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: 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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