Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 | 1:55 p.m.
Our Las Vegas cheftestant Shirley Chung was once again the winner on Bravo’s “Top Chef” in New Orleans on Wednesday night and now after the Battles in the Bayou heads to Hawaii as one of three finalists whittled down from 19 competitors.
She won with an extraordinary fish entree and its Holy Trinity of sauces that not only moved star judge Emeril Lagasse to emotional tears, but also a promise to put it on the menu of all of his New Orleans restaurants.
For a decade here in Las Vegas, Shirley has moved up the ranks working for Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy and Jose Andres. This past Sunday night, she joined the all-star chefs lineup for the Max Jacobson fundraiser at star chef Rick Moonen’s Rx Boiler Room in Mandalay Place.
“I’m done being a shadow chef,” Shirley said confidently on Wednesday night’s episode.
There was a heart-stopping moment on the last six-camera episode filmed in Louisiana when Shirley and her female rival, chef Nina Compton, didn’t get Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons’ approval in the Quickfire Challenge of putting just one bite of food on a single cocktail fork. Shirley served up a tataki flank steak with black pepper cherry and crispy onion. Nina served shrimp escabeche with potato aioli and pickled shallots.
The judges dissed their efforts, and the ladies were shocked as they were sidelined and the guys moved on. Then Tom produced an eggplant and a red pepper, and Carlos Gaytan and Nicholas Elmi had to make one dish from it. Carlos beat out Nicholas to win $10,000 and a new Toyota Corolla with his simple and tasty red pepper soup and the earlier grilled mango shrimp with chili glaze on the fork.
Angry chef Nicholas exploded without reason at Shirley, who refused to be bullied, and after saying, “‘Top Chef’ has taught me to find my culinary voice,” she gave him a couple of choice four-letter retorts.
Then came the “Last Push” Elimination Challenge where the four still standing were told to recall everything they’d learned while being in New Orleans and create their own three-course meal that would “leave their mark on the city.” New York “Top Chef” winners Grant Achatz, Douglas Keane and Andrew Carmellinio joined as judges, and Emeril promised that the winning dish would go on all of his restaurant menus.
Shirley chose a seared black drum fish with zhen jian vinegar butter sauce, braised celery and mushrooms. She said that she created it to reflect “floating down a bayou,” and it floated her to victory and a berth in Hawaii. The outstanding win moved her onto the next two weeks of finals in Hawaii.
Nina and firebrand Nicholas as the final three join her there, as Carlos was sent packing with his knives because, although the judges liked his steamed seafood tamale, it didn’t come with a grilled banana leaf.
However, 30 minutes later, Carlos won the post-show “Last Chance Kitchen” online challenge and now will show up in Hawaii with seven-time challenger Louis Maldonado looking for redemption. The ultimate “Top Chef” twist will surprise when one of the men will win to join Shirley, Nina and Nicholas.
And another drama on next week’s episode with celebrity judge Sam Choy: Two of those four will immediately end their journey. Will it come down on the final episode a week later to the judges’ toughest-ever decision to break a tie between the two ladies?
Will Shirley be named the ultimate winner? Will she go on to open her own restaurant on the Strip afterward? We’re in agony awaiting on tenterhooks!
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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