Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Drinking Game Alert!

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

Drinking Game Alert!

Word of the day is "Blazer"!


To honor the episode, we must have a word of the day. The word of the day is: Blazer. You can do anything you want when it’s mentioned throughout this post, but I recommend drinking. Drinking makes my writing a bit easier to understand, and I recommend something culled from the Girl Drink Drunk skits on Kids in the Hall. Get those blenders set up. 

Since last I wrote, Jonesy has gone but is not forgotten. He gave us so much to talk about that I am, well, a little saddened by his departure. He went out with a chicken salad sandwich rivaled by your local convenience store so c’est la vie. It would be a healthy convenience store though, probably in Berkeley. Grayson is also saddened by Chris’ sudden disapparition and will smoke an edible cigar for her homey. This one is for Pebbles. Meanwhile, Edward is “all business from the waist up, as his fancy pyjamas consist of basketball shorts, a dress shirt, untucked, and a blazer. The classic blue blazer is the uniform of the fall and winter in the South for men of a certain pedigree. I am not of this pedigree and I think Edward has just been kicked out of the club. First rule of Blazer Club: Do not sleep in the blazer. 

Lindsay is talking about her family and that they were a little concerned about the career choice she took, at least initially, but now are very supportive. It’s an industry filled with a lot of addiction, low salaries, and exploitation… what’s the worry? My Pops was awesome with my chosen field. He was very supportive and still helps me a lot with guidance. Lindsay is one of the few who could do anything but chose to cook great food for a living, because it’s what she loves. Glad her family was supportive of her. She has a rocking mentor in Michelle Bernstein who is a stellar chef/restaurateur in Miami. When you have to prep an opulent set for a pancake challenge, obviously you think to make a gazillion pancake skyscrapers. Obviously. The culinary team of Top Chef probably dropped a thousand, “Are you f--king kidding me?”s, when asked to make the Dallas skyline in pancakes. I would have outsourced that to IHOP so fast. “I need 4200 orders of CINN-A-STACKS, to go. Thanks, dude.” The judge of the moment bikes in on his trademark Schwinn and it’s Pee-wee Herman, Paul Reubens. They are one in the same. I need a stage name. Any idea? Slappy McDimwit may work. 

Let’s talk about pancakes in general and what I like about them. I don’t want them too sweet. I make them pretty much every Saturday for my kids. They like them. I like the classic Joy of Cooking recipe. Like Ed, I want that critical crisp ring around them, and I want them fluffy, but not like a cupcake. I would have probably enjoyed Ed’s and Grayson’s versions the best. Paul’s looked pretty good as well, but the champagne dipping dots were a red herring. Who wants frozen champagne dots on pancakes? Unless they were frozen sausage pellets. That’d be good. Paging Chris Jones, please re-pack your knives and return to San Antonio. Your skill set is now in demand. 

The pancakes are made. Many. Most of the chefs go in the cavity-causing vein and pack in the sweets. Pee-wee will love this, as I think he has the same food whims as a four-year-old. I would have gone against the grain with a savory pancake, but I am not cooking for the strange man with the bowtie. Paul is bringing back memories of Pebbles with his Dipping Dots. Champagne-style. I wonder whether this could be a rap music trend forthcoming. Pee-wee yells “time’s up” like it’s “hands up.” Padma backs him up in more sultry style. Pee-wee seems a little addled before the sugar. Uh-oh. 

The dishes:

Grayson: Getting all Minnie with it, but this is the most Pat-looking Minnie ever. Ricotta buttermilk pancakes with peach, blackberry, basil, and lemon zest and a carafe of syrup…. I hope maple, cause it ain’t pancakes without true maple syrup. Don’t get me started. Pee-wee says they are the best pancakes he’s ever had. 

Sarah: Confetti pancakes with blackberry sauce, cocoa nibs, and whipped cream. I am reaching for the Paula Deen branded-insulin. Why does Pee-wee not bring the food to his mouth, rather he brings his mouth to the food? Weird. Pee-wee says they are the best pancakes he’s ever had. Neither Padma nor Pee-wee call out the overwhipped cream on the plate. Looked pretty broken up. 

Paul Q: They do not make many pancakes at Uchiko. Rolled pancake with berries, black pepper and champagne Dipping Dots. Paul, that’s a crepe. But I like the savory aspect of things. Pee-wee says they are the best pancakes he’s ever had. 

Lindsay: Ricotta pancake with lemon, cardamom, brown butter syrup, crème fraiche, and anise cookies. Look good, but I just don’t get the cookies part. Pee-wee says they are the best pancakes he’s ever had. 

