The pressure mounted in this week’s episode of Top Chef, as the contestants traveled to Singapore for the start of a two-part finale. After sampling an array of delicious-looking street food under the guidance of hawker cuisine guru K.F. Seetoh, the remaining four cheftestants created their own grab-and-go dishes, deciphering ingredients labeled only in Chinese characters. Kelly Liken’s seafood noodles “captured the essence of the ocean,” according to Seetoh, but they weren’t enough to win her the Quickfire and prize of immunity. In the Elimination Challenge, Kelly’s apple-and-guava salad won praise from the judges, but ultimately her chilled cucumber-and-bitter-melon soup and prawns in red curry weren’t enough to move her forward. We spoke to the Colorado chef about the best Singapore eats, her favorite judge, and how slicing her finger might have cost her the competition.
>>For a recap of Episdoe 13, click here.
The street food scenes in Singapore made us want to lick the TV screen. What was the best thing you tasted?
“The chili crab. It was just this big, mud crab. They stir fry it in a sweet, sour, spicy sauce, and you tear it apart with your hands and eat it. It’s delicious. The highlight of the trip was our afternoon that we spent with K.F. Seetoh at the hawker stands. We got to taste so many amazing dishes and see Singapore’s food culture with an authority. That’ll forever be an amazing memory for me.”
Were you surprised that Kevin had never used a wok?
“I don’t think any of us, except Angelo, had ever used a big commercial wok. This is an intense piece of equipment that most chefs, unless they work in a Chinese restaurant, don’t have access to.”
How did you feel about the Quickfire twist with immunity?
“Having immunity in the finale is a little ridiculous. Let’s just all compete here and do our best. I think even Ed would say that it didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.”
Speaking of Ed, it seemed like everyone’s hackles were raised when he announced that he’d planned two dishes.
“We were all pretty surprised when Ed blurted that out. We were all planning a second dish, but we were only allotted one hour. It was a little frustrating, but we all rolled with it.”
Did your injured finger play any role in your departure?
“I think it could have been a factor. I just was moving very fast, and I slipped and cut myself. It was pretty bad. I lost a little time, and I was basically one-handed for about half of the time. It made me nervous—it threw me off my game a little bit.”
Did you feel like Angelo had an advantage because of his knowledge of Asian cuisine?
“I never really thought that. I think I’m probably the only one. His familiarity with that area of the world could be perceived as an advantage. But it’s also a disadvantage because people expect him to excel.”
Did you have a favorite judge?
“My favorite judge, hands down, was Eric Ripert—solely because he likes my food and says lovely, lovely things about it. But, honestly, all the feedback I got from the judges was really good. I don’t disagree with anything they said. It was really great for me to look outside of my box, to reevaluate myself and my dishes.”
You said in the beginning of the competition that you planned to trust your gut. Were you true to that?
“There were times when I slipped up for sure. For example, when I had the salty steak—I tried to be a little more aggressive and bold in my cooking than I normally am. But when I did trust my gut and did it my way, I think I was really successful.”
>>For more Top Chef DC coverage, click here.
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