Gail Simmons blogs 'Top Chef: All-Stars' episode 6

Gail-SimmonsAs told to Archana Ram.

I think last night’s challenge came at the perfect time. The dim sum challenge knocked everyone down a notch, which is normal. The contestants all get a little exhausted at this point in the competition. They needed something to be excited about, and I think sending them fishing for the day did just that. It was a beautiful day in August, it re-energized them and got them really excited about cooking again.

August is the peak of the best season for fresh local ingredients, and the contestants stopped at a farm stand in the Hamptons, which overflowed with beautiful produce. I think when we have that luxury of fresh produce, that’s how chefs should cook. Look at what’s available, what looks the best, and get inspired. That’s the best way to eat. As far as the judging, I wanted to point out that Kerry Heffernan was one of the best guest judges we’ve had before. We’ve had so many people come to the tables — famous chefs, movie stars, TV personalities — I’ve known Kerry for a long time, and he’s a really talented chef. But I never worked with him on television before and didn’t know what kind of experience he had. But he just owned it. We were all so impressed. It was almost like he had been at the judges’ table with us for years. From a behind-the-scenes standpoint, he slipped right into that chair and talked in perfect sound bites. He was like a producer’s dream. We all said, “Wow! Kerry needs to get a television show!” He’s one hell of a good fisherman, too. That’s also why they brought him on. He and Tom fish together every summer. They both spend a lot of time out in Montauk. That was the inspiration because he’s a great fisherman and knows a lot about the sea, not to mention the fact that Tom is an avid, avid fisherman.We all wanted Antonia to be in the top, but it was a team challenge. We wanted them to take responsibility as a team and justify their dishes. This is where things get tricky on Top Chef because we want them to work together. As a chef, you need to do that, but at the same time, it’s a competition and everyone needs to be out for themselves. Antonia could’ve helped Jamie and Tiffani if she had wanted to give them advice on how to cook their dishes. That being said, that was her decision to make. Maybe she knew that those dishes weren’t good and didn’t want to be a team player because she knew she had a good dish and needed to save herself first. That’s totally valid. Are they team members or are they competitors? It’s a fine line.

There was a lot of talk about the fish Antonia used. Porgies are small, very bony fish with a strong flavor. People don’t gravitate to them, especially in home cooking because they’re labor intensive to cook properly with the bones. But Antonia, Jamie, and Tiffani caught a lot of them, and I appreciate that Antonia approached it like she’d take this on as a challenge and use a fish most people wouldn’t think of because that was the hand that she was dealt, and she’d figure out how can she make that taste really good. She created a way to do that — she deep-fried the fish really well. It was really good fresh, moist fish, but it had a lot of other flavor components and textures, so it was a smart move. It was so delicious. It really was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

With Dale and Carla’s dishes, I have to admit, the episode was taped several months ago and I watched it over the weekend and when the judges’ table scene came up, I couldn’t remember who won. I could’ve sworn Dale won. And then Carla won, and I said, “Wait a second!” Not that this was wrong because I was obviously there for the decision, but I couldn’t remember between the two of them who ended up winning. In the end we gave it to Carla for one main reason: There are a lot of elements we judge on and there are no set guidelines of five points for taste, five points for creativity. It’s about feeling and talking through the dish. The conversation we had at the judges’ table was that Dale’s dish was amazing. The fish was great as were the fresh vegetables. It was equal in execution and in flavor to Carla’s, so it was really a toss-up.

In the end, though, Carla showed us something really different. She put a spin on it that was really creative. As much as Dale’s was great, we’ve all had a fresh, simple fish taco before. Carla not only used a blue fish — another one of those fishes people shy away from because it’s quite a pungent, oily fish — and showed us something really delicious. It was smart. She gave it this New York spin — the idea of the pumpernickel and horseradish, the schmear and the bagel, and the smoked fish. It just felt so right and so smart. Obviously, Dale’s felt right too — middle of the summer with fish tacos on the beach — but Carla’s gave us a sense of place that we were so excited about. For that reason, we felt we needed to give her the credit she deserved.

When Richard, Fabio and Marcel presented one dish, we thought it was silly of them to do just one. They did it because they thought, “If we all do it and work on it equally, how will they be able to kick one of us off? It’ll make it complicated for them, and we can just make something really great.” There was nothing in the rules that said they couldn’t do that. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the dish they made suffered from too many hands — and it showed. The fish, which was supposed to be the star, got lost in the process. If they had taken two things off that dish, it would’ve been great. The problem with three chefs with really big personalities all working on one dish together is they all want their own mark to be left on it. What ends up happening is it’s just too much. They weren’t able to hold back and that’s why the dish ultimately didn’t do very well.

