and Sarah thinks Lindsay’s playing it safe. The high hat is still in effect. 

The Anti Griddle is coming into play. I think the same one was on the set of Masters and it was the one piece of equipment nobody touched the entire season. Not the most useful piece of kitchen gadgetry. 

The Canadian in the camelhair overcoat likes a stiff drink. Vikram Vij! Cool. VV is the awe-inspiring chef of Vij’s, specializing in modern Indian fare. I had cricket pizza there. It was pretty fly. 

Time to hang out on the stew train. "Crazy Train" may be an apt song right now. They all  have tickets, but only two wil go all the way to the final throwdown, which both America and I hope is not a dinner that they have to cook for 200 people while dangling from a cliff over the ocean. Paul is worst-casing the whole thing. That’s how he rolls. They look tired, and I have written that about twenty times this season.  

The loved Paul’s lobster. Tom hates the arugula in Paul’s dish. Afterthought is a key word, but I really do think this is picky picky. I think the dish was smart and luxurious and his drink looked pretty interesting. 

They loved Sarah’s cannelloni. But Gail assailed the frozenness of the sformato. She knew the ice cold mousse was a mistake, but she owned up. Her chile use may have been a little light, but Emeril loved the cocktail. They loved the pairing of Lindsay’s dish. Lindsay hates everything right now, but still wants to excel in the competition. Her halibut was cooked perfectly. The drink pairing worked well and she showed pretty strong. Chin up, young Lindsay!

They make Sarah the first called, but it's vague as to whether this is positive or an offing. She thinks she lost, but no… she is in! Lindsay is out. Lindsay leaves with class. She has no regrets, and none should she have. Paul wins this contest and moves on to the final. 

Somewhere there is a wall being punched by a prom queen turned very successful chef. And I think it's in Vancouver. Lindsay, you should be very proud of what you did. You rocked it. See you in Miami, where I am right now. Time to put on the banana hammock and head to the beach!

Yes I am on the next episode. Playing third fiddle is never easy. I just keep getting typecast as the monobrowed, sardonic chef. Eat well. Be swell.

Follow me on twitter @hughacheson

 

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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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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