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. 

 

Hugh Worries About Scurvy and Foie Gras

Hugh Acheson wonders about the health of the kids at Emerson College and debates the cost of roasting that much foie gras.

In this, the tenth episode of this 12th season, we open in the kitchen of the chefs super secret lair. Katusji has taken his wit, wisdom and wherewithal back to his Kosher Japanese Cal-Mex empire to work on a masa matzoh ball taco. He is described as "the most loveable dick in the entire world," which seems pretty on point. These remaining five seem saddened because Katsuji provided respite from the drudgery of competition. They mourn as well, because all understood, though it was never talked about, like a solemn vow, that they could all beat Katsuji in this cooking game. He was the San Diego Padres of Top Chef, the team that all the other competition knew would be an easy beat when the time came.

So the quintet of Mei, Gregory, Dougeeeee, Melissa and George remain. They are all have the stuff that could allow them to win the dough, but Mei and Gregory have really shown that if we must have hierarchy then they are the top two contenders.

Quickfire begins with Andy and his college roommate. Andy just told the roommate that those "games" they played late at night in their bunkbeds WILL be talked about in his next book, so Dave, you have some explaining to the wife and kids. Andy, we are told, is "known for his antics." That he is.

Andy exorts the contestants to hook up with each other and I immediately think of Dougie spooning with Georgie. I then have to wash my eyes out with steel wool and bleach to remove the image. This hurts and still the image remains.

Padma gets Andy back on task and she introduces the Quickfire. It is a collegiate showdown of ramen proportions but the catch is that they must use the contents of the fridge of some poor frosh. Out come the stoner, the nerd, the sorority girl, the lady who should have graduated in '05 and one other innocuous soul. Their fridge contents make me worry about a scurvy outbreak at Emerson College.

We are regaled with stories of the craziest things they all did in college. Melissa built a 24-story beer bong. I went to school in Montreal so my craziest times were hanging out at Biftek on St. Laurent and getting drunk playing pool. Oh wait, I DID THAT EVERY NIGHT until I dropped out of college. Luckily I had some cooking skillz.

Gregory concocts a bacon, Doritos, leftover pizza broth, and I am immediately worried about the future of our country. Dougie has made a Cobb salad ramen with a "coconut-pineapple" broth, and I start looking for my Canadian passport. George, who has no idea what ramen is, 'cause Mike Isabella has never let him out before, is cobbling together a version of SpaghettiOs 2.0s. It has a hint of hot dog, but so does Andy, so this may be well liked. Melissa is making a "Crunchy Carbonara Ramen" which is probably already dispensed out of a coin machine in Tokyo and actually sounds pretty tasty. There is hope. Mei makes a smoked tomato miso with upcycled sushi. Sounds okay, so I stow the passport back and the "go bag."

There is no immunity but the winner gets 5K. Not bad for fifteen minutes of work/fame. Bottoms are Mei and Dougie. Tops are Gregory and George with Melissa winning this murky challenge.

They go to the little room of stewage and watch Julia Child. Then Jacques Pepin stops by and everyone gasps in amazement. I do too because if you don’t love Pepin you are not a nice person. He da bomb.

The Elimination Challenge is to come up with a dish inspired from Julia's cooking. Three hours to cook and one hour to finish on site tomorrow. They chat with Jacques for a while to learn the secrets of Julia, other than the fact that she was totally a CIA spy.

Doug is silent because of where he comes from. Texas shrugs as he says, "I grew up in East Texas and here I am meeting Jacques Pepin." Then he follows this ode to the state of Texas with, "I am from Texas so I can't pronounce things very well." C'mon Doug, your state gave us that Rick Perry character! He's fun to watch!

Doug is insistent on making a whole roasted foie gras. George is braising some veal and presenting it with some vegetables and pommes puree. There is some French going on around here. Melissa is challenging herself with shortribs. Mei is making duck a l'orange but you know it will show off some of herself. You can't spell Mei without ME. Gregory is making Coq au Vin. Tom wanders in during cooking to advise them to channel Julia and then they all try to sound like Julia. None of them will ever be known for their impersonation abilities.

We eat. It's outside. It's beautiful. The diners, or the we, are Dana Cowin, Jacques, Alex Prudhomme (related to Julia), Tom, Padma, Boston chefs Barbara Lynch, Joanne Chang, Mary Dumont, and little old me. I am hungry so don't talk much.

The food is really good overall. There were some issues like drier ribs, monotonous veal, raw foie, and maybe some flabby duck skin, but pound-for-pound they did the dishes well. Tops are Gregory and Mei, and the verdict is an interesting one. Gregory nailed a classic, but it was like he channeled Julia too much and did a textbook version, while Mei nailed a riff on a dish with her duck a l'orange. It is arbitrary who should win but Mei pulls it off and wins a just decision.

Not so arbitrary but still close is the bottom trio of Melissa, George, and Doug. Melissa erred in rib cookery. George cooked stunning veg but it was the veal that was a yawn. Alas, Doug bows out with his dish, a dish that he had never done but dreamed about. You don't just do roasted whole lobes of foie at the restaurant you work at, cause the owner chef would probably stab you if you ruined the 300 bucks in product. But this is TV money so he took a chance. The problem is that cooking whole foie is tricky. You can''t sear it too much or you will render away the beauty, and then you need to temper-roast it in a medium heat oven. Then it comes out and you rest it on a wire rack. It is pretty much served just warm. He did all of those steps, but over-seared it and then cooked it a hair hot, and not long enough, resultingin a greasy, yet raw internal. Funny thing is that the rest of the stuff on the plate was awesome. Well Doug, you were a favorite of ours and I wish you much success in Last Chance Kitchen.

And now we are four. Until next time.

For a good time, follow me on Twitter @hughacheson

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