Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Best Food Ever Served on 'Top Chef'

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

Best Food Ever Served on 'Top Chef'

Tom Colicchio goes course by course to explain why Paul ultimately took the win.

I know you heard us say more than once in the episode that this was The Best Food We’ve Ever Been Served in a Finale. I want to reiterate right off the bat that it was. For all of you haters out there who kept posting all season long that you didn’t think Sarah was good enough and that you couldn’t understand why she was advancing… and then why she made the finale…and the final two… I trust that this episode made it completely clear to you that she’s a very, very good chef. This finale was as close to a tie as you’re ever going to get. Marco Canora and David Myers came away from the experience blown away by the level of cooking they saw and tasted. They’d seen the show and expected competence and even talent, but they never expected the brilliance they experienced in this finale.

When I eat out, I do not judge the food; I just eat. I would never have picked critically at either of these meals were they served to me at a restaurant. I would have been extremely happy with them both. My comments in the episode and here are because as a judge in this competition, I had to split hairs and determine a winner.

 Let’s break down the two meals course by course:

Sarah’s pasta course was perfectly made, and, while surprising and playful in terms of the ingredients she chose, such as the coconut, was still a very Italian-feeling dish. For example, the chili? There are spicy notes in Calabrian dishes. It was not that far from what I expected to get from her. It was a really exceptional dish.I sorely wish that the other judges had had the same first course from Paul that I had. There were tons and tons of flavor in that chawanmushi, and the texture of mine was exactly right. On balance, since the other judges received slightly overcooked versions, I’d say that Sarah’s first course ekes it out over Paul’s by just a bit. Sarah: 1. Paul: 0. 

As for the fish dishes: Sarah’s was nicely cooked, with lots of flavors, that good use of fennel… the flavors of the dish were really bright. The rye crust was great, though it was not unique to Sarah -- I first noted it about eight years ago. But then the beets got in the way. Ironically, Sarah probably should have listened to Tyler Stone when he suggested that she sous vide. She added the beets to the dish to give it some acid, but they weren’t pickled enough. The technique not only takes all the oxygen out, but also pressurizes whatever you’re sous-viding. The liquid in the ingredients gets removed… which would have paved the way for it to be replaced with the pickling brine. Pickling the beets raw was simply a straightforward mistake.  

Paul’s sea bass dish, on the other hand, was flawless. The fish was perfectly cooked, and that clam broth was unreal. It was a great combination of earth and sea with the mushrooms and clams. I can’t say enough good things about it -- it was a remarkable dish. As terrific as Sarah’s dish was, Paul won that course by a wide margin. Sarah: 1.  Paul: 1.

And here’s where it gets more complicated.

Moving on to the third course… Both Paul’s congee and Sarah’s veal cheeks were outstanding. I’m not normally a congee fan, as you probably noticed on the show, but Paul’s was really, really delicious. Gail didn’t see how the dish fit into the larger scheme of the meal, whereas Hugh felt it was perfectly placed in the progression. But there was no denying how good it was. Sarah’s veal cheeks were fantastic, though her sweetbreads were probably prepared a bit too far in advance, and the polenta she served to the first set of judges was problematic. But her flavors were great. So.  Again, I give the course to Paul, while Gail might have given the course to Sarah.…which brings us to the dessert. As with all that proceeded it, both dishes were exceptional. The judges gushed about Sarah’s dish because it was gush-worthy. It was fantastically delicious, a truly wonderful dessert. For all that I loved her dessert, and despite the fact that there was nothing to cricitize about it, I personally would still give the win for the final course to Paul. His dessert was the more interesting of the two. It was really well put together, really smart, and really unexpected. That spicy chili foam with the coconut ice cream was sublime. I personally thought that the rice had just exactly the right amount of texture. This dessert showed that Paul was thinking it all out, the texture, the interplay between hot and cold, the play of flavors… utterly successful, and, ultimately, as delectable but a lot more interesting than hazelnut cake.

And so you see the challenge we judges faced. We had just been presented with two exceptional meals, both reflecting the personalities of the chefs who made them, both highlighting outsized talent and remarkable skill sets. And we were faced with as close to a tie as we’d ever been. At the end of the day, though, even if you were to score the courses 2:2, an “even match,” the details in Paul’s dishes were just a little better thought through and put together, and while I believe that he won three out of the four courses, even were you to decide that both he and Sarah won two each, he won his by a wider berth. It was very, very hard to deny Sarah the “Top Chef” title with the meal she served us that night in Vancouver… but at the end of the day, Paul’s meal managed to edge hers out.  It was the better of the two phenomenal meals.

Now, if you were a Beverly fan, you’d probably be upset that Sarah made it to the very end, and no doubt are glad that Paul took the title, but we judges were never around for any of that “drama” and, frankly, would not have been interested in it had we been privy to it. We’re interested in the food they make in response to each challenge, and that’s all. Based on the food that Sarah served up in the finale, I completely stand behind her having reached the finale. She and Paul both worked hard all season to get there, and I for one will not soon forget the meals they presented.

