Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Fast is Slow and Slow is Smooth

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

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

Fast is Slow and Slow is Smooth

Hugh Acheson tries to wrap his mind around Chris Jones' mantra.

“Don’t screw with my food when you are representing me representing you." This is Lindsay’s new battle cry. I would have suggested something shorter, like the Sioux call of "Hoka Hey!" or a simple “Kill! Kill! Kill!” This drawn out Rebel Yell from Florida is directed to the recently departed Beverly. Little do they know that Beverly is cooking to success in the Last Chance Kitchen. You can’t keep the gnome down for long. 

Grayson is chatting to herself about the need to step things up. She’s a little concerned. And she should be. This is nearing the end of the line, and right now she’s a middle of the packer known for silly songs and sexual innuendo. It’s not even innuendo usually, just sexy talk. Sexy talk means nothing anymore without Chris Crary, the sculpted Ken doll of cookery. 

Emeril, Cat Cora, and Padma are judging this Quickfire. Padma is wearing a boyfriend-style shirt-dress, plaid with cut-off sleeves. Am I the last person on earth to know that she’s dating Larry the Cable Guy? Cat Cora looks completely different when she lets her hair down. Emeril too.

I don’t know how the teams came to fruition, but they seem to fall on race (Ed and Paul), sex (Lindsay and Sarah) and then the oddball team of merry pranksters (Chris Jones and Grayson.) The challenge is to peel, devein, and butterfly two pounds of shrimp, shuck and cut a crate of corn, and make a pound of perfect fettuccine. Then you cook with all three ingredients plus the pantry, and the best dish wins. Sounds easy? Whatever… this is anything but easy. Winner gets 10,000 Smackaroos, Padma’s newly-named currency system. Padma is keeping the real greenbacks and swapping them with these Smackaroos. Currency speculators are wary on Smackaroo futures.

Here’s where I get picky. The challenge calls to “shuck a crate of corn…,” yet the picture has corn cut off the cob. Shucking is just the peeling and removal of the greenery and yarn of the corn. Cutting is something else. I would’ve just shucked it and not cut it and then been all stubborn about it. That’s how I roll. I am a walking pain in the ass, albeit a nice one. People say I smirk a lot. I do. 

The teams do line up things pretty much as they should. Make the pasta dough, get it resting, then into corn and shrimp world. Grayson says that the male shrimp are dirtier. Lindsay comments that Grayson never shuts up. This is pretty much the case, but Grayson has given us some pretty memorable lines this season and that crazy rendition of the bullfrog song. 

Alas, all happy thoughts are vanishing in this grueling Quickfire. Grayson is all over Chris for his slow-pokey work style. He asides with some strange wisdom, which I would like to set the mood for… think of a snow-capped mountain top, and on the very top of this mountain is the wise soothsayer we have all wanted to chat with in life, hair up in strange ponytail, wearing a bathrobe. You ask for wisdom and the response is this: “Fast is slow and slow is smooth.” Then your life journey is complete because it will take you the remainder of your existence to figure out what the fuck that means. 

Corn cob check for Mr. Qui. We have a corn failure on aisle three. Maiz a Qui? No Bueno. He gets Cat Cora’d and has to improve the shapes of them cobs. Ed is surely convinced that the curse of being paired with Paul continues. He may be right.

“Shrimp check please.” Immortal words that you should only speak in bath houses you will never return to, where no one will ever know your name, unless your name is Ty-Lor, the centerfold sensation. 

Paul has forgotten to put the shrimp on the pasta resulting in a banishment of the white team and a continuation of the curse of Ed and Paul, the team that Paul always brings down. Paul only wins when the money is his and his alone… and then he always wins. The green team wins, even with the deep-fried bacon. Gotta get things crispy, you know. Slow wins this race, and is happy to bring home the deep-fried bacon to his family. 

The Elimination Challenge is to cook for a block party, 200 people, to fill the coffers of Healthy Choice initiative “Child Hunger Ends Here.” The chefs will be competing against their just-former teammate from the QF. When I think block party I think of sliders and potato salad, mac 'n' cheese and sausages… and Grayson comes up with chicken salad. She would be horrible at $100,000 Pyramid

Paul and Ed are doing Korean BBQ with pickled salad. Grayson and Chris J. are rocking the chicken salad with watermelon. Lindsay and Sarah are heralding a new day for meatballs and vegetable salad. 

