Can it be “Top Chef” time again already? Yep. Season 14 is here, or will be tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 1 at 10 p.m. on Bravo. And, once again, Orange County represents. Chef Shirley Chung of Irvine’s Twenty Eight will (undoubtedly) do us proud this season—read on for some of her thoughts. (Last season, Amar Santana, of Broadway and Vaca, came thisclose to going all the way—you can read my Taste of Orange County recaps here.)
But wait—hasn’t Chung already competed on the show? Indeed. Prior to the opening of her Orange County restaurant, we got to know her in the New Orleans-set Season 11, where she was absolutely robbed—according to me—of deservedly winning the whole shebang. I’m thrilled that she’s getting a second shot at it—setting things right, or redemption, as she says in this preview video.
Chung’s not the sole returning cheftestant, of course—the new conceit this year is a field split between eight rookies and eight previous not-quite-winners. Reading about this setup, I was skeptical at first, but have been totally won over by the chance to spend more time with favorites like Katsuji Tanabe, Sheldon Simeon, and even John Tesar, a quintessential TV villain.
We’ll see Chung applying lessons learned. “The first time around,” she says, “I wish I would have stuck to my ideas in the team challenge environments more often.” And that’s not the only thing. “One of the most important advantages my previous experience gives me is time management,” she says. “The other is that, this time around, many of the return chefs are friends. I don’t have the anxious feeling of cooking with someone I don’t know.” But there are limits to this familiarity. “Knowing we all have the same advantages as returning chefs, I remind myself not to underestimate the challenges because I feel comfortable.” Or, give anything away—Chung’s definitely got her game face on. “My strategy has always been just to roll with it,” she says, “take one challenge at a time.”
(Check back Friday, Dec. 2 for my episode recap.)