‘Top Chef’ Week 3 Recap—O.C.’s Shirley Chung Abides

Finally, on last night’s “Top Chef” episode 3, the separation of rookie and returnee teams was over, and it felt like competition really began. Shirley Chung, chef-partner of Irvine’s Twenty Eight and “Top Chef” Season 11 veteran, made it through, thanks to some teamwork.

Before we get to that, though, I wondered how Chung was spending time while the show airs. There’s work: she and her husband are developing a new restaurant, in L.A. this time, “a fun and casual, seafood-driven, one-pot cooking concept,” she says. And there’s recreation—visiting favorite Orange County restaurants. “I am a big fan of chef Cathy Pavlos’ Provenance. I love her vegetable garden, al fresco dining. Also, my chef brother Brian Huskey’s Tackle Box, on the beach in Corona del Mar, just started to sell smoked brisket for the winter. I was his guinea pig for a while, and ate a lot of his testing dishes. His 12-hour, pecan-wood-smoked brisket is on point.” Huskey was on “Top Chef” Season 11 with Chung.

On to ep 3. Quickfire this week was the familiar Mise en Place Race, where time is of the essence as prep tasks are attacked. A new twist required the team to prepare a dish with the prepped ingredients—in past seasons, the mise race ended without a cooking segment. Shirley volunteered to cook, joined by Brooke Williamson, leaving other team members to chop onions, trim artichokes, shell shrimp, and shuck clams. Both Chung and Williamson are strong at the stove, though in choosing to cook they gave up the chance to gain immunity. Despite working under a 3-minute penalty for being the slower team to finish, Chung’s and Williamson’s shrimp and clam belly starter with shaved raw-artichoke salad secured the win. Affable Sheldon Simeon’s quick, cheerful work earned him MVP status, and immunity in the coming elimination.

And that elimination challenge? A seven-course meal based on radishes, all types. It was a head-to-head competition, so each course had a winner, and, along with the judges, a roomful of “Top Chef” superfan diners got a vote. Shirley created an ambitious beef and radish dish that at first included handmade orecchiette, but she switched the pasta to simpler malfatti when running low on time. Still, clearly a ton of work, and sadly, neither the judges nor the superfans picked it for the win. Shirley’s team did come out on top overall, so she was spared having to stand in loser lineup. We’ll be glad to see her next week.

Overall, the judges were wowed by both teams’ output. Padma Lakshmi said, emphatically, that this was the best meal she’d ever had on the show. In the end, Season 2 fan favorite Sam Talbot’s brioche-based ersatz banh mi got him booted downstairs to “Last Chance Kitchen,” where he beat Gerald Sombright for the chance to face future losers in the quest to return to regular competition.

Need to get up to speed? You can watch last night’s regular episode, the Gerald-vs.-Sam “Last Chance Kitchen,” and read my Taste of Orange County “Top Chef” coverage.

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