Gail Simmons blogs 'Top Chef: All-Stars': episode 12

Gail-Simmons As told to Archana Ram.

Carla won the Quickfire because she did something fresh and interesting but also something she had created herself. I think that’s what we’re always looking for, something that tastes good, is based in technique and appealing but you can still put your own spin on it. That’s why Tiffany was in the bottom. She just made nachos. There was nothing interesting about them. There was nothing different about them. It didn’t show any part of her personality. Carla, on the other hand, even though what she did was simple, she used them in a fresh way. She used that carrot juice. She infused rosemary from the rosemary potato chips and then she made a salad that was nice. It proves that you can make something out of nothing even when you’re given what seems like very basic ingredients. A good chef can come up something that’s refreshing, healthy and light. It doesn’t need to be pureed hot dogs.

But Mike’s bread soup looked disgusting. There are definitely soups that call for the use of bread, like classic gazpacho, which has stale bread in it that’s used to thicken it. I think he took inspiration from that, but he was grasping for straws, let’s be honest. I’m just glad I didn’t have to taste it.

The Elimination dinner was a family meal but much more emotional and personal than the Jimmy Fallon family dinner. It didn’t have the humor, but it wasn’t supposed to. It was a really wonderful feast. First of all, the food was great. But the chefs had just come from the last 48 hours of a really emotional experience. The chefs were really at the end of their ropes and had been running this race for so long and are so exhausted. At that point, they didn’t think they had one creative thought left in their brains. Seeing their parents and spouses energized them and really made the event special. I don’t think we would’ve eaten the food we ate that night and it wouldn’t have been as good if those people hadn’t been sitting at the table. They really were the source of inspiration. It was quite a serious dinner. We were joking and talking, but I think all of their families and loved ones were so nervous for the chefs and rooting for them. You could feel the tension in the air, but there was also a lot of love. It was the perfect end to our time in New York. It also spoke so much to what makes up America. These chefs are really diverse. It worked perfectly for that reason.

Antonia’s mom was just a hoot and so passionate. I’ve spent a little time with Matthew (Carla’s husband) and Jazmin (Richard’s wife), so it was nice to sit next to old friends in a way. Tiffany’s mom was so much like Tiffany. You felt like it was like looking at Tiffany several years in the future, which was amazing. She was soft-spoken and had that infectious smile and laugh. And you could tell Mike’s mom was so proud of him. She had really been such a major pillar in is life. When he cried at Judges’ Table, he showed a really great moment. We were all quiet and thoughtful because you could see the challenge had really affected him. It affected all of us. I watched the show on the couch with my husband and I was resting against his shoulder so I couldn’t see him. We both started crying — and I even knew the outcome! Then I looked at my husband to make fun of myself for crying, and he was crying, too! There was one little tear falling out of my husband’s eye. And he was like, “I cannot believe that your show had brought me to tears!” It was really authentic, which made the food so good, too.

When we cooked on the naval base in Las Vegas that was an emotional episode for all of us because we were cooking for the troops. We’ve had emotional moments when the contestants have cried or been upset, but this episode was an amazing breakthrough for all of us. It was the end of our All-Star season and it was so perfect that we brought it back to their families and their inspiration for being chefs in the first place. We couldn’t have scripted it better ourselves. But on to the food! Every dish felt very soulful. Every dish was steeped in tradition, but every one gave their dishes a modern twist and a bit of themselves, which was the point of the challenge. Mike’s gnocchi had a great textural component. The gnocchi had a pillowy texture There were some greens in the ragu that gave it bitterness and texture. The burrata gave it creaminess. It was wonderful.

Risotto and gnocchi are both things that need to be served à la minute, and there’s a lot of potential for failure — if it’s heavy, gluten-y, if you overcook the rice, if you undercook the rice. Obviously, we’ve had a lot of bad risotto on the show, but Antonia did a beautiful job. It was soupy enough, had enough moisture, the rapini and fava beans were a great choice because it lent bitterness and seasonality. The braised osso buco gave it rusticity and its gravitas. It was a great balance between light, springy flavors and the deep flavors of the braise.

