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April 20, 2014

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Las Vegas chef Shirley Chung is standing out on ‘Top Chef’; Food Network’s 20th anniversary

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Leila Navidi

Chef Shirley Chung.

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Las Vegas chef Shirley Chung on Season 11 of Bravo's "Top Chef."

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China Poblano chef Shirley Chung.

As the 16 cheftestants start getting cut down to size on tonight’s “Top Chef” on Bravo in New Orleans, our Las Vegas competitor Shirley Chung is beginning to shine as a standout.

Last week on the third episode of Season 11 of the reality-TV competition, Shirley won the most-sought-after immunity, the tough Elimination Challenge, when she created a rice congee dish with shirred egg and soy sauce.

Shirley is former executive chef of China Poblano by Jose Andres at the Cosmopolitan and was in charge of the kitchen when the restaurant won a prestigious James Beard Award nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2011.

Before that post, she worked with chef Thomas Keller and Mario Batali’s restaurants at the Venetian and for chef Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace. Born and raised in Beijing, Shirley came to America for college but followed her passion for food and enrolled in culinary school.

She describes her skills in Mexican and Chinese food as “cuisine without borders.” Last week’s Quickfire Challenge also proved Shirley’s skills when the cheftestants were taken to Commanders Palace.

They met chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme, who began their careers at what is hailed as an institution in the city’s Garden District as the culinary monument of NOLA cuisine. Shirley had to re-create her version of four of Commanders Palace’s dishes.

“She is definitely one to watch for on future episodes,” Emeril told me when we celebrated the Food Network’s 20th anniversary last week in New York. “Nobody knows what will happen over the next two months of the show, but Shirley is already turning heads and palates with her creations.

“By the way, those were real Louisiana swamp alligators she had to contend with in the first episode setting up a real field kitchen.”

Tonight, Shirley is faced with Vietnamese food challenges. Emeril, who has three Las Vegas restaurants in the Venetian, Palazzo and MGM Grand, filmed a segment for “Top Chef” viewers of his signature local po’ boy sandwiches.

2012 Culinary Clash at the Venetian: Round 2

Round 2 of Culinary Clash featuring Mario Batali, Larry Ruvo, Denise Valdez, Sebastien Silvestri and Susan Stapleton with emcee Robin Leach at the Venetian on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Emeril Lagasse at Culinary Clash

At the Manhattan party, Emeril told me that he is ready for the Dec. 13 Winter in Venice Culinary Clash master-chef competition at the Venetian, which I will emcee with him.

Also at the Food Network celebration, I talked with UNLV alumnus Guy Fieri, who promised that Las Vegas is going to have fun when he opens his new mega-venue in the porte-cochere of the Quad facing Harrah’s in January.

Renowned Japanese food master and “Iron Chef” star Masaharu Morimoto introduced me to members of his kitchen and restaurant design team. They’ll be heading here within three weeks to complete their work on the designs for his new restaurant in the Mirage opening next year.

Chef Bobby Flay and I marveled at the pyramid of balancing TV sets through the years from when the Food Network began in 1993, and we laughed at the video loop of early programs we both hosted as much younger men.

You can read the extraordinary, high-drama, big-personalities, behind-the-scenes story in Allen Salkin’s just-released book “From Scratch: Inside the Food Network.”

Former CNN chief Reese Schonfeld, one of the founders of the cable network, hired me as the first member of his team to host two shows for its first three years while simultaneously getting me to sign up cable operators across the country and pitch advertising agencies for commercial support.

Reese and I celebrated our reunion with a lunch at Michael’s with my former co-host Katie Connelly, who was married at one time to Bobby. The evening reunion with all of the longtime network chef stars proved to be the best party of the year so far.

I also talked with glamorous chef Giada De Laurentiis for an interview we’ll post at Vegas DeLuxe next week. She said that the awful events of 9/11 triggered a nesting instinct in Americans and boosted her show “Giada at Home.”

“It made people think twice what was important in life, and they turned to the comforts of Food Network shows. Had it not been for 9/11, I don’t know if I would be here and heading out to Las Vegas to open my very first restaurant next April.”

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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