Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Chefs Will Not Roux the World

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

Gail Talks OvenGate

The Chefs Will Not Roux the World

Hugh Acheson doesn't understand why the chefs made individual steaks.

This is being written, fueled by hotel room coffee, in the beautiful Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood, Mississippi, the home of Viking Range. Book tours are endless.

The chefs are realizing that some of them are boys and some are girls. Except Moto Chris who shrugs off this segregation, favoring a caste system based on whether on not your hair looks like Pebbles from The Flintstones. Again, he is alone in his caste still sad about his Richie. Dude, we all miss Richie.

In saunters Padma and Dean Fearing, a fantastic chef who owns Fearing’s in Dallas. Dean is known for sauce work and is a very classic chef. His food is “best in Texas” material. He also plays a mean guitar and wears cowboy boots that cost more than my mortgage. On top of all that, he’s an awesome person. 

The Quickfire is being held at the Cordon Bleu in Dallas where Paul Q. went to cooking school, so he knows these stoves. Classic sauces are the topic. Tomate, Espagnole, Veloute, Hollandaise, and Bechamel. Get your roux working. It’s the golden oldies of saucework. 

Chef Fearing is a roux man. Roux dat. This is a generational thing, though, and many of the younger chefs make classic sauces not thickened with roux. We agree to disagree on this, Dean and I. I am very impressed with the dishes overall. Grayson’s quips that, “Sauces ain’t no thang” and “feeling fucking saucy” are pretty accurate, as she wins the challenge with a beautiful plate with ravioli, scallops, and a gazillion little elements. Looks badass. Nyesha was talking big, but ended up in the bottom three with Beverly and Dakota. 

On to the Elimination Challenge. Cattlemen’s Ball in Southfork. Heather can’t remember who shot J.R., but she’s pretty sure it's Beverly. The steak is meant to take center stage in a four-course meal. No one says anything about steaks having to be individual steaks, but that’s how Ty-Lor interprets. Big mistake. Would have been so much easier to cook whole eye of ribeye and then slice down to portions. The steak main course is setting itself up to be the disaster course. 

Ty-Lor has some pretty impressive eyebrows in his childhood pictures. And I know what I am talking about. Trust me.

Beverly, Dakota, and Sarah are doing tomato-watermelon gazpacho. 

Chris Jones, Paul, and Edward are making seared beef carpaccio.

Ty-Lor is the steakmaster with a “Whose Your Daddy?" apron, Malibu Chris has greens, Nyesha has a compound butter and a sauce, and Whitney has a potato gratin. This dish has been planned by Ponderosa in 1976. 

Heather, Lindsay, and Grayson are making a peach cake with stuff and generally being the executives in charge of the whole dinner. 

Heather hates Beverly. Hates. Heather wonders why Beverly always cooks Asian food. I want to ask Heather why she is always bossy while cooking white people American food. Beverly’s problem is that she’s a bit too soft-spoken and wispy. It’d be awesome if she just suddenly put Heather in a sleeper hold to stop the conversation.There is lots of fear going on about Whitney’s gratin. I can’t help but wonder why she chose something so basic, but if she can pull off something ethereal then my thoughts mean nothing. Good food can be simple. 

Has Lindsay channeled the voice of Slingblade? Her drawl has gotten much deeper when stress and a new Venza are involved.

Ty-Lor has stabbed himself in the hand which looks terribly painful. There may be no marrow tomorrow. Ty-Lor gets a medic. Then he goes to the hospital. The club of those who have shed blood is growing. 

Heather is getting angrier and angrier. Her chances of winning people’s choice are dwindling. She needs to go to a happy place. Tom visits and Heather turns on the charm while her team is back in the kitchen actually working. Dakota has no love for Heather. 

Whitney’s potato gratin is a beacon of early controversy. 

Ty-Lor is back. 

Busy time in the kitchen. 

And here come the judges. My hair is weird. Oh well. Kind of Mad Men meets Don Johnson circa 1985. That Billy Reid suit was sweet though. We love us some Billy Reid. 

Let me be clear on the diners. This was a great group of people genuinely into the charitable aspect of the event. That’s my type of people. Compared to the progressive dinner crowd from last week, it was like night and day. I still have Gummi Bear cake nightmares. 

First course comes out pretty well. The gazpacho, garnished with pickled shrimp, is very smart. It is pretty bracingly acidic though, but it was a pretty solid beginning. Second course looks fine. Maybe too simple. There is a wonderment to what Ed was doing the whole time. The meat was spot-on, but the rest of it seemed a little disjointed. The whole meal is a little discombobulated. 

The main course is a mess. Four elements piled on like it was your last meal on earth. Looked like a glutton’s delight. Looked like a dish where no one talked to each other along the way. Trainwreck. 

“Right Side Up” Texas Peach Cake, Whipped Mascarpone, Pecan Streusel is deemed pretty great by all of us. No matter how much Heather drove everyone nuts, this is about the food, and her dish was good. 

It turns out Beverly has been stalking Edward for years. Bev is a strange creature. Heather is trying to throw Beverly under the tenth bus of the day. 

Chris Jones, Nyesha, and Heather in the tops. This is all weird because it was a kind of best of the worst kind of day. I was not the biggest proponent of Heather ruling the day, but someone’s gotta win. 

It was really hard to send anyone packing, but there was a massive problem with the main course. It was a mess. Why they cooked individual steaks is beyond me. The whole group needs to talk more about the point of a menu. This was a bad example of menu planning.Whitney lost out. You need to put something great forward every week to stick in this. Undercooked gratin is not going to do it. She will prosper and succeed nonetheless, trust me.

 

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!