Tiffany’s plate was very southern, as opposed to the Italian dishes of cousin Mike and cousin Antonia. Her roots are in that part of the country. It was great to see how she took inspiration not only from her docket in Staten Island, but also from her mother and the years spent in her mother’s kitchen. Her mother is an accomplished cook and cooked a lot of those things. It was a great homage to her mom that she remained true to them in some respects but then gave us something extra, like that oxtail marmalade, which was so delicious and rich. The okra was great. It was smart cooking.

I think Richard did something modern and interesting. The plating was beautiful with the short rib and then using the glassworts. I had never heard them called glassworts. I used to cook with them and we called them sea beans. They’re a green, crunchy, salty little bite. But he pickled them, which is nontraditional and then paired them with short ribs, bone marrow and potatoes, which are all very earthy. That pickled glasswort was kind of ingenuous. The saltiness cut the rich fattiness of the rest of the dish. It also gave us a crunch and something green. Yet it all felt like it made a lot of sense for the part of the world that he was talking about — Ireland and England. It still felt very much like Richard. I assure you, that pairing with pickled glassworts was not done by his ancestors. It had roots in Ireland with the potatoes. Then there was an American component, that corn puree, which moved us from the Old World to the New World. And the glassworts tied the whole thing together and made it feel modern. It was a great trajectory all on one plate.

Carla was worried about the biscuits, but they were fantastic. She had nothing to be worried about. And she served them in a smart way. We touched on this in the episode, but the fact that she brought them out separately and put them in the center of the table and let us pass it around — it’s little touches like that that she might not have even thought about that added so much to the purpose of the challenge because it made us feel like we were sitting down at our own family table and sharing together. They were homey, simple and had a great cheddar and buttery taste. Her grit cake was really smart and cool. Instead of having soft grits, she made them into a cake and fried them so there was a crunch and caramelization that was really good. And then those traditional southern flavors — the sweet potatoes, corn, braised pork shoulders. It was really soulful. I counted how many times we said “soulful” and it was maybe 7 or 8 times in the episodes. But that’s what this challenge was about — that connection to your soul. This is such a great example of how food brings people together.

Everyone had such nice things to say about the food, but we were all with people’s family members. We, as judges, also were on our best behavior. We had to go back to Judges’ Table, duke it out and find fault. But in all honesty, there was not a lot fault to be had. And thank god it was like that across the board because if there had been one person who had really messed up, it would’ve been awful because everyone was so generous with their praise. It was just honest. Everyone was feeling a little lovey-dovey and emotional, so we were all probably giving off exaggerated praise in some way. Everyone was feeding off each other and the energy of the dinner table. But it was true and heartfelt. Plus, the food was good, and when it’s good, it’s good. Everything made sense on every plate we ate that night. Sure, there were tiny little missteps along the way — something that was slightly over-salted or something that was plated in a way that didn’t make quite as much sense as if it had been incorporated better — but nothing was worth discriminating against. If I had received any of those dishes in a restaurant, I would’ve been very pleased with my meal and happy to pay a lot of money for it.

I think we all realized in eating Antonia’s food that there was a simplicity in it that spoke for itself. She did two things: She made a risotto and she braised veal. Everyone else had many more components on their dishes. But her dish was so perfectly crafted that you could really tell the time, energy and focus she had spent on those two components. It felt ancient in a way. It felt like something that had been around forever, but it also had this twist of greens and fava beans. We were sopping it up on our plates. We couldn’t get enough of it.

Very often people get so mad when we kick people off, but the entire point of this show is that it’s a competition. We don’t do it for our own entertainment. And you saw that even when Antonia’s mom asked at the table if we could have all five chefs go to the finale, we kind of laughed, like, “That’s ridiculous!” But when we got to Judges’ Table, we realized there was no way to penalize any of them for what they had made. We, for the first time, were at a stalemate. We just couldn’t think of a legitimate reason to get rid of anyone. But I don’t want anyone to think that this is setting a precedent. This is not the point of the show. It took probably an hour of begging our producers to let us do it. They kept us there for a while, saying “Guys, deal with it. Make a decision.” Then finally, after a long time of hashing it out and none of us feeling comfortable, we decided to bring everyone to the finale. Rest assured, we will be eliminating every single person except one in the finale. There will not be Top Chefs! We just prolonged the inevitable. It does not let someone off with a free ride.

