Chef Shirley Chung’s world travels tease Las Vegans, giving a little taste of what to expect from her next restaurant. And that’s something local foodies have been wondering about since she left the Cosmopolitan’s China Poblano to shoot Top Chef in New Orleans.
“I met many friends through the Top Chef experience, which was really great,” Chung said when I spoke to her as she was getting ready to board a flight for a two-and-a-half week stint in Korea. “So they introduced me to some local Korean [culinary] industry friends.”
On this particular journey, she planned to spend her first week in the suburbs of Seoul to learn to make traditional kimchi, then head to central Seoul to explore the country’s other culinary traditions. She said she was looking forward to visiting the top local restaurants and the open fish market.
The national exposure of Top Chef has opened up plenty of opportunities for Chung, who made it all the way to the finals of the cooking competition. And she hasn’t quite decided on her next venture.
“I have a few offers on the table,” she says excitedly. “My trip to Korea is definitely part of the puzzle.”
When pressed for more details, Chung describes the style she wants to pursue as “cooking with no borders, or global Asian—that sort of feel.” And she insists this time, “it will definitely be my culinary vision.”
That’s a theme that viewers of the show saw develop over the course of the season. Before her TV experience, Chung was already considered a star of the culinary world. She had worked under world-renowned chefs such as Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy, Mario Batali and José Andrés. But she was always interpreting someone else’s ideas.
“I’m really grateful for all the experiences I’ve had,” Chung says. “But at the same time, I cannot keep executing other people’s visions. And being on Top Chef definitely helped me sort out and organize my thoughts, ultimately finding my voice more than anything else.”
The competition offered the ideal environment for finding that voice. “I had such a great time,” she says. “It was like a chef’s summer camp. Throughout the month we were shooting, the only thing we needed to do was just concentrate and think about the dish, and cook. We didn’t have to worry about budgets. We didn’t have to worry about human resources. You don’t even have to worry about housework!”
With all of the opportunities before her, does Las Vegas run the risk of losing Chung to another city? She’s not ruling out the idea of opening restaurants in other parts of the country, but insists, “Vegas is my home base. So I will definitely in the future have a location in Las Vegas.”
When we can expect that location to be revealed? “I’m hoping within a year. I’m crossing my fingers.”