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Hung Huyn crowned the winner of Bravo's 'Top Chef 3 Miami'


By Christopher Rocchio, 10/04/2007 

Hung Huyn, a sous chef originally from Pittsfield, MA, was revealed to be the winner of Top Chef 3 Miami during the live conclusion of last night's Bravo broadcast of the reality competition's finale.

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"I'm so excited!" said Hung once it was revealed he was the culinary king of Top Chef 3 Miami.  "I worked so hard to get here, and to prove myself and have so much support from America... I'm speechless.  I'm speechless.  But I'm sure you'll hear more from me later."

The 29-year-old Las Vegas, NV-resident defeated Casey Thompson, a 29-year-old executive chef from Dallas, TX, as well as Dale Levitski, a 34-year-old chef and culinary consultant from Chicago, IL, to claim Top Chef 3 Miami's grand prize of $100,000 in seed money to help open a restaurant, a "dream" vacation, and a feature in Food & Wine magazine.

Top Chef 3 Miami's finale broadcast began with the Top 3 finalists preparing for their final challenge in their Aspen, CO hotel suite.  They then got on a chairlift and were taken to the Aspen Mountain Club, an exclusive mountain-top club that served as the site of Top Chef 3 Miami's final cooking challenge.  Once at the club, they met host Padma Lakshmi and judge Tom Colicchio and Tom explained each of the three would cook "the best meal they ever cooked in their life" in a three-way head-to-head battle that would require them to cook in the same kitchen and serve three courses against one another.

After choosing ingredients from a large table spread and complimenting their choices with whatever additional "special ingredients" they had brought from home, the Top 3 each had 35 minutes to plan their menus.

Hung's decided his first course would consist of hamachi; his second course would be a modern Vietnamese fusion dish; and his third course would be duck.

"I'm thinking what's more Asian than duck!" said Hung.

Casey was concerned the mountain's high altitude would impact her souffle, so she went with foie gras for her first course; giant prawns for her second course; and pork belly for her third dish.  Since both Casey and Hung used prawns in their second course, Dale instead decided on French-style gnocchi with lobster.  However he still went with foie gras -- the same as Casey -- for his first course and chose Colorado lamb for his final course, which he described as "sensible" for the environment.

The Top 3 finalists then drew knives to determine their sous chefs for the challenge, expecting it to be former Top Chef 3 Miami contestants.  But -- surprise, surprise -- it was actually better than they imagined.  Hung got former The Restaurant star, chef and author Rocco DiSpirito; Casey ended up with chef and restaurateur Michelle Bernstein; while Dale got chef an restaurateur Todd English.

The finalists' three-hour preparation time then began, with the pairs busily at work in the same kitchen.  Hung was glad Rocco "understood" his flavors; Dale was "very nervous" around Todd but eventually came to see him as his "prep bitch;" while Michelle "personally wouldn't have chosen" Casey's pork belly and hoped there was time to cook it. 

All the finalists found burners and boiling points were impacted by the high altitude they were cooking at, cutting into their prep time and causing them to adapt.  Once the three hours of prep time was over, the three sous chefs departed.

"The food that I'm known for is strong Asian flavors and techniques," explained Hung as he cooked his dishes for the final challenge.  "The judges tell me that the food lacks soul.  This is like being run over by a truck!  I have so much love in my cooking, so it's like a second chance to prove myself for real."

Tom then pulled the finalists out of the kitchen in the middle of cooking and informed them that although they'd only been expecting to serve three courses, they would also have to peparer an adidtional fourth course that could be served at anytime in the meal. 

"I wanted to punch him in the face," said Dale. 

Tom then revealed additional help was available in the form of previously eliminated third-season contestants Howie, a 31-year-old executive chef from Miami, FL; Sara, a 34-year-old cheese maker from Kingston, Jamaica who currently resides in Miami, FL; and Chris, a 31-year-old personal chef from El Toro, CA who currently resides in Venice, CA.  The Top 3 drew knives again, and Hung got Sara, Casey picked Howie and Dale got Chris.

Casey decided to prepare seared sirloin with potatoes and mushrooms as her extra course.  Dale decided to serve seared scallops and Hung chose chocolate cake for dessert. 

After finishing preparing their food, the finalists then began to serve their courses to the Top Chef 3 Miami judges.

"It was an honor to cook for you guys," said Hung to the judges once all the courses were served.

Top Chef 3 Miami's final judging table then commenced, with Tom; Padma; Food & Wine magazine editor Gail Simmons; and now former Queer Eye food and wine expert Ted Allen judging the Top 3 on the final challenge.

Casey said her menu "rattled her," and it was evident in the judges' comments, as flavors in her first course clashed; she lost plating control on her second dish; and her third dish, the pork, was actually overcooked. 

The judges then deliberated.  Gail thought Hung's hamachi was the best first course, and Tom agreed.  She thought Casey's prawn dish was the "least approachable," something that surprised her.  Dale's scallop dish won Gail over, as she commented it was a "step above." 

With Dale and Hung tied at a dish apiece, Tom said he was a big fan of Hung's duck course.  He added Dale's lobster course was his least favorite dish of the night, however Dale received rave reviews for his "bold" lamb.

Top Chef 3 Miami's live portion of its finale broadcast then commenced -- and after watching the series unfold on television -- Casey, who had emerged as a strong contender in the challenges leading up to the finale, seemed to understand she was no longer in the running.

"I guess what makes a Top Chef is that they can cook every meal precisely and beautifully, and this just wasn't my challenge," she told the judges before the winner was revealed.  "I accept that.  I did remind [Hung and Dale] over the break that I was kicking their ass there for a while."

Tom then gave credence to Casey's comments, telling her the final menu she prepared "never came together."  He added the judges were glad Dale found his "inner chef," and also described Hung as a "great technician" who "married it with passion" in the final challenge.  Padma then revealed Hung was the winner.

Bravo has already ordered a fourth season of Top Chef, which will be filmed in Chicago.  A Top Chef 3 Miami reunion show will also air next week.

(Photo credit Bravo/Jonathan Cohon)

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