Richard clearly almost had a heart attack when Padma psyched him out. I thought he was going to jump over the table and strangle her. He started to say, “How could you do that to me?” I’ve never met a more stressed-out chef than Richard Blais. I wish he would have some more self-confidence because his food is so good and he’s such a confident cook, but he’s such a struggling soul. He’s wrestling with his demons at all times. Poor man.

Next week we’re in the Bahamas, and there’s everything you want in a finale. It’s tropical and beautiful, there’s incredible food, there’s horrendous food, there are kitchen fires, there’s drama, there are tears, there are crazy costumes. It’s just over the top. It was a really, really great experience.

What did you guys think of the episode? And who do you think will be the next one cut in the Bahamas?

Comments (58 total) Add your comment
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  • tim

    Best TC episode ever. (And I have seen them all)

    • JS

      I totally agree. I really just felt happy after watching it. I’m glad each of them had an opportunity to shine in front of their loved ones.

    • Redcatlady

      Mike and Antonia are cousins! How weird is that? But after Antonia had a little time to take it in and realize that it explained a lot about their relationship all season, it just seemed to click between them in a strange kind of way. Also, when they showed her dad’s picture, I could see that he looks a little bit like Mike in the eyes and the smile.

      • Josh M

        Oh, stop. They were probably like 50th cousins if that.

    • Karate Pants

      I agree, and the positive energy was really refreshing.

    • Lindsey

      I agree, my husband even liked this one, and he normally leaves the room when I am watching!

      • Karen

        It;s funny that you say that, Lindsey, because my husband did the same thing! He will normally watch 5 or 10 minutes and then go to bed, but he stayed for the whole show, and even commented that he couldn’t believe he watched the entire show!

    • Sassyfras

      I would argue it was the best episode of reality tv ever.

      • k

        I agree.

      • Tawny

        I think so too.

  • Charles

    I know Mike has been kinda of a love him or hate him personality, and I’ve been in the latter camp, but I really felt for him this episode. It is a side I’ve never seen on season 5 or all stars. I hope he starts cooking Italian more often. As for Blais, I did find it mean, and amusing, that Padama did that to him. I hope Blais is able to overcome his low self confidence and come through strong in the end. Of course he didn’t do very well in Puerto Rico, so I hope it’s not a Tropical climate that affects his cooking again. In any event probably the most emotional and best episode I’ve seen of this series.

    • caryn

      I agree about Mike. I’m not a fan but I felt for him in this episode and was happy that he was able to connect to his grandmother’s cooking with such good results.

  • Lee

    I think it’s easy to make a perfect dish when you’re not raken on of your comfort zone. That’s why all five dishes were “perfect.” Because of that, I was very disappointed with this elimination challenge. At this stage of the competition, I don’t think it challenged the cheftestants all that much. To put it bluntly, it wsasn’t all that exciting to watch. With the exception of Richard, all of the other cheftestants prepared a dish that they grew up with. How can you mess up on that? Very disappointing episode.

    • Lee

      “taken” instead of “raken”

    • Lee

      “out” instead of “on” (it’s late–sorry)

  • caliban821

    I have to agree with Gail’s assessment of Blaise. It’s kind of sad he seems so desperate to win this. Like he needs the validation even though he is openly considered 1 of the best chefs/contestant to ever be on the show

  • Laura K.

    I’ve never heard them called that either, but I’m pretty sure it’s “glass wort,” not “glass wart.” Just a guesss.

    • EDIT

      And, Archana, you need to change “put” to “out” in the sentence “Padma psyched him put…”

      • Teresa

        That’s what she meant! I read the sentence several times and couldn’t figure it out. Thanks for clearing that up. Apparently no one proofreads their work anymore.

    • Jen

      Once again, I still don’t understand why EW calls this a “blog” when it’s actually an interview.

  • foreverfoodie

    Richard-go home!!!!! Your food’s not that great! Maybe your hair is clogging your brain to think and make those stupid expressions!!!!

    • Karate Pants

      What show are you watching? Go ahead and dislike his hair or his personality, but his food is consistently praised. I’m disappointed that people here allow negative feelings about his slightly neurotic nature eclipse the only thing that really matters – Blais CAN cook, better than just about any of them.

