Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

The Inevitable BBQ Challenge

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

The Inevitable BBQ Challenge

Tom Colicchio explains that the errors made had little to do with the chefs' inexperience with BBQ.

 

You knew we’d be doing a BBQ challenge.  \We're in Texas. So, yeah, you were right – it was only a matter of time.

Don’t be surprised that six of the nine contestants wound up on the bottom of this one. This was a very, very difficult challenge. How difficult?  Let me recount the ways (sorry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning): The mere fact that the chefs were asked to do three different meats and two different sides essentially overnight was in and of itself a lot to contend with. Factor in that the chefs were working outdoors on unstable tables of the wrong height at which to comfortably work. Factor in, too, that the chefs were cooking over an open pit and had to keep the fire going the whole night, watching that the temperature and the smoke stayed at just the right levels.  My restaurants send a team to Memphis for the world championship of BBQ, and I can tell you that open pits have hot spots to be accounted for, particularly when one is cooking with BBQ sauces with sugar in them, which can easily burn. The chefs couldn’t just pop the food into an oven, set the temperature and a timer and come back after catching a nap. Now also factor in that it was at least 95 degrees AT NIGHT and that there was a heat index of 115 degrees during the day, making it at least 135 or 140 degrees near the open pits and making this a challenge of endurance in addition to one of skill. This was a tough, tough challenge.Not one of our chefs traditionally cooks this way, so it’s not surprising that they all had a hard time, between the environment, the challenges, and being tired. The stress got to a lot of them. I am surprised that they didn’t make greater use of the smoker, perhaps because one rack fell early on and it may have spooked them. But you can get a great deal of smoke over the pit, too, so that doesn’t explain why so many of the proteins didn’t have more smoke to them.

All of that said, though, many of the errors that were made were really simply errors of cooking not attributable to inexperience with BBQ. Ed’s decision to start slicing the meat early was a gaffe that yielded steamed-up cafeteria food. By my way of thinking, a long line of people waiting for good food is better than a short line of people waiting for bad food. It wouldn’t have killed the people to wait for their food; they may even have appreciated it more. The biggest error of the challenge, however, was not Ed’s steamed food or Sarah’s less-than-crispy chicken skin or Beverly’s playing it safe and tame. The excessive saltiness of the brisket and ribs was by far the biggest problem, and Chris C. was responsible for that. On a brighter note, though, the Blue Teams’ food was excellent. That chicken Paul made was phenomenal, and the other meats and sides were fantastic, too, and it wasn’t just us judges who thought so. It was pretty much unanimous among the crowd of dyed-in-the-wool Texans that attended that day that the Blue Team’s food was best. It just goes to show you that having a point of view and carrying it through is important. Many places and cultures have their own variations of BBQ. Texas is all about brisket. In Kentucky, the BBQ is more vinegar-based. BBQ can be found in South America, in South Africa, in India, Japan, Korea, Russia… you name it. BBQ requires a dry rub -- usually salt, some sugar and seasonings. Paul and his team decided to use flavors that he really knows -- curry, coriander, mustard -- figuring that the flavors were probably going to taste good… and it really worked. Furthermore, you’ll note that the team worked exceptionally well together. There was very little tension among them. They were OK with one person taking the lead, and no one was snotty about it. Lindsay even said, essentially, “Paul’s been doing really well, and I’m comfortable working with his vision for this.” And, in fact, the team did support Paul’s vision and did so in great spirits, whereas there was a lot of backstabbing and second-guessing going on among the members of the other teams. They were tired and stressed out, which is inevitably when things start to break down.

You may be asking why we had the first chief technology officer at Microsoft as a judge on Top Chef. Simply put, he’s an expert at BBQ and a great choice for this challenge. I’ve known Nathan Myhrvold for years… since he was at Microsoft, in fact. He has a very, very bright and inquisitive mind and is a real Renaissance man, excelling in all he does. He started college at age 14 (not a typo), has worked on quantum theories of gravity as a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge under Stephen Hawking, and his areas of expertise range from paleontology to technology to barbeque to applying scientific principles to cooking, to geoengineering. Geoengineering? He’s figuring out how to reverse global warming. Really. Oh, and he’s also figuring out how the creation of clouds at will can ameliorate drought and hunger. Meanwhile, his barbeque took the top prize att he world championship of barbeque in Memphis. He brought his trademark enthusiasm and intelligence to our challenge this week, and it was an honor and a pleasure to have him with us.

 

 

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!