With the jamon foam in particular, foam is now not a new thing. It went through a period of being very overplayed because it is the innovative technique that uses a siphon. When it came into the mainstream 8 to 10 years ago, everyone and their mother wanted to do foam. It’s fine and has a purpose. You get the essence and the really bold flavor without the heaviness of the ingredient itself. It’s a puff of that flavor. Our problem was the dish itself in its plating was so soulful. It was a succotash. It was rustic. The fish and succotash combo made a lot of sense together. We just couldn’t figure out where that jamon foam fit in. It didn’t seem to have a place, not just because the flavor seemed extraneous, but also because the foam seemed extraneous. It didn’t match the technique used in the rest of the dish. It felt completely like the odd man out, like one of these things is not like the other. Why did they bother? We also like to tease Richard and Marcel about that because those are the two guys who are always doing the foam. It’s like they can’t help themselves, as I said in the episode. Again, it’s a question of restraint.

Their strategy definitely made things a little more difficult, but we’re up for a challenge, too. We realized very quickly that Fabio had very little to do with the conception of the dish. So do we fault the idea because it was conceived poorly, in that there were too many components that ended up drowning the dish? Or do we fault the minutia of technique and fault the people responsible for the pieces? We found a way to break down the dish that made sense to us for judging purposes. Is a poorly planned idea worse than poor execution? That’s a constant question we deal with every single episode on Top Chef. There are two components to creating great food. There’s the conception: Is it a good idea? Will those flavors work together? And then there’s the execution: Did you cook the fish properly? Were the vegetables cooked consistently? Did you use the right technique so your idea is well executed? Those two sides, I think, are 50-50 in a great dish. A dish can be a great idea but fall completely flat if it’s not made well. Or a dish can be a bad idea, but the technique is so excellent that it can be slightly saved. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. You need them both in harmony to create good food.

But in the end, we thought the mistakes as a whole were just not as great as Tiffani and Jamie’s. We were pretty clear about Jamie’s dish. She just wasn’t smart about the way she put the dish together. There was too much broth — watermelon, cucumber, radish, red onion. There’s so much water in all of those things. And then there was this piece of fish swimming in watered down liquid. It didn’t have any personality at all. It felt drowned in weak, tepid water. We wanted it to be bright, fresh, pop and quench for us. I know she had that intention, but she didn’t follow through, and compared to the others, she really fell short. This was the perfect example of great conception, poor execution. Watermelon, cucumber, dill, radish, striped bass — those things should all go together, but they needed to go together in a different way. You know what could’ve worked really well with this dish? I hate to say it: foam. Then we would’ve gotten that pop of watermelon or cucumber. If she just wanted that fresh aroma, here would be a place. But it just felt like it was swimming. We had taken it out of the water; we didn’t want to put it back in!

We weren’t really surprised to see Jamie go. We all are clear that it was her time to go, unfortunately. She’s a great chef and a hard worker despite what her fellow contestants think right now. She didn’t have a great run the last few episodes, but I think she was exhausted mentally, as well. Tiffani is such a strong contender. She narrowly lost to Harold in her season and then came back and won our holiday challenge. She’s been cooking well all season. Tiffani is often right on top of things, but you have one bad day and that’s all it takes.

What did you guys think? Did Jamie and Tiffani deserve to go home? And are you happy Carla won the Elimination?

Comments (87 total) Add your comment
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  • bill

    I really disagree about Tiffani although i completely agree with Jaime. I think Marcel or Fabio should have gone home instead of Tiffani who seemed to not make a huge mistake but just some stuff that was a bit off. Overall i think she is a much better chef then Fabio or Marcel but i respect the judges decision

  • josephrileyland

    Maybe ew.com should let Gail write her own blog postings; this version, “as told to Archana Ram” seems all over the place and paints Simmons as less intelligent than I believe she actually is.

  • Drew

    I’m certainly going to miss Tiffani. I loved re-discovering her. I’ve been a viewer from the start, and was fully expecting the original Black Widow, and got this restrained, opinionated but respectful, great competitor and person. Hell yes, I wish she’d stayed, but at the same time, this isn’t like Idol or ANTM, where we can see the results. The judges sent Tiffani home, so I have to trust that it was the right decision, no matter how much I loathe Marcel, or at least the show’s portrayal of Marcel.

    • Reena

      I thought at first maybe thats just the way they cut the show to make him look like an ass but then I know someone who has met him before she is a huge top chef fan who just wanted to say hi and he acted like she should have bowed down and kissed his feet…after last night I really hope he gets kicked off he was acting like a FOOL! and I never knew he was such a gangster! LOL

    • Jane

      Losing to Harold really seemed to humble her. In the holiday challenge, she put away the attitude and just served up good food. She’s really grown up a lot and for that I admire her.

