Hung Huynh, <EM>Top Chef</EM> Hung Huynh, Top Chef

In the end, after 14 episodes and 27 competitions, Hung Huynh was declared the winner of Bravo's Top Chef Season 3. The 29-year-old executive sous chef at Guy Savoy in Las Vegas, who was born in Vietnam and trained in both Asian and classic French cooking, was the season's most controversial competitor (he was accused of not playing well with others). The morning after he won the $100,000, a gourmet vacation and some other nifty prizes, Hung told us why he really is the best. Tell the truth — did you know you were going to win?
Hung Huynh: I had a good feeling; I felt pretty confident, but it could have gone any way. I had no idea except after we watched the show last night, and then I felt even more confident. If you hadn't won, who of all the other competitors this season would you have wanted to see as the new Top Chef?
Hung: Definitely Tre... or even Lia. We all work in pretty high-end restaurants; they know their stuff. They're well-trained. What made you want to try out for Top Chef in the first place?
Hung: I thought I could win it. When I watched the first two seasons, I looked at the challenges and the quality of the chefs and I thought, "I'm better. I could definitely win this." How would you describe your style of cooking?
Hung: It's very light, easy-to-approach southeast Asian with French techniques. What was the best dish you cooked all season?
Hung: The geoduck with black chicken, and of course the duck with foie gras last night. Todd English said that dish was Michelin three-star worthy.
Hung: That was a huge compliment. What about any of your fellow competitors' dishes — anything stand out?
Hung: I tasted Dale's lamb dish [from the finale], and it was excellent. Other than that, nothing. I think I'm better trained [than all the other competitors]. I wouldn't say I'm more passionate, because I don't know how passionate they are, but I know I have more experience. Just because you have passion and love for the food doesn't mean you can operate a restaurant. You do need the training and the skills and the techniques to produce food for a $30 million operation. Passion just doesn't do that for you. You seemed to take it to heart when the judges said that your food was technically perfect but lacked soul. Did that make you change your approach?
Hung: I was trying to stay with more skills, because in my mind, if they didn't like my flavors, at least they can agree that my techniques were great. Then when I was told that, I thought to myself, "They're right. I'm going to do what I really do and show them what I'm about." And that's what I did. I definitely think that's why I won, because my techniques came through and my passion and they understand now, "OK, yeah, he can cook." Did you see yourself as this season's bad boy?
Hung: I wouldn't say I was the bad boy, but the most controversial contestant. That's the character I wanted to create from the beginning. I'm the most talked-about contestant. Either you love me or you hate me. It gets you more exposure. More people will know you, bad or good. It's a way to stay on the show, and it made good TV. Of all the guest judges, who would you most want to work with?
Hung: Daniel Boulud — he's the man. He's hardcore. Everyone was great. Except for Maria Frumkin and Michael Schwartz [both of whom didn't like Hung's dishes]. They suck. They're not qualified for me. Which of the guest judges would you want to hang out with?
Hung: Definitely Rocco [DiSpirito] and Anthony Bourdain — they're real chefs. They're passionate, they're real people. They understand where I'm coming from with my attitude: I'm a chef, I'm not there for a personality contest. How was Rocco as a sous chef during the last elimination challenge?
Hung: He was awesome. He went above and beyond. He pushed, he really worked hard. He listened to me and followed directions really well and supported me in everything that I did. I'm grateful for that. If you had just one last meal on earth, what would it be?
Hung: It changes from day to day... definitely like a bowl of chicken curry with rice. Really spicy. Do you want to open your own restaurant?
Hung: Definitely, in maybe three to five years; I'm not in a rush to be an owner, because that takes so much risk. I would want to do it in New York City or San Francisco, but primarily New York. It would be very approachable to the general public; I want the real people and have repeat customers, not have people come once or twice a year. It would have a lot of Asian influence, with great technique and global influence. Servings small, big plates, where people can try a lot of dishes. I want people to come in and have fun. Any final thoughts on your Top Chef experience?
Hung: I walked out of there learning so much; I take criticism much better now. I'm humbled by my experience.

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