Shopping. Grayson yells at the butcher counter guy, “You are the shit. You are the shit.” Enunciation is everything, because with a little bit of wrong inflection this could be the most insulting thing ever said on Top Chef. Other than that, shopping is pretty straight up. Chris Jones does pull out a Marauder’s Map and sees Beverly lurking in the dried grains aisle. Off we go to prep time. They are at the old Pearl Brewery where the esteemed Culinary Institute of America has a campus. Lindsay is busting balls. Ed is rolling buns. Chris has opened up a franchise of Pret a Manger with sandwiches made in advance, a British accent, and amazing turnaround times. He then gets all ornery when packing up his food, throws some very fine looking white chairs, and has a premonition about bees. Float like a butterfly, Chef, and don’t get stung by a bee.

On-site. The bees bring back memories for me of a catering we did recently in Thomasville, GA. Stunning spot with amazing flower gardens. One request is to set up elaborate cheese displays flanking the flower gardens for guests to arrive at directly following the ceremony. They looked awesome. Ceremony starts and my walkie starts buzzing with a request that I come to the cheese displays. I ask why… “Because there are some bees on the cheese.” OK. Fine. I can deal with some bees. I go over and take a look. There are about 5000 bees on each display. This is the real picture that I took. 

hugh-blog-bees.jpg

They were everywhere. One of the guests was oddly enough a beekeeper and schooled us. They were Italian honey bees and they would go away at nightfall. They did. 

Chris Jones does not have the luxury of waiting for nightfall. He is also allergic which make this whole situation a little trickier. I got stung about seven times with my bee situation until I realized I needed to be at peace with the bees and not freak them out. Chris Jones, channel your inner wise man and recite the mantra,”Fast is Slow and Slow is Smooth.” This will lull the bees into confused submission. On-site they all seem to have their happy faces on and are making people happy with the charitable angles. Ed is carefully allotting his buns. Grayson is making the sandwiches to order, which is a slow endeavor. Sarah is wondering why her meatballs are not getting the ballot box love. Chris is still battling ‘dem bees. He has cut out the top of his hat to release the Pebbles 'do.

Ryan Scott from Season 4 in da house. Doing great work.

Dana Cowin is also in the house. I received a great call from Dana a decade ago and have held her in high esteem ever since. She is a pretty rad gastro-editor. She is also requesting vodka for her watermelon salad which always endears me to people… usually Russian people, but still. 

They are liking Paul more than Ed.

They are liking Lindsay more than Sarah. 

They are liking Grayson more than Jonesy. 

Paul used eggplant to get the richness in, but back off the fat. Paul is also looking alive. The Quickfire was before his alert hours, but now he’s game. Grayson did not open a Pret a Manger chicken salad outlet and that is commended. Great call back by Grayson at Judges' Table:

Tom Colicchio: “Did you ever think, if I am on the winning side or the losing side, am I going to win this with a chicken salad sandwich?”

Grayson: “I think it’s definitely possible… (she reacts to Tom’s look) Obviously not. You think that chicken salad is really boring?”

TC: “Yeah. You have to win this against other dishes that are potentially much more exciting than a chicken salad sandwich.”

Grayson: “Like a meatball?”

TC: “Errr… Right. Or…”

Grayson: “Right.”

You don’t usually see Tom without a quick answer, but he is smiling like she has a good point on this one. Grayson continues to rock the lines. She’s one funny chef. She can cook too. Alas, I would not be caught dead bringin’ chicken salad to a Texas gunfight. 

Paul wins. Boy has more money than a banana republic. 

Jonesy calls the correct play. Usually he is Captain I’m Going Home and then turns out to be really wrong, but this time he’s right on. Back to Chicago to rejoin Moto Army. Homaru, Ben, and Richie will be happy to have Chef Chris back in the fold, and we are all sad to see him go. Experimentation is really important in the culinary world and chefs like Chris J. are integral to the advancement of food. 

Rock on, Pebbles. 

Gail Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

So she's going to take more time shopping at Whole Foods -- and ask for the best of Melissa's basket and Adam's shrimp.

Bravotv.com: Let's dive right in. How did it feel to go shopping?
Gail Simmons: Shopping at Whole Foods was fantastic and hilarious. It made us realize that you need to be strategic, which was the point of the exercise for us. They gave us 30 minutes, but we took a little longer. We didn't let the producers push us around! We’re not contestants and we weren't going to stand for it! So, you realize how little time you have, and how big Whole Foods can be. You spend a lot of time running around.