Ed: Pancake bits with berries, bacon, bruleed marshmallows, and chocolate shavings. The sugar is killing me. But I like the pancake bits idea cause that’s one of my fav parts too. Pee-wee says they are the best pancakes he’s ever had. Pee-wee is playing a little game… always. Living with Pee-wee would probably be very frustrating. Ed wins. First QF win for him! He says: “Hopefully I am going to start streaking late.” I know what he means, but all I can think of is him streaking commando style, with just the blazer on. Ed is capable of such things. May the big blue blazer always cover his Louisville slugger. 

They now have to cook a family-style meal for Pee-wee and the judges, but they have to bike around town finding product and borrowing kitchens for prep space. This is going to be interesting. The key is that only one chef can cook in one kitchen at the same time. Just soothsaying. Oh yeah, and they are riding bikes. Edward is tiring himself before they leave by running around the house. Lindsay puts her helmet on backwards. Her parents are supportive of this too… cause i'ts funny!

They buy chicken. Some buy beef. Okra and squash are seen. I don’t think the drought made for great farmer’s markets this year in the Lone Star state. We learn that Grayson comes from a competitive family and her Uncle John lost his left eye in a contentious day of Monopoly down by the river in ’78. Everyone glides around on their bikes looking for products and a place to ply their trade. It’s a beautiful day in San Antonio and Lindsay should be happier. I suggest a soothing cup of iced tea and a Xanax. 

Now, this challenge would irk me. It’s hard to ask something of a stranger, let alone wander in off the street from your Pee-wee bike ride and ask a busy kitchen to make room for you. Paul has found his home away from home in some obscure Belgian-Thai bistro with a chef he enjoys the company of, a place where he can pursue his excellence. Nothing fazes the Qui. Lindsay is being hurdled by many obstacles. Ed has found himself in a bed and breakfast and is re-enacting an episode of Fawlty Towers, the one where John Cleese tries really hard not to offend the Germans. Grayson is in a Mexican restaurant when Lindsay comes in to poach some more ingredients. Upon her return to Mad Hatters she sees that Sarah has encroached on her space. A battle is avoided, but Lindsay is not having a good day. Back on the bike she climbs. Helmet is in correct direction.Lindsay finds a small kitchen called the Hog Stand and gets cheeky with it. Flash to Sarah who is telling folks that she can hang with boys, while making little crackers of love. Ed is making some Red-Eye gravy, but yearns to be lounging in his blazer at the homestead. He is making chicken carpaccio, which is dangerously delicious. Grayson is improving American-Mexican relations with her friendly Wisconsin demeanor. 

The bike ride laden with foods looks fun. Mostly Grayson who is a circus act of smooth, riding one handed with her hot food resting on her bare hand. 

This family-style meal is on the table. Let the judging begin. 

Lindsay Autry - Stuffed Zucchini with Braised Beef Cheeks, Rice and Goat Cheese - The zucchini boats are a little heavy and Pee-wee thinks i'ts pork. Silly Pee-wee. 

Sarah Grueneberg - Summer Vegetable Egg Salad with Chicken Skin Vinaigrette - Needed salt but looks great otherwise. Love the idea of the vinaigrette. 

Edward Lee - Chicken and Grits, Raw Corn, Kale Salad with Red-Eye Gravy - They are freaked by the pink. I understand. They like the rest of the dish.

Paul Qui - Roasted Chicken, Red Curry Gastrique, Summer Salad w/ Basil Blossom Oil - Sweet and acidic. Seems to have gone over well.Grayson Schmitz - Egg, Spinach & Gorgonzola Stuffed Chicken & Butternut Squash - Smart but overly salady. Some bad jokes go around the table which I don’t get. I want to take off my pants, put on my blazer and relax; this episode is exhausting.

The Stew Room shenanigans continue. 

Pee-wee has calmed down and is actually a good food judge. He has solid things to say. My notes on the Judges' Table are short cause you should watch on your own. It was a good honest, smart table. 

Lindsay wins after her stressful day, but I think that Lindsay is harder on herself than she needs to be. She pulled out the win despite all the craziness she encountered.   

Grayson goes home. The Wisconsinite brought it this season. She has a great personality and she can cook with the best of them. She goes out like a total champ too, only being proud of herself and what she’s done. Bullfrog songs will be sung in her memory.  

The chefs are finally told about the alternate universe of Last Chance Kitchen. Crazy world. 

Yo, make sure you follow me on Twitter. I promise to make jokes about myself. @hughacheson


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!