Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Strogan Off

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

Strogan Off

Tom Colicchio explains why Heather and Grayson's dishes failed from the moment they selected their cuts of meat.

 

I know what you’re thinking, and I agree -- how great was it to kick off our sojourn in music-centric Austin with iconic American singer Patti LaBelle?! I was as excited as our chefs were to have her as our guest judge this week.

I liked this week’s Elimination Challenge, as well. I think it’s a fitting one for the week before Christmas. Most of us who celebrated Christmas as a child can't help but think back around this time of year on holidays past  And whether we look back with nostalgia or antipathy, the holiday meals we experienced are usually an integral part of the memories. The chefs this week were asked to pay homage to those who gave them a huge gift by first instilling in them their love of cooking. A perfect challenge for them, and, potentially, an inspiration to the rest of us as we enter into the Holiday Season and plan our own family gatherings and meals.

As an Italian American, I always loved the feast of the seven fishes that my grandmother made on Christmas Eve, but I use it as a springboard for my own feast; I do not make the same exact meal. I remain fairly true to my grandmother's timeless beet salad and salt cod dishes, but I do a fresh reimaging of the rest, which makes the entire meal, when taken as a whole, a creative take on the feast of my childhood. Think about it: there are surely plenty of dishes from your childhood that you remember loving but that you can acknowledge that you’d probably like a lot less if you tasted them today. Yeah, I loved cotton candy as a kid, but I don’t particularly want to eat it now. Furthermore, our taste in food in general is not the same as it was in decades past. Food has been updated, just as have fashion and décor, and with food, our palates.  The chefs were asked to make dishes that paid tribute to those people who first inspired them. They were not asked to reassemble those dishes, and I consider it a dearth of creativity in Grayson that she chose a literal recreation of her father’s steak dinner, without giving any thought to modernizing that dish and making it her own. As a contestant on Top Chef, she should have known better. But the bigger problem Grayson faced (and one that she should have anticipated) is that if you really want to wow someone with a piece of steak, you’d best go out and get a piece of prime meat. Only four percent of meat in this country is prime. The rest is choice, which is fine, but if you’re going to go out there and center a competitive dish around a piece of steak, it should be the best piece of meat you can possibly find. Grayson’s wasn’t that. 

The only reason Grayson didn’t get sent home was that Heather’s dish was so bad. And Heather’s was so bad because she had the wrong cut of meat. You want to braise cuts like shoulders, shanks and bellies, because they have a lot of collagen and connecting tissue that breaks down as it’s braised, creating a rich dish. You don’t want to braise cuts of meat like strip steak or rib eye or tenderloin. Heather could have braised that piece of meat for three days, and it would never have worked. As with Grayson, Heather needed to apply her creativity as a chef to the situation she faced: if she was inspired by her mom’s Beef Stroganoff, she could either have bought the right meat or decided to do a take-off on the Stroganoff using that beef and applying in a new way the flavors found in a Stroganoff, but she didn’t do either, and so what she did do wound up dried out and terrible. Chris C. knew that he had cooked his salmon too hard, but luckily, as with Grayson’s dish, his wasn’t the worst of the worst. Heather’s miserable Stroganoff spared Grayson and Chris the need to pack their knives.

Contrast these with the three dishes at the top this week: Sarah’s grandfather used to make sausage and her grandmother used to make stuffed cabbage… so she combined those two in a balanced and nuanced way that elegantly featured both. I doubt that Ed’s grandmother presented Kid Ed with that beautiful sunny-side egg atop her bibimbap. He honored the essence of her meal while creating a wholly current -- not to mention delicious -- version of it. And Beverly, too, understood exactly how to take inspiration from the dish of her childhood without just copying her mother’s dish. The resultant dish was beautiful and the flavors were there. These three dishes fulfilled the Elimination Challenge perfectly and were as memorable as the bottom three were regrettable.

Not that many of you will regret seeing Heather depart -- I know from viewer comments that she was not universally liked. The only thing sweeter for Beverly than being in the top three the week Heather was eliminated would probably have been had Beverly actually taken the win. But she was in the top three for good reason, and she should be very proud of her dish, win or no win.

Happy Holidays, all, and a Happy and Healthy New Year. 

 

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!