Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Sarah Grueneberg: "People Think I'm Heather"

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

Sarah Grueneberg: "People Think I'm Heather"

The Top Chef: Texas runner-up dishes on her finale prep and how she handled Tyler Stone as a sous-chef. There was a break between the last Texas challenge and going to Canada, did you do anything special in that time to prepare?
Sarah Grueneberg: Oh yea, absolutely yes. I staged with a few different chefs around the city. I worked with my pastry chef on some techniques including liquid nitrogen. I went to a pastry class at a chocolate academy here that was taught by one of our local chefs, Patrick Fahy, who’s really talented. I staged with Chris Shepherd -- he’s in Houston, Texas and he took me to three different Asian markets in Houston. I didn’t realize there are such great markets there. And then I worked with Bill Kim who’s an amazing Korean chef here, and we staged at his restaurant and he took me to the Japanese market, Korean market, and the Vietnamese market to show me the differences. I really wanted to be prepared if I was thrown into an Asian cooking challenge because I researched Vancouver and saw how amazing their Chinatown is, so I thought I better be ready! And that really paid off when you were paired with Floyd. He’s the nicest man.
SG: He’s so amazing. Oh my God I love him. I saw him this past week at his restaurant -- it was so good. The menu looks very simple and delicious and then you get it and you’re like, “Oh so good.” In the last challenge, you and Paul have to select your sous chefs based on the food that they create for you. You pulled Tyler, and part of it was that you legitimately thought what he made was Heather’s dish. Did you just select it because you thought it may have been her dish or did you actually like the way it tasted?
SG: I started second-guessing myself and thinking that. You know, I thought my scallops were cooked nicely but it wasn’t even a thing until a second before it was my turn to say something and that shot up to my brain. It’s the irony -- it’s like the producers had my mind in control and they wanted someone to pick him. 

He did a great job -- he’s very young. I was extremely patient with him because the girls were about to eat him alive. They were going to pounce like lionesses, like little tigers. It looked like you were trying to help him and encourage him.
SG: I wanted to know his strengths, and I knew in order for him to work -- because he wanted to think that he had the final say in everything -- I just had to make him feel like I really cared about everything he was saying. In actuality, at the end of the day I’m still going to do what I want to do because it’s my dinner. What was behind your decision to infuse your meal with both what was expected which was the Italian aspects of your courses and then inserting your German heritage with everything, and using Asian flavors)?
SG: Yeah, there was a lot of different flavors. See, people, I do know that Asia is a lot of countries. I got pulled into that whole Asian thing and I don’t think I even said “Asian” that whole time I was there. People think I’m Heather. I just wanted to really push my self, show things I learned in Texas. I was a little more reserved, and it takes a while to really feel it, so in the finale I knew that I had to push it because I knew at the end of the day if I didn’t give it my all and push it as far as I could I didn’t deserve to win. And in order to compete with Paul who’s so strong, I knew I had to come out of the gate really strong as well. So I really wanted to push and at the same time I got a lot of inspiration from the other chefs. When I got back to Chicago I started thinking of the things that Beverly taught me, that Paul taught me, Lindsay, Grayson, and Ed taught me. Once the group got smaller we really got to show each other more. So I found myself really inspired by them, and I think you see that in every course -- there’s a little bit of each competitor in there. Gail noted in her finale blog that the dashi was a nice nod to Paul and his style and she thought that that was really nice that you included that. 
SG: I think that out of the whole chef teams of this season, I feel confident that I grew the most and that I became that I became a better person after the whole experience. I’m excited for my career and excited about being the new Sarah, really finding what Sarah’s cooking is. I think it’s a really fun time and doing Top Chef let me find a new route. What could have been a setback that we see is that your fiancé kind of pulls you aside and says that there are bones in your fish. What was going through your mind when you heard that?
SG: I already knew there were bone issues, that’s why I had butchered them twice. I butchered fish for two days straight. These steel head trout don’t look like any of the store trout we get here, these have more of a rounded nose and look more like a salmon, and the ones that we get here are a little more pointy-nosed like a trout. But regardless, it wasn’t a bone in the top part of the filet, it was these little feather bones that were only maybe 1/4 inch long, they were like babies and they were just embedded in the flesh, and so that’s when I had to come back through and just butcher all bellies the next day because I knew I could not serve bones. Luckily Jamie got the bone, and I always say when I have friends coming into the restaurant and there’s something weird like that that happens, it’s good to tell me so I can fix it -- it’s not like it’s going out to a guest. The judges never talked about bones in any of their dishes. And I talked to a lot of the guests that night and none of them said anything about it so I think he was the only one who got it. When he told me about it I said, “I know that, I can’t do anything about it now!” It was cute how he told me and he isn’t savvy with production so he didn’t know I was miked. There is no whispering when you’re miked. So service is over, you’re at Judges’ Table, and you and Paul go backstage and you say that it seemed Padma really liked your courses better, Tom seemed to maybe like Paul’s better. Did you really feel either way at that point, which way it was going to go?
SG: Absolutely, and I think he did too. I think deep down inside I always knew it would be Paul, but when I heard the judges’ feedback I got really nicely surprised. It was a nice reward for all the hard work and the amount of risks that I took for them. It really made me feel great. And at the end when I am getting emotional it was just because I knew they were going to call Paul. I still wanted them to say my name as well. At the end of the day I couldn’t think of a better way to go home runner-up. They said how close it was. What did your mentor Chef Mantuano say when you got back?
SG: He’s incredibly proud of me, but I think he’s always going to be on my side. So he was like, “You got robbed a little bit!” The frustrating part is that it doesn’t seem like Italian food and Mediterranean food ever get the same respect and it’s really a shame and I hope that that will change. On Top Chef Masters, Chef Chiarello seemed to try to kind of change that perception of Italian food and what Italian food can be.
SG: It’s like everyone knows Italian-American and I spent my whole career studying the regionality of Italian food and going to different regions when I can, so Italian food is very different to me then what it is to the vast majority of Americans. And that was really what I wanted to show people. That real Italian food, as far as the regional cuisine, and I got some flack for that. People were kind of mean about me defending Italian food, at the same time they weren’t saying anything about Beverly or Paul making somewhat of an Asian  -- Thai, Japanese, Korean -- style dishes for the majority of the show. It’s just a shame. I think that every cuisine is equal. And hopefully more chefs like Chiarello and Montuano and myself can push that. So when are you and your fiancé getting married? Are there any updates?
SG: Oh man, not right now. We’re just now starting to plan. But we are really excited and I think we are going to shoot for the fall or early next spring/ summer. I think that will probably be the most realistic because we are just stoked. A lot of people are interested in it, so it’s kinda fun. Well the food will be amazing obviously. 
SG: I hope so -- that’s a struggle. When the chef is getting married, who do you hire? Maybe Top Chef wants to have my wedding on the next season. That could be a good challenge.


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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