  • Corran

    Bill, I completely disagree. If you wiki top chef, you see all the contestants stats. Tiffani was at the bottom many of the times during the course of the season, and when watching her exit video, she was fairly content, and dare I say happy, that she left the show. She admits she did not have the same fire in her like she did the first time. She really was not there to win. Tiffani served bad food, did not peel the skin off which kept that blood vessel on the fish, and deserved to be booted. Best elimination to date.

  • Lee

    I’m really glad Jaime FINALLY left. She definitely overstayed her welcome. Gail may think that she’s a great chef and hard-working, but all I saw on the show was someone who was lazy with an attitude problem. Who cares about the sun being in your eyes when you’re trying to win $200K?! I have no idea why she decided to become a chef and why Top Chef invited her back for All-Stars. She basically brought nothing to the show. Dale T. is really showing what a great chef he is. Ironically, he’s upstaging Blais at this point. My Top 3 are Dale, Angelo and Carla because they’re the only ones to individually win the Elimination Challenges so far.

    • Eddie’s Momma

      Agree with you totally, Lee. Surprised that Dale didn’t deck Marcel until his comment that he’s gone to anger management. The old Dale who dented a locker when his crew lost the relay race before restaurant wars would have probably used Marcel instead.

      Marcel is exhausting to watch at this point.

      Happy Carla took another win and would have given the win to her for sourcing local ingredients with the lettuce leaf rather than Dale’s store bought tortillas.

    • Liz

      I agree, Dale is absolutely shining this season, while Richard seems to be taking less risks. (Not that that’s a bad plan overall.) I admit I laughed a little when Dale mentioned his anger management training (let’s be honest, we were all waiting for him to take a swing at Marcel…), but seriously, good for him! He seems completely on his game this season and his food looks absolutely mouth-watering. It was also nice to see him smile this episode–hopefully Annie won’t call him Angry Dale anymore.

  • deegeezee

    how could anyone be unhappy with Carla’s win? she’s so consistently positive, kind, and funny that i almost forget how talented she is.

    Marcel, on the other hand, is such an annoying jerk; i almost wish someone would shave his head again. i know people think every reality show needs a villain… but i could really do without a weekly dose of his lameness.

    • Olive

      Agreed!Marcel is a big douche that needs to go. If he won the challenge, he would totally celebrate his new Amsterdam trip in front of everyone. I hate that guy. Anyways go Carla!

      • Redcatlady

        Yay CARLA!

      • allie

        totally agree BUT he does make for good tv. who knew he had so much ghetto in him in that ridiculous scene with Dale on the roof?

      • queue55

        Love Carla! @allie, well said!

      • Bobby’s Robot

        @allie – It’s obvious he has ZERO ghetto in him! LOL! Loved Tre’s response that after the last few weeks he’s come to the conclusin that Marcel is a real @$$hole!

    • gah

      exactly! she was so happy and then still felt remorse about being cheerful about her win in front of those who were in the bottom. to me that showed her true sweet, caring personality. there was no reason she shouldn’t have been jumping up and down! super glad she won.

      • maryb889

        Agreed!!! Anyone know where her restaurant is or where she cooks? I would sooo love to eat her food and see that sunny smile!!!

    • LadyJNewYork

      Go Carla, glad you won and shouldn’t have toned down your celebration because of Marcel!!
      Marcel is a “JACKASS” and a “SOAR LOSER”, so tired of him, be glad when he’s gone!!

      • candacetx

        what’s a “soar”?

    • Sugar Rae

      I do think it was unfortunate Marcel jumped on Carla the way he did – it is awful to have someone step on your joy. But, I think he was really scared for the first time in this compitition.

      • julie

        @sugar rae-i agree. i was mad at him at first (which is odd because we all knwo i love the guy)but i was also thinking how would i react in that situation? i’d still want to be happy for the person who won, especially if it’s carla, but at the same time it’d be hard jumping for joy and whatnot when you’re thinking you’re headed home.

      • dazzlechild

        I get that he wouldn’t be jumping for joy, but he didn’t have to announce it, and make a point of bringing attention to it. That’s just acting like a petulant child!

    • danw

      I know I am probably the only viewer in America – :) – but I really like Marcel and find him funny. His whole homeboy routine cracks me up. I don’t like him like I like Carla and Richard B. or Bryan Voltaggio from season 6 – I found them to be incredibly considerate and nice people – but there is something about him that makes me grin. If I had to work with him, perhaps it would be different but for TV – yay!

    • Harry

      That’s funny!

  • Svetlana

    I’m so glad Carla won again! She seems like such a genuinely nice person that I am always happy for her. Thankfully Jamie was finally kicked to the curb. She has such a disgusting personality & is completely useless. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her crack a genuine smile. What I don’t get is why she agreed to be on the show when she clearly has such disdain for it? Good riddance to her!

