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Shirley Chung Talks Top Chef Ep. 10, Like Mama Made

Eater catches up with Top Chef cheftestapant and former China Poblano executive chef Shirley Chung to find out her thoughts on this week's episode of the show. Check out Eater National's recap of the episode here. We'll keep the major spoilers out of this portion, but read on after the jump and know there are spoilers ahead.

This week was an emotional one with the cheftestapants creating dishes that reminded them of home. Chung talks about why this was her favorite episode yet, her inspiration behind her dish and "Uncle Emeril."

Congratulations. You won the Quickfire challenge with your coffee-crusted tenderloin with garlic puree and coffee brown butter sauce. Did you buy an air conditioner yet as you mentioned on the show?
Well, actually, we have estimate on a new air conditioner. It should come before early spring time.

I'm not even joking, it broke down the day before [this was filmed]. I talked to my husband the day before and he told me it broke. People don't realize how expensive they are. It cost $8,000. There was no way we can live through the summer without air conditioning.

This week, Hubert Keller was one of the guest judges for the Quickfire Challenge and Emeril Lagasse returned. Are there any of the judges that you think are tougher to cook for?
No, it doesn't really affect the way I cook for them. Literally, I cook what's in my head at the moment.

You worked with Thomas Keller and Jose Andres, to name a few. I guess you're used to that.
Yeah definitely being on Top Chef, I have a lot of knowledge because I worked with those great chefs. Instead of executing their vision that appeals to restaurant I worked for, being on Top Chef is about cooking my own dishes.

Have you cooked for Hubert in the past? Has he come in?
Actually. no. I dined in his restaurant in San Francisco and here locally. I'm familiar with his cuisine. I grew up in the Bay area originally. I have his cookbook. French cooking is my sentimental cooking, cuisine wise.

What did you think when you came home to find Emeril cooking dinner for you?
Actually, we found Emeril when we went into the house and first smelled his soup. Then we saw Uncle Emeril, as I call him. We all talked about how tired we were. The smell in the house was really nice. The soup really hit the spot, especially since we were creating our own dishes. It felt like we came home instead of to a house.

It seemed like you annoyed Stephanie during the challenge with your cutting. It is really that tricky working with shared workspace?
Yes. It's really funny. I saw that on TV. As a group we're always having so much fun. Actually, we're all close as a whole group and we go back and forth joking around. Sometimes we forget that there's a camera around us. I saw her struggling with her knife work so I said, "If you think this is bad, wait until what I do next." I was laughing so hard when I saw that on TV. It was an emotional episode. One moment I was laughing so hard and then one moment I was tearing up thinking about our families.

Clearly it's difficult to be away from home during the show for so long. Did you find it difficult to be away from home?
Yes and no. Definitely when we're cooking from our heart. We all got extremely emotional. In the competition, I need to be super focused. So I always try to make myself not miss home so much. The was sort of my strategy. Especially this time every single one of us would cry when we talked about our families. It was really hard.


You decided to go with a riskier dish since you had immunity, making Beijing noodles with fermented bean and pork sauce with pickled radish.
The dish I made is really traditional Beijing-style noodle. I didn't tweak anything. Watching Leah Chase using chopsticks really melts my heart.

You don't even see this dish in restaurants. No one can make it like your grandmother.
Fortunately I was in China at the beginning of the year and I learned from my best friend's mom. I learned the real way to make it. It's not a familiar flavor to non-Beijing palate with the fermented bean paste. To present this to Leah and her family was such a great honor. Immunity, that's why I went all out.

What's it like to listen to the judges talking about your dishes?
It's really nerve wrecking. Every time you listen to them, you feel like you're dish is being slaughtered. This time was especially hard since we all cooked from our heart. If judges criticize a dish, it's almost like they're criticizing our heart. Everybody did well. All the judges loved our home cooking. It was a good feeling.

You looked like you were a little upset when they talked about your dish? True or camera work?
I was upset. I was just emotional. That day I was literally in tears. We were all cooking from our hearts. I was upset; I missed home. I miss Beijing. I was thinking about my best friend and our childhood together.

Did you really bet on Nick to win?
Yes, because me and Nick and Steph were in the same group. I was cooking next to Nick. We kept picking up the dishes together and tasting each others' dishes a lot. His dish I couldn't stop eating and knowing the story behind it.

Overall it was really emotional and we all literally had no bad dishes. We could not stop eating each other's food. Also the feeling seeing Leah. She could be anyone's grandmother. She's such a legend and so loving and caring. She's such a great person and cooking for her makes it feel like you're cooking for your grandmother. With winning the Quickfire, Emeril cooking for us and then cooking our own dishes, this was one of my favorite episodes.
· All Coverage of Shirley Chung [~ELV~]