      • foreverfoodie

        what are you, his wife? Maybe it’s all those chemicals he puts into his body that makes him twitch his expression’s! Fabio, Angelo and dale were much better chef’s then him!

      • Beepela

        I don’t think there are many people who do not agree. Blais is one of the best, and the clear favorite to win at this point. The question is, will he psych himself out again, or can he pull it together and make the food that he makes so well?

      • Karate Pants

        foreverfoodie, DO please realize that Fabio, Angelo, and Dale are no longer in the competition. That aside, Blais’s talent is indisputable. Not sure why you don’t see that. It’s not just my opinion, the judges regularly praise his food and he’s often in the top three and winning quick fires. He’s fantastic.

  • fireflystare221

    A truly great episode. I enjoyed evry minute of it. I was cracking up at the Mike/Antonia connection. That was too funny! Poor Richard. I thought he might stab Padma. I don’t think it is a sign of a lack of confidence for him to be afraid to go home. They should have all been afraid. To them, someone was going no matter what. That is even worse when they all did so well. It really was just mean of them to do that and anyone would have reacted the same.

  • Mike

    I normally feel like not sending someone home is a cop-out… but the entire episode I was like, who the heck are they going to send home??? I was totally cool with sending all 5.

    • caryn

      me too!! i was hoping they would take all five and was really pleased when it happened.

  • Jim S

    I don’t see Richard as being insecure…I find him egotistical and overconfident. I like him, but his pouting when he doesn’t do as well as he expects results more from flat-out being amazed by his own wonderfulness and being shocked when the judges don’t fall in lockstep.

    • gk

      I was rooting for Richard at the first of the season, but his childish attitude and poor sportsmanship are off-putting. I think Antonia or Carla have the qualities of true Top Chefs! Great season!!

    • Liz

      It all goes together, I think… he’s a perfectionist, which means that he believes himself capable of perfection (hence the arrogance) but the possibility of not achieving that goal leaves him in a constant state of fear of failing (hence the insecurity). It’s not my place to say, but a few light therapy sessions could probably do wonders for his life perspective and nerves.

  • darclyte

    Tiffany is VERY lucky to have lasted this long, but that might have been her best dish ever, so good for her. I still wish Dale had made the finals, especially since the contestants have to match against their season’s winner. Next week Stephanie would have had to go up against 3 people, not just 2. How cool would it have been for an all season 4 Final 3? Ah well. I think they all deserved to move on, but I still think it’s Richard’s to lose.

    • Michelle

      thank god we are spared Ilan!!!!

  • Dinana

    I’m really glad it ended the way it did. I could “feel” that everyone had hit it out of the park, and to send someone home for something petty would have seemed wrong. Can’t wait for the next couple of eps. Go Carla! Go Antonia!

  • cop out

    Whatever. A non-elimination? Since when? There WERE critiques to Carla’s dish. She seems very nice and all, but why the special consideration?

  • DancerInDC

    Really pleased with the outcome – this was a tremendous episode.

    I hate to say it because I love her, but I think Tiffany will probably be next to go, although a mis-step by Mike wouldn’t be surprising.

    My original hope for the final 3 was Richard, Carla, Dale. Now I’d be really happy to see it be Richard, Carla, Antonia.

  • Ray Radlein

    Those genealogical workups they did HAD to have taken some time to put together. Did they do them for ALL of the contestants on the show? It’s hard to imagine that there wasn’t one done up for Dale, for instance, since he had only just been eliminated right before.

    If so, did the other chefs ever get to see theirs? That would make a great little extra feature somewhere.

    • Jess

      I had wondered about that too. And since Dale had only been eliminated the day before, was his mom flown in and then told “whoops, he’s out! Sorry, go back home without seeing your son.” Or anyone else’s mom too. Since all the eliminations were so close together they probabily would have made sure that a relative for each chef was available. I hope they at least let Dale’s mom go and see him at the sequester house or something.

  • Terry pogue

    It really was a great show and I even sort of like Mike! I never thought t hat would happen. I do think Carla has the best shot at winning IF she cooks her food and I don’t think she’ll make that mistake again. She seems to get the best flavor into her food if you listen to the judges over time.

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