    • Eddie’s Momma

      Carla’s happy little kick when she won says it all for me. Nice lady, great talent, genuine warmth. Sincerely hope she’s the big winner when the season ends.

      Marcel should have gone rather than Tiffani. She’s a changed person from season one. Likable. Helpful. Team player. Words that do not describe Marcel in the tiniest part. His concept for the dish and that disaster of a foam were bad. Tiffani left the blood line in rather than cut pieces of bluefish that would have been small. Eat around it.

      • Al

        Seriously? Eat around it? If you went to a restaurant to eat a meal and the chef told you “this is really good, just eat around that part that isn’t good”, would you EVER go back?

      • Sugar Rae

        I agree with Al. And Carla knew not to leave the blood line in, so why didn’t Tiffani?

      • Jon

        You can’t just “eat around” a bloodline if someone leaves it in (which, by the way, is a big-time novice mistake). The fishy flavor of the bloodline invades the entire dish.

    • Go Carla

      I bet Jamie will be back to help the final contestants in the last challenge

  • Sandi

    Thank goodness Jamie is gone.. Sad Tiffany is gone but she had a weak dish on a losing team. Not going to scream too much.

    Marcel may be annoying but he figured out the judges well. Jamie’s weeks of survival and Dales win with cooking only for the judges made clear a flaw in this season. Don’t do anything that the judges can tie you to.. and if you do.. focus on feeding them not the rules of the challenge.

    Basically One bad dish three people.. no consensus on who deserves the blame.. so send someone home from the other team that did a dish we can tie them to.

    Marcel figured out LAZY and low key survives.. I am really fearing the finals on this season because it will be between two hiders/survivors both cooking not to lose vs cooking to impress.

    Keep on “Not Cooking” we’ll see you in the finals…

    • Julie

      I hate to agree with this, but I do. It looks like these players who are here for the second time around now know all too well how to play the angles, rather than just cook.

    • #10 is My Doctor

      It’s ironic that Marcel/Wolverine jumped on Dale for playing the game last week, then he’s the one to come up with the idea for three people to do one dish so none of them could be blamed individually if it failed. Is that how you cook for the “f-ing” people, Marcel, and embrace challenges? What a two-faced little twerp.

      • Julie

        If what Marcel said is true, then Dale broke the rules during the Dim Sun challenge. Marcel, Blais, and Fabio employed gamesmanship and a strategy that backfired, but they didn’t break the rules. That’s not irony.

  • bh

    I wish somebody would punch Marcel in the face. That would be awesome!

    • Karate Pants

      I think that *could* still happen…my money’s on Dale.

      • Ralph

        Dale’s a hothead, but I think he’s smart enough–and wants to win badly enough–to remember what happened to Cliff when he jumped Marcel.

      • queue55

        Agreed, Ralph and Dale said he’s had anger management counseling, too…which is probably why he hasn’t decked him yet.

      • Karate Pants

        I guess I’m pulling for a relapse. ;)

    • lala

      Tre had the perfect opportunity to just throw his srm back and pop him one.

  • Buffy Freak

    Way to go Carla! And soooo glad Jamie is finally out. When Padma said Tiff’s name first I was about to scream because I assumed they were going to then eliminate someone from the other team and Jamie would skate yet again.

  • Fireflystare221

    I wanted Marcel to go home so badly. I have never seen anyone on television as lame as he is. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or shield my eyes while he was yelling at Dale and swinging his arms around. Did he really think people would be impressed or think he was tough? Everyone knows Dale would destroy you if he wanted. I am glad Dale didn’t allow Marcel to get a rise out of him. I much prefer Dale this season then when on his own. I was sort of hoping that Tre and Dale would pick Marcel up and toss him over the edge just so he would shut up.

  • josephrileyland

    It broke my heart a little to see Carla say that maybe she should have contained her excitement.

  • Teresa

    What irked me was that when Carla went in the back room to celebrate her win, Marcel berated her for it and made her feel bad. He is such a jerk. Let her celebrate! If it had been him, he would have been insufferable.

    • Sal

      I agree, I liked that Angelo told her to be happy because ‘it goes both ways’…I want Angelo, Carla and Richard as the final three

      • queue55

        Ditto, Teresa and Sal!

    • LGee

      I felt the same way!!! She was soooo happy to win and he just shut her down…He’s such an a$$

  • iggy

    I was a little sad to see Tiffani go. It was great to see how much she’s changed since season one…she seems like a genuinely happy person now. I hope we haven’t seen the last of her.

  • Karate Pants

    But Gail – Richard, Fabio, and Marcel’s strategy of making just one dish DID work! If they’d made three different dishes, one of them would have likely failed and it would have been Jamie and failed guy on the other team going home (instead of Tiffani).

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