 

My strategy with my pantry was to get a lot of fresh, delicious food that you can cook in lots of different ways. A good balance of proteins, fish, fruits, vegetables, spices, fresh herbs, grains. But I didn't want to get too much. Everyone has different strategies; Padma got a ton of different ingredients. Tom's pantry was very pared down. Richard and I were somewhere in the middle.

 

Bravotv.com: Let's start by talking about the two dishes that came from your pantry?
GS: Katsuji and Melissa. They used the same protein, but their dishes were very different. They both used shrimp which one of the proteins that I bought. I bought something else too, something that I know has given people trouble in the past (which is why I specifically chose it) -- chicken wings. And I really wanted people to use them. Instead, they chose the easy way out because shrimps cook quickly.

Melissa's used a lot of fresh vegetables, which I was hoping she would: dill, mint, artichoke. I was so excited about all of it. I think it was beautifully done, a lovely salad with that little shrimp on top with spiced yogurt. But it was just a salad with a quick-cooking seafood. It was so similar to what she had done in Restaurant Wars when she made a scallop with grapefruit salad. I believe she could have done so much more. Melissa keeps saying she wanted to focus on her knife skills, and, of course, your knife skills have to be precise. But I need to see more than just knife skills. I want to see cooking skills, I want to see roasting skills, braising skills. I want to see her hands get a little dirtier and her dishes not be as superficial. It was a light, lovely dish. I was happy to eat it for lunch. But when you're competing against six other really talented chefs, we all want to see a little more depth. Katsuji on the other hand went big. He used his ingredients in a really powerful way. The potato salad, the poached shrimp had bold seasoning and I loved how they went together. It was a great dish. It may not have been the best of the day, but I was actually really happy with what he chose to make.

 

Bravotv.com: So for the rest, let's talk about who was on top and who was on bottom.

GS: At the top there was Gregory who really was going for Padma's heart there. He did great with his coconut milk curry. A really balanced, powerful dish. But it's something we’ve seen from Gregory many times in the past. In fact, in the first challenge he made a similar spicy curry dish with chicken. As much as we thought it was a delicious bowl of food, it was so typical of what we expect from Gregory. George's food was really exciting for us. This was my first time tasting his food and meeting him on Top Chef. He did a great job. The kebab was moist, seasoned really well, and the lentils were beautiful too. My only small issue with the dish is I couldn't understand why he separated the lentils from the kebab in two separate dishes. Why not put lentils on the plate and the kebab right on top, with a dollop of the yogurt? It seemed a little bit disconnected to me. But all-in-all, a really strong dish. Doug had the winning dish of the night. He used Richard's crazy pantry in a way that I thought was smart, clear-cut, and creative. The chorizo and mussels and peppers, just how Tom said, go together well, as do the cauliflower and the garlic. There was sweetness, there was spice, it was light and fresh but had a soulful, rustic flavor we all loved. You could see use of technique. On the bottom were dishes that tried to stretch and didn’t come through. Mei did a great job overall, except her lamb was undercooked. You want lamb medium, medium rare, but the center of that meat was raw to the point where the texture was chewy and almost cold. It would have been better if she had been able to cook it five minutes longer. We talked about Melissa's mistakes already, which also landed her on the bottom. I totally applaud Adam for trying to make a quick-flash marinade. He's been in the middle for so long and he thought "I gotta go big or I gotta go home." He tried to go big and unfortunately, he went home because of that technique. I get the idea of what he was doing, I don't doubt that it could've been successful if it were perhaps done in a different setting, with a little more control. But the flash marinade of his shrimp did not cook it as needed. It was still grey, it was still raw, and the texture of raw shrimp is not appealing. It's squeaky, it's squishy, and it becomes sort of mushy. We wanted it firm and cooked through. It's not like fish that you can eat sashimi-style Unfortunately Adam's hard work, his big risk sent him home.

I will miss him. I think he's an incredibly articulate, clever chef. I think he has an extraordinary career ahead of him. I'm excited to see him back in New York City. I can't wait to eat his food again. Also I want to say of this entire episode that was it was thrilling to see our superfans in the kitchen. We've never let people come into the kitchen in that way before, even though people ask us all the time. It brought so much good energy to have basically a live audience with us for the day. Everyone was so psyched. It was amazing to be around people who really love the show, to let them eat food from our talented chefs. SO much fun!