Hung Speaks: 'What Should I do, Make Sweet and Sour Chicken?'
Today, I got to talk with my favorite Top Chef, Hung, who proved to be even more entertaining on the phone. He spoke to me from Las Vegas, where it was 11 AM and he was very giggly. He had just woken up, and last night was a rough one. "I ate five tacos at 4 in morning," he said. Sounds like a plan.
The cheftestants find out the winner on Wednesday night, live. I asked how he was handling the suspense. "I'm dying right now. I can never get away from these thoughts." Hung said he would definitely be surprised if he didn't win, but "it's up to the judges, and Bravo. Mainly Bravo," he said, laughing.
When I asked him what he thought about the fact that the other chefs expected him to help them when he finished cooking early, he broke out the Hung-ness: "I didn't know this was chef camp, where we all hold hands and walk into the rainbow together. I didn't know that's what competition was. If I had known, I would have done much better."
He says it's ridiculous for the other chefs to claim Hung isn't a team player. "Every team challenge, I was on top. Except with Joey, because Joey decided not to be on the team."
Hung did not come to Top Chef to be popular (duh). "Fan's favorite doesn't get the grand prize," he said. "On the road to success, you might piss people off."
He said that when he saw that the audience had voted for him to be eliminated, he laughed. "I wasn't upset. Either way people are talking about me. I'm the most talked about character. So, it's good for me. It's good for Bravo." Laughing, he added "I'm such a nice guy."
We had to bring up the challenge in which Hung seemed to be peaking on some sort of magical mushroom trip, and crushed up Lucky Charms to create a Smurf Village. "Gimme ten dollars and 20 minutes with cereal and coffee, and it's like, I'm making the Smurf Village. I'm going for it. They didn't know what to say. They were like 'What the hell's wrong with this trippy montherfucker?'"
If Hung wins, he and his mom are going to donate a portion of the money to Buddhist temples, and he wants to go to Spain. "I want to experience life, learn, cook, be more technical!"
About that soul-cooking stuff: "When was the last time you walked out of a restaurant and said, 'that steak was so soulful, I'm definitely going back?' No. You say it was cooked perfectly, it was seasoned perfectly. The colors, the flavors, etc. Why am I getting dissed for having some technical skills? The word technique is related to the word craft, and guess who owns the restaurants called Craft?"
Hung says his strategy has been to play things safe as far as flavors, and try to execute his dishes with technical precision. "I could go crazy and the judges could be like 'We see you, but this tastes like shit.' You can't just have 'heart.' I'm not going to hire my grandma to run a 12 million-dollar business. You definitely need both to be a chef."
He also ranted about Casey saying he had used the sous vide method a few times. "I'm sorry, Casey. You heat up your meat in a saute pan every time."
Hung says he knew the other chefs would "turn around and stab me in the back" so he didn't bother making friends and "bullshitting."
I told Hung that Rocco DiSpirito had said he reminded him of himself, and Hung said the same about Rocco. "He's confident, he's cocky, he's good looking... his technique is on, his flavor profile is my kind of food. I respect him a lot."
I asked Hung if we were going to see his "soul" in the finale and he promised we would. "Oh yeah. Everything is going to make sense in the end, if they edit it right." About the judge's complaints that his cooking isn't expressive enough, he said "What does that mean, when [Colicchio] says 'We don't see Hung.'? What should I do, make sweet and sour chicken and wontons? I'm trained in French food. I love French food. That is me."
I asked if he was surprised by who ended up in the final three, and he said he was. "Dale has cruised by the whole time," he said. I asked him if he saw it as coming down to him and Casey, and he said "No. It seems that way, but I'm really confident. I wasn't really challenged much by the competition at all, except for Tre and CJ, but they're not there now. It's my show."
And if he doesn't win? "Even if I don't win, the people who know anything about food know I freaking killed it." Anthony Bourdain has been one of my biggest supporters, on the blogs and stuff. And not because I'm Asian. He's a chef. C'mon, he knows."