Chef Soo Ahn embraced his Top Chef Last Chance Kitchen unique opportunity, interview

Chef Soo Ahn on Last Chance Kitchen
Chef Soo Ahn on Last Chance Kitchen / Bravo

When Top Chef Season 21 debuted, several changes influenced the new season. The Last Chance Kitchen twist,16th Top Chef cheftestant, Chef Soo Ahn from Chicago joined the competition. During a recent conversation with the impressive chef, he discussed this unique opportunity, the Chicago restaurant scene, and a few challenges that pushed his culinary knowledge.

For Top Chef fans, Last Chance Kitchen is more than just a second chance or a moment of redemption for the eliminated chefs. Even though three Top Chef winners rose to earn the title from the secondary competition, it is the challenges that keep viewers watching every week. With Tom Colicchio passing judgment on impressive and less than impeccable offerings, praise from the long-time Top Chef judge can bolster any chef’s confidence.

In the current season of Last Chance Kitchen, the first episode introduced Chef Soo Ahn, the 16th Top Chef Season 21 cheftestant. While Chef Soo had not competed in a Quickfire or an Elimination Challenge, he could join the competition if he wins five challenges. While that task is daunting, the celebrated Chicago chef was ready, willing, and able to accept the offer.

When asked about this unique way of joining this season, Chef Soo shared, “I knew that I had to jump through some hoops, but at the end of the day, whatever it took to get on the show, I was ready to do.”

One aspect to the Top Chef competition is to not only answer the brief, the assignment of the challenge, but to manage all the other distractions that come with cooking in that Top Chef kitchen. In Last Chance Kitchen, the questioning and occasional questioning look from Tom Colicchio is another element.

When asked about how he handled Tom’s questioning, Chef Soo said, “he was nice enough to ask me these two word questions instead of please tell me your life story right now while you’re cooking a 20 minute challenge. It was very nice of him to do because he could have definitely thrown me a lot of curveballs. I want to really thank him for that because if I had to answer any kind of crazy questions while I was doing these challenges, the outcome could have been very different.”

Top Chef Last Chance Kitchen
Tom Colicchio with Soo Ahn on Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen Season 13 / Bravo

Although he was not peppered with difficult questions, Chef Soo knew that his competitive side did need to keep him focused on the task at hand. Having once pursued a golf career, that focus can be both a benefit and a detriment.

As Chef Soo explained, “It can be a double edged sword. I can be very hyper critical of myself, and that comes from golf and trying to be a perfectionist. I try to get focused, but sometimes I second guess myself.”

In a quick paced environment like Last Chance Kitchen, there is no time to second guess, overthink, or question that direction. The chefