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Shirley Chung on Top Chef Ep. 9, Restaurant Wars Edition

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 the show's anticipated Restaurant Wars episode, and it was a disaster for at least one team. Chung talks about her green team and restaurant Found, her new bond with one cheftestapant and why she chose the dish she made.

You knew Restaurant Wars was coming. How did you feel about it going into the competition?
We were really excited. It's one challenge I was really looking forward to.

When we drew knives, we were really excited and we all felt we had a diverse and strong team.

Would you have preferred to be the executive chef of Found? Do you think it would have run smoother?
When we made a decision together, Nina and I felt we would most successful if we put our egos aside. We respect Justin and needed to work as a team. We are all so used to being the executive chef in our restaurants. We just had to be the best line cook we could be.

If I had to do it again, I might be more assertive and I think I would want to be the executive chef. I was holding my opinion a lot. I talk fast and come off strong. I intentionally kept quiet so didn't step over anyone's toes. If I have to do it again, I would do the opposite.


What made you decide to cook cobia when you never cooked it before?
It was really what's the best fish in the market. The red snapper and the cobia were whole fish.

How much time do you spend on the show cooking with ingredients you've never used before?
Look at my track record and you know I like going into new ventures all the time. I'm curious about all cuisines. I'm never afraid to try something new.

David Chang really liked the shrimp paste in the cobia.
That was my secret ingredient but it stunk up the kitchen for sure. That can be my secret strategy as well.

What was the toughest part of Restaurant Wars?
The service. I'm really experienced opening restaurants. I know the challenges of setting up. In reality you do a friends and family and soft open to work out the kinks of service in the front of house.

Time management too. The amount of time setting up the kitchen was shocking, but I got to lay out the kitchen the way it makes sense.

This is the hardest opening I've ever done.

For the TV viewer, this looked like a rough service. How did you get through this service?
There were rough patches. One great thing was that Nina and I worked really well together. We really bonded. We became like sisters, the way we think about cuisines and execution. We would prep each others items and pick up orders for each other. Our communication was great.

Does your service staff ever verbal fire a dish?
No. Normally you come in with a ticket then verbal for VIPs. These were brand new servers and brand new dishes. Sara and Justin tried their best. It was definitely a lot to handle and train properly. The servers worked hard and and were really sweet.
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