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Dear Richard

Gail Simmons dishes on the Bahamas and has a message for Richard.

By Gail Simmons This week the chefs head to the Bahamas. How was that as a finale location?
Gail Simmons: It was beautiful. We happened to be there for over two full weeks, which coincided nicely with two of NY's major snowstorms this winter, so I couldn't have been more pleased to be there. The beaches were gorgeous, the water was beautiful, the weather was completely perfect, and we had a lot of fun. For the Quickfire, all the chefs had to compete against the Top Chefs from their season. What did you think about that concept?
GS: It was a great idea and very intense. There's risks involved with doing a Quickfire like that –- you obviously want the contestants to win since there's more at stake for them. But if the former Top Chef loses, does that discredit them? I don't think it does, and I hope our audience doesn't think that either, because as you know, we judge every challenge on its stand-alone merit. You can lose one day and win the next, and that's what cooking is about. So I thought it played out very well. And a few of them did beat their season's Top Chef.
GS: Mike Isabella beat Michael Voltaggio, which I thought was fascinating and fun to watch. Richard beat Stephanie, and Tiffany beat Kevin. It's important to keep in mind that the finalists are more in practice right now. The past Top Chefs haven't been in the game for a while. And they all had almost no resources, they barely had running water, so I didn’t take it too seriously, but I think it was fun. It was interesting that Hosea felt like he still had something to prove.
GS: I guess there are some haters out there, but at the end of the day he won fair and square so it doesn't even matter. We know the truth and how good a chef he still The Elimination Challenge was to cook for Bahamian royalty, which was sort of accurate…
GS: We actually didn't understand it either at first. We understood the chefs were cooking for the King of Junkanoo, but it was only when we sat down with himthat we realized he was not royalty at all. Either way, we became very intimate with Junkanoo, and we really enjoyed learning about it. And it was very exciting aside from a few kitchen disasters. Right, so the kitchen catches on fire, and the chefs are told that after it was cleaned, they can return to the kitchen and re-do their dishes.
GS: Yes, we had to do that because it would be impossible to force them to get the exact same ingredients again and make the exact same dish, when there was really no way of policing it. It also didn't seem fair that they would have had so much time to sit and think about it. We wanted to give everyone the option to change their dish if they wanted to. I don't think it really made that big of a difference in the end. They still had to cook and execute it, and as you could see, even having the opportunity to change their dishes did not mean that the food improved. The two people who changed their dishes were Richard and Antonia. Antonia was probably the one who took it from a high dish to a low dish. Do you think that was a good strategy?
GS: I think it was good for the atmosphere of where we were eating. The fact that she chose to change the refinement level of the dish is not what was wrong with it. What was wrong with her fried shrimp and grits dish was that the shrimp was overcooked and the meat that was in the grits was a very odd choice and didn't really go with the rest of the dish. It was ill-conceived, and that was why we had a problem it. Overall the dishes seemed weak. What did you think?
GS: I would say that compared to the food we got in last week's episode, at the end of our time in New York which was a high point for the season if not for the entire series, this was quite a disappointment. And there were many factors that led to this. They're now in the Bahamas where everything is new – the location, the kitchen, the ingredients, are not the same as they were in New York. Also, it had been several months between New York and the finale. We shot the season in September and this took place in January, so they had time off, to train but at the same time they were not in the heat of competition, so they were a little bit soft and out of practice. Even Mike Isabella's dish, which won that challenge, was not the best we've seen from him by any means. They were also very limited in the kitchen that day with what they were allowed to cook and how. There were just fryers and flat tops. It was a really hard challenge, but as Tom said, it's going to be hard from here on in. I can assure you, the food does improve on the next episode. Too bad Eric Ripert was our guest judge. We really wanted him to be proud of how far we've come since we last saw him in D.C. and the chefs did not put their besst feet forward, so to speak. Carla ended up going home.
GS: We thought Carla's was the least successful. There were two major problems with her pork: the cooking of the medallions we received was very uneven. Mine was really quite raw in the center, Tom's was undercooked if not raw, although Eric's was cooked well. But we can't judge just on Eric's. We need to judge on what we all received, and inconsistency is a big problem. Even though Carla promised us that everyone else was served a piece that was properly cooked, we also cannot judge on what the rest of the diners got. We can only judge on what's in front of us and mine was quite inedible – I'm not interested in eating raw pork. Eric's problem with it was that there needed to be a counterpoint to the dish, and there wasn't. This is something we talk about all the time with food. For a dish to be successful, there needs to be balance. In this instance there were sweet potatoes, applesauce, and the apple chip. All three components were very sweet, as is the inherent flavor of the pork. There was nothing to counterbalance all that sweetness – there needed to be acid, there needed to be a stronger textural or taste component, to balance the intense sweetness of the dish. Eric said it was almost like a dessert it was so sweet. The sweetness didn't bother me as much, because clearly I am a big sugarhead, but I did understand his point and objectively that is an issue. And Mike won the first Bahamian challenge.
GS: We were really excited. He came to the Bahamas very prepared. Not only were we really surprised how far he's come from Season 6 to now, but he also improved from New York to the Bahamas. It was so impressive. This challenge for Mike reminded me of when Kevin Sbraga arrived in Singapore. That's not foreshadowing, I just remember right out of the gate you could tell Kevin had been training. He had his game face on and Mike does too. We will see if he can sustain it…My other comment is about Richard. His food was good; I liked a lot of it. It had its flaws, but overall I thought his dish was interesting with the turnip cannelloni and the mustard. (Look out for mustard! For some reason in the Bahamas mustard and mustard seeds are a running theme. I don't know why. I love mustard. It is my No. 1, all-time, hands down, no contest, favorite condiment ever. EVER! I am a mustard fiend.) But Richard has to lay-off of the self-loathing. I know it's sincere, and I know the poor guy can't help himself, but come on! Have some confidence or pretend to have some confidence. That's how you get confidence. Fake it till you make it, because if anyone has to see him make a great dish and complain about it one more time, I cannot be responsible for the actions taken by our viewers. And I don't blame them if they're exasperated by it. He's so talented and so awesome, he needs to stop all the worrying. I love him, but I think he could use a therapist.

How to Watch

Watch Top Chef Season 21 Wednesdays at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

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