 

Gail Simmons Won't Be Pushed Around

So she's going to take more time shopping at Whole Foods -- and ask for the best of Melissa's basket and Adam's shrimp.

Bravotv.com: Let's dive right in. How did it feel to go shopping?
Gail Simmons: Shopping at Whole Foods was fantastic and hilarious. It made us realize that you need to be strategic, which was the point of the exercise for us. They gave us 30 minutes, but we took a little longer. We didn't let the producers push us around! We’re not contestants and we weren't going to stand for it! So, you realize how little time you have, and how big Whole Foods can be. You spend a lot of time running around.

 

My strategy with my pantry was to get a lot of fresh, delicious food that you can cook in lots of different ways. A good balance of proteins, fish, fruits, vegetables, spices, fresh herbs, grains. But I didn't want to get too much. Everyone has different strategies; Padma got a ton of different ingredients. Tom's pantry was very pared down. Richard and I were somewhere in the middle.

 

Bravotv.com: Let's start by talking about the two dishes that came from your pantry?
GS: Katsuji and Melissa. They used the same protein, but their dishes were very different. They both used shrimp which one of the proteins that I bought. I bought something else too, something that I know has given people trouble in the past (which is why I specifically chose it) -- chicken wings. And I really wanted people to use them. Instead, they chose the easy way out because shrimps cook quickly.

Melissa's used a lot of fresh vegetables, which I was hoping she would: dill, mint, artichoke. I was so excited about all of it. I think it was beautifully done, a lovely salad with that little shrimp on top with spiced yogurt. But it was just a salad with a quick-cooking seafood. It was so similar to what she had done in Restaurant Wars when she made a scallop with grapefruit salad. I believe she could have done so much more. Melissa keeps saying she wanted to focus on her knife skills, and, of course, your knife skills have to be precise. But I need to see more than just knife skills. I want to see cooking skills, I want to see roasting skills, braising skills. I want to see her hands get a little dirtier and her dishes not be as superficial. It was a light, lovely dish. I was happy to eat it for lunch. But when you're competing against six other really talented chefs, we all want to see a little more depth. Katsuji on the other hand went big. He used his ingredients in a really powerful way. The potato salad, the poached shrimp had bold seasoning and I loved how they went together. It was a great dish. It may not have been the best of the day, but I was actually really happy with what he chose to make.

 

Bravotv.com: So for the rest, let's talk about who was on top and who was on bottom.

GS: At the top there was Gregory who really was going for Padma's heart there. He did great with his coconut milk curry. A really balanced, powerful dish. But it's something we’ve seen from Gregory many times in the past. In fact, in the first challenge he made a similar spicy curry dish with chicken. As much as we thought it was a delicious bowl of food, it was so typical of what we expect from Gregory. George's food was really exciting for us. This was my first time tasting his food and meeting him on Top Chef. He did a great job. The kebab was moist, seasoned really well, and the lentils were beautiful too. My only small issue with the dish is I couldn't understand why he separated the lentils from the kebab in two separate dishes. Why not put lentils on the plate and the kebab right on top, with a dollop of the yogurt? It seemed a little bit disconnected to me. But all-in-all, a really strong dish. Doug had the winning dish of the night. He used Richard's crazy pantry in a way that I thought was smart, clear-cut, and creative. The chorizo and mussels and peppers, just how Tom said, go together well, as do the cauliflower and the garlic. There was sweetness, there was spice, it was light and fresh but had a soulful, rustic flavor we all loved. You could see use of technique. On the bottom were dishes that tried to stretch and didn’t come through. Mei did a great job overall, except her lamb was undercooked. You want lamb medium, medium rare, but the center of that meat was raw to the point where the texture was chewy and almost cold. It would have been better if she had been able to cook it five minutes longer. We talked about Melissa's mistakes already, which also landed her on the bottom. I totally applaud Adam for trying to make a quick-flash marinade. He's been in the middle for so long and he thought "I gotta go big or I gotta go home." He tried to go big and unfortunately, he went home because of that technique. I get the idea of what he was doing, I don't doubt that it could've been successful if it were perhaps done in a different setting, with a little more control. But the flash marinade of his shrimp did not cook it as needed. It was still grey, it was still raw, and the texture of raw shrimp is not appealing. It's squeaky, it's squishy, and it becomes sort of mushy. We wanted it firm and cooked through. It's not like fish that you can eat sashimi-style Unfortunately Adam's hard work, his big risk sent him home.

I will miss him. I think he's an incredibly articulate, clever chef. I think he has an extraordinary career ahead of him. I'm excited to see him back in New York City. I can't wait to eat his food again. Also I want to say of this entire episode that was it was thrilling to see our superfans in the kitchen. We've never let people come into the kitchen in that way before, even though people ask us all the time. It brought so much good energy to have basically a live audience with us for the day. Everyone was so psyched. It was amazing to be around people who really love the show, to let them eat food from our talented chefs. SO much fun!