Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 | 1:28 p.m.
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.
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.
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The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas dares to be different. From the hotel’s red reservations desks to fine art found throughout the resort, The Cosmopolitan’s signature style is helping to pave its own path on the Las Vegas Strip.
Upon entering the resort, you’re greeted by pillars of video boards playing video art by Digital Kitchen and David Rockwell Studio exclusively produced for The Cosmopolitan. Just beyond that, you’ll find all your favorite casino games on the resort’s 100,000-square-foot casino floor.
The Cosmopolitan’s rooms standout as the resort’s most unique feature. About 2,220 of The Cosmopolitan’s 2,995 rooms have 6-foot deep terraces that span the length of the room, a first at a modern Strip hotel. Other in-room amenities include soaking tubs, kitchenettes and quirky accessories like artsy coffee table books.
The dining experience at The Cosmopolitan isn’t something you’ll find at other Strip resorts, either. All of The Cosmopolitan’s 13 restaurateurs are new to the Las Vegas market. You’ll find American steakhouse fare in a modern setting at STK, top-notch sushi at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill and the freshest fish flown in from the Mediterranean daily at Estiatorio Milos.
Whether the sun is up or down, Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub is the place to find the party at The Cosmopolitan. The venue is a dayclub/nightclub, complete with a pool and cabanas outside and three different rooms with three different vibes inside.
If nightclubs aren’t your thing, you can grab a drink at one of The Cosmopolitan’s five other bars, like The Chandelier, which is encased in 2 million dripping crystals.