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, the cheftestapants moved on to the finals in Maui, where Louis returned after winning Last Chance Kitchen and competed in a Quickfire Challenge that had them creating a dish from Spam. Then it was off to the Elimination Challenge, where they could only use canoe crops as their ingredients. Here, Chung talks about what happened in this episode of Top Chef, Spam, rain and what happens next.
So you went to Britney Spears Wednesday night.
It was awesome. One thing, we were worried that we would be the old ladies and we're not. A lot of people there are my age. We all grew up on her.
You got to spend time with your family between New Orleans and Maui? How much time?
About three months. I took a break.
Did people try to find out what happened on Top Chef?
A lot of people tried to. I was kind of not hiding but didn't really do much.
How was it to have Louis back in the competition?
Really great. When we were judging Last Chance Kitchen, we were surprise we got to judge. His dish was the better dish to eat. Carlos' whole dish didn't eat as well.
So in the Quickfire Challenge, you had to make a dish with Spam. You said you made it a lot for your husband. Can you talk about that?
My husband is a junk food junkie. Being the husband of a chef is not easy. Every single working chef has long working hours and our spouses don't eat as well as you would think. My husband is not the best cook in the world. During the time I was away, he ate junk for three months straight.
I actually thought about it. I knew what he likes to eat — Spam with fried rice. I knew I probably was not going to be as creative as the others.
So you had three months and you knew you were going to Hawaii. Did you study the cuisine there?
I didn't think canoe crops would be a challenge. I've worked with the seafood from Hawaii a lot. Opah was one of the fish I read up on. I definitely read up on Hawaiian cuisine more. Our family vacationed in Hawaii often, so I was familiar with the palate. I didn't study as much as I did for New Orleans.
And during the Elimination Challenge, we saw you fall down for the second time.
Let me tell you, it wasn't my day. My husband was teasing me when I got home. He thought I took something from the island in my pocket like a rock from the beach. If you do that, bad luck will come to you in Hawaii.
Like that episode of The Brady Bunch when Bobby takes the tiki idol?
Yeah. I took a dive and hurt my finger. I didn't take any statue.
You went with a tough protein with the pork.
Like going to the challenge, I felt I didn't grab enough of the canoe crops and produce to work with. I regretted that the next day. I couldn't miss something or drop something because I wouldn't have enough portions.
When that happened, it really flustered me.
I say I cook with feeling a lot. I kept telling myself to be calm, put on a calm face. Then my fire got rained on, things were overcooking and I didn't bring enough spice. I used all my vinegar and citrus and it still couldn't get over the honey.
I kept thinking, "I hope somebody made a bigger mistake than me," and I never thought that way. It's just not my day.
The dish I presented was not as great as my other dishes. It was more of an accident, but, hey, it's life. I knew going to the judges table that I was not as confident as I usually am.
The pork was cooked perfectly. The puree had a little puddle of rainwater in it. I dropped my eggs. The fryer was going in and out. I kept thinking, "Oh my god, can you give me a break?"
I know you didn't watch the episode, but you said that you and Nina planned to make it to the finals. It just made me think back to the episode where Nick had immunity and lost that challenge for you when you were cooking with Stephanie. What would have happened if he had resigned like the judges asked?
Who knew that would happen like this? What if he resigned like judges asked? He did what he needed to do to compete.
Listen, I'm really close to all of them, especially since Nina and I were the only girls left. We bonded really well. You probably saw a preview of the next episode and I'm on her team helping her out. We always thought of each other the ones to beat.
Now I get to ask the question I've been dying to ask all season — what are you going to do now since you're not working?
I go to Korea next week and then I have a few trips planned in 2014 — Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong in the summer. Being on Top Chef, I've had many requests to cook at events.
I'm also working with local restaurant groups, and some of them are coming pretty close to negotiations. Vegas will be my home base.
Overall this was a really great experience for me. Obviously, I wish things would have gone better that day. I had the confidence in myself to do that. I didn't when I first started. I just wanted to have a good time and meet people. Then my goal was to make the top 10, and then the top five. When I found my culinary voice, I felt I could take it all the way. This definitely organized my thoughts to create my own cuisine. I had such a great time on Top Chef.
Another thing is that yesterday when this happened, the amount of love I received via my Facebook page and Twitter was so heartwarming. I feel really loved and really blessed. I want to thank everyone for supporting me. Don't worry, I'm doing great in my career.
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