Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

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Polk Me!

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

Gail Talks OvenGate

Dookie Chase Makes Everybody Cry

Polk Me!

Hugh Acheson breaks down the first Canadian challenge -- and shares a little U.S. history in the process.

 

Final Four. Vancouver madness. The chefs are forced to walk through the rain from the airport. I would gladly walk through the rain in Vancouver over 112 F in Dallas. Loved Texas, but it was the hottest summer I have ever experienced. 

You expect Padma to pop up at any moment and surprise them with a Quickfire in the airport parking lot. And that’s exactly what happens in note form. Lindsay is still harping on herself. Bev is still on cloud nine but seems more assertive than before. They have their snowsuits on. Bev may have A Christmas Story moment at any time, falling down in her snowsuit and unable to get up. Windy at the top of Whistler and Tom and Padma are literally getting blown away. Tom is dressed in his Merchant Marine best, but the man looks pretty warm. I need to chat up wardrobe all nice and stuff to get that type of parka. 

I paid no attention to the rules, so this should be interesting. Gondala. Cook. Stop. Cook. 

Paul is having travel sickness due to his orange pants. Sarah is all over the place. Bev is focused, or as focused as Bev can be. Lindsay is pretending this is like hunting gator in a Jon boat in the Okefenokee swamp. She is dressed like a Bond villainess, white turtleneck with black hat, making this gator hunt more interesting. I always loved the Bond skiing scenes. Gretchen Bleiler and Gail the Canadian are the guest judges. I was usurped by a multi-medalled Olympian. Whatevs. They eat Paul’s lamb with enoki, juniper, and wasabi, and we get like no reaction. Sounds like a juggling act of many, many powerful flavors. We are right back to Sarah. It’s a chorizo dish with prune juice and gooseberries. It’s like Spanish food for old people with an out-of-season fruit. Bev is menu planning for the future. She loves the dish and the thought of creating all menus on a moving metal crate in the freezing cold. She is having one installed back in Chicago. Sarah can use it when she asks really nicely and apologizes for all past meanness. Bev has made a salmon tartare with anchovy, horseradish crème fraiche, and crispy capers. This is straight out of the 1992 playbook, which yes, I am guilty of using as well. Lindsay is cooking for a trio of people when she is facing a quartet. She has not caught any f--king gators on this miserable trip. Her dish is a salmon with quinoa, chorizo, and horseradish vinaigrette. 

Paul gets a passable. Gretchen loved the wasabi. Sarah gets a nod because gooseberries gave it some acid. Bev gets hugged for knife-work. Lindsay’s salmon was beautifully cooked. It was a gondola, people. Again, Lindsay thinks she sucked, and lo and behold, they loved it.  She wins, and hopefully gets some self-assurance. You are in the final round of Top Chef. Realize you rock. You rock. Enjoy. 

Hotel moments at the fabulous Fairmont. The Fairmont has all the old CN hotels in Canada and they are beautiful spots. Go to the Banff Springs hotel someday. Sheer bliss. Stayed at the one in Vancouver, and it was the lap of luxury. Don’t tell the producers that I am happy in a broom closet. As long as there is running water, a Twister game, a framed picture of Ken Dryden, and two packs of those colored Nat Sherman Fantasia cigarettes like my aunt used to smoke, my rider has been met.Sarah and Paul are having a discussion about Bev, while Bev washes her hands and face with Lady Macbeth-like concentration. “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” Sarah calls her the “Silent Horse.” It’s Dark Horse, Silly Sarah! Go research some Polk. Which when I did, brought up this weirdo tidbit… From Whitehouse.gov: 

“He (President James K. Polk) offered to settle by extending the Canadian boundary, along the 49th parallel, from the Rockies to the Pacific. When the British minister declined, Polk reasserted the American claim to the entire area. Finally, the British settled for the 49th parallel, except for the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The treaty was signed in 1846.” Don’t tell me I didn’t pay attention in Civics. 

And then Sarah calls Bev a tiger. Enough with the animal comparisons. Anyhoo, it's year of the dragon, that tiger stuff was like two years ago, which might be a bad omen for Bev.

More Olympians. This guy does Skeleton, which is kind of like controlling a fall down an icy set of stairs, headfirst, while holding onto a little piece of plastic with skate blades stuck to the bottom. Better you than me, handsome mountain man. He is Canadian, but no, I don’t know him. As an aside, when I was 11, my baseball coach in Atlanta asked if I spoke Canadian… he wasn’t kidding. 

The ingredients are in ice blocks. This is a Canadian traditional joke that we play on Americans, much in the same way of us giving you Corey Hart and Bryan Adams. Ice picks are brandished, but the use of a hammer with the pick never comes into play. Instead we have a Texan and two Chicagoans (albeit one from Houston) being made fools of by frozen water. Paul is helping. Nice Paul, continually being the good samaritan chef in the whole entire season. He’s quietly very self-assured. He does seem to make a gastrique (to the Google my people!) in every challenge though. What up with that, Paul? Sarah: Spinach soup with almonds and crab

Paul: Brown butter poached crab with mango chutney

Bev: Scallop with orange, buttered peas and couscous

Paul, winner winner chicken dinner. Going to Vancouver. Back to the hotel first to give positive reinforcement to Lindsay. 

Sarah and Bev into the cage. Strange, but funny, edit of Bev shooting Sarah. C'mon now guys… that was a little over-the-top. 

Biathlon! These peeps are not born X-country skiers. Lots of time on their butts. Then Bev trips up Sarah on purpose. Payback is a bitch. 

Bev shoots well and wins Artic char, celery root, truffle, fennel, and beets. Sarah has rabbit, cabbage, hazelnuts, and cherries. They get cooking, and Sarah shows that she still has a large helping of condescension to serve to Beverly. It’s not a Healthy Choice entrée. The timer goes off, and Beverly clutches her temple like her dark overlord wants her to return to base. The voices are strong with this one. Bev has cooked an Arctic Char (Best Choice from Seafood Watch!), a pretty fine fish from the farmed fish world. She’s got a beet and onion compote, some celery root with truffles, and the fish. I would have made it rain truffle shavings on that char. This is Elfen money, make it rain. There ain’t no food cost on Top Chef (actually there was on one episode of Top Chef Masters. I made salad.).

Sarah is kicking the bunny. Braised rabbit leg and heart, cherries, cabbage puree and hazelnut sauce. Kicking it German-Italian style. 

Bev gets the dreaded “Maybe overcooked” from Tom. Sarah gets the “Tough rabbit" from Gail but I think it's kind of splitting hares. Paul and Lindsay come in to visit. She and Sarah have bonded. Paul expresses support for Bev. We shall see where this winding ski run ends. 

Bev is gone. Padma had a little teary thing going on. Bev, you made Padma cry! Nobody does that. Wow.

Bottom line, all joking aside: This is a f--king hard show. Its is brutal. It’s much harder than it looks. Beverly is an unconventional chef who can do one thing that is the most important attribute in chefdom: she can cook. She can really cook. She deserved to be in the final four and I will happily arm wrestle anyone who thinks differently. Except Heather. She’d kick my ass. 

 

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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

 



Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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.

Bravotv.com: 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. . .

Bravotv.com:  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!