Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 | 11:33 a.m.
It was a dual victory for Las Vegas cheftestant Shirley Chung on Wednesday night’s episode of “Top Chef” in New Orleans, and it propelled her right into frontrunner status now as just four chefs remain. But it didn’t look anywhere near as easy as it sounds.
Shirley has one more episode next week to get through if she hopes to move on to the final two episodes from Maui. On Wednesday night, she won the Quickfire Challenge, which gave her immunity from elimination, and she won the Elimination Challenge, too!
It was Brian Luskey who was sent home with his cooking knives and not the cantankerous and crabby Nicholas Elmi, who had an even larger explosion this week than his behavior last week. (Remember he had won immunity and then refused to give it up when judges termed his meal a “disaster” that destroyed his team’s chances, and another chef was sent packing in his place.)
This week, he blew up at rival chef Carlos Gayton, accusing him of moving his overabundance of pots and turning the heat on the stove to a blistering 500 degrees, wrecking his quinoa preparation to hold five versions of carrots together. Nobody, not even I, knew you could prepare carrots five ways. Maybe our Luxor headliner does? (Thank you; I’ll be here all week.)
Nicholas managed to save his position, and he, too, continues onward. But it was Shirley’s night to shine, first with her version of a New Orleans po boy she made with pickled vegetables and black vinegar. Guest judge Roy Choi slammed all the cheftestants for their versions but chose Shirley as the winner, urging her to make it even more Chinese.
During the filming of this episode, Shirley was scalded with hot water from Nicholas’ pots, but she continued on with her seared snapper in a crustacean broth, silken tofu and Napa cabbage. To say the judges and the young wait staff at the nonprofit Cafe Reconcile were drooling over it would not be an understatement.
It was nearly a tie for worst between Brian and the fuming Nicholas, but in the closing moments, it was Brian who went home, leaving Nicholas to either, ahem, “chill” or “get even more fired up” next week.
The only question now is can our Shirley hold on to her frontrunner status and head to Maui in a two-chef showdown. Meantime, Shirley will meet admirers and fans when she makes a guest appearance at Sunday’s fundraiser in celebrity chef Rick Moonen’s Rx Boiler Room at Mandalay Bay for hospitalized food critic Max Jacobson. Tickets are still available at $1,000 apiece for the 14-chef, eight-course spectacular, so please support the event.
We’ll preview Shirley’s upcoming two challenges next Wednesday and wish her luck in the closing stages of this extended 17-episode season.
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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