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 final two cheftestapants competed for the chance to win Top Chef New Orleans. Here, Chung talks about cooking with Nina Compton, her trip to Korea and why she wasn't at the judges' table for the finale.
Where did you watch the episode?
My mom's house in the Bay Area.
Did you talk to Nina during the finale?
We were texting each other. Nina, Travis, Stephanie and I were group texting up until the show. Nina had to get ready for Watch What Happens Live. We were going back and forth. We had such a great time in the kitchen together.
Who do you think grew most on Top Chef?
As for Nick, he always had a clear vision of what he wants to do and his style of cooking. He cooks French with a Japanese influence. I think Nina found her culinary voice. She cooked classically trained Italian. She learned the simplicity of Italian cooking. I think cooking on Top Chef she learned to use her Caribbean flavors. Nina matured.
How nervous was Nina when she found out there was no ice cream machine?
Oh my god, you should see. We're so thankful that Travis and Stephanie did such a throughout walkthrough of the kitchen. When he first called, it was just in time. We were checking out. We were starting mise en place for everything for a backup dessert. Nina always stays cool.
Like I've said before, we go into this with multiple ideas in case something didn't work out.
At that moment, we were just thankful that Travis gave us a call.
Which dish were you in charge of?
It's funny because Nina and I get along so well. We understand each other's style. We spent so much time competing against each other. This is a great time with four really good friends reunited.
I was in charge of the first course, braising the goat in the pasta course and the intermezzo course.
Do you think Nina overthought it by doing six dishes instead of four?
One thing we always say on Top Chef, we want to push our limits. For a lot of chefs, even though dessert is not our forte, for a complete meal it has to finish with dessert. That's why she stuck with dessert.
She had a lot of amuse bouche ideas. She pretty much asked us if we could handle it and we backed her up.
We were in Hawaii and she wanted to showcase the region. Maui is known for coconut and passion fruit. She really wants to pay respect to the things there.
Stephanie went to the fish market and Nina told her to find a big fish that's beautiful. Like a lot of great chefs, she didn't decide what to use until the last minute with fresh ingredients.
Do you think service should be a factor in determining the winner?
Well, I think ultimately it is the dish that should be the factor and the entire meal. The dinner should make sense married together, a complete dinner from beginning to end.
Nobody was watching the front of house. We had that competition earlier, so I don't think it should be a factor here.
Everyone says repeatedly that Nick's dishes are under-seasoned. You've tasted his dishes. Is it that noticeable or not?
It is Nick's style. We always talk about it.
For my palate he under-seasons so every time he tastes a dish, he thinks it's perfect but he needs to add an extra pinch of salt.
Both of his cuisines compared with Asian or Mexican are a lot more subtle. His cooking is definitely more mellow. That's his style.
I don't think I could say it's under-seasoned. Let's just say it's his style.
Nina's food is definitely a lot more flavorful. I appreciate Nick's restraint.
For me I cook flavorful too. My palate agrees more with Nina.
Another thing is Nick is really technical. He's really thoughtful. He can execute well.
Was anything going on in the kitchen that we didn't see on the show?
Stephanie literally cranked out 100 portions of orecchiette. Nina wanted to use a Southern Italy fresh pasta and I was surprised how fast Stephanie cranked out that pasta.
Nick's kitchen was more modern. He won that with the Quickfire Challenge last week. They probably had more equipment than we had.
The excitement of the four of us bouncing ideas off each other. As a team we worked well together.
Would you ever do another show like this?
I would. I had such a great time. When people go on the show, the producers tell you to just be yourself, have fun with the experience. Nina and I let it all out. We had no filters. We are the way that we are. We didn't hide anything. We made so many friends.
Why didn't we see you at the judges' table in the finale?
I had a freak accident. I fell again. I lost my front tooth. So during the judges' table I was in the emergency room getting stitches and a metal brace attached to my tooth until I could go to the Mainland and get my tooth fixed.
I came home with a neck brace and a broken tooth. We went through my luggage trying to find the last grain of salt in Hawaii.
Ultimately I didn't get to taste Nick's dishes and I wasn't at the judges' table. That's one thing I like at the judges' table. They really tell you a lot. Since I was injured, I didn't get to be at the judges' table.
Now you're off to Korea today. What do you plan to do there?
From being on Top Chef, I definitely know what I want to do next. I really want to continue my journey as a world traveler but I want to understand Asian cuisine more. I'm calling this an R&D trip. I'm going to stay with a family for a week to learn the customs.
One thing on Top Chef, now I have friends all over the world. I have a new friend in Korea who's going to give me pointers. I'm going to visit more traditional restaurants in Korea and open markets and fish markets.
I want to take a lot of ideas from where I travel for this section of the menu.
I love Korean food to start with. This is my first time there.
I'm very thankful for the entire experience. Although I didn't win, I met so many great friends. I really organized my thoughts so I'm just going to work toward that so I can open something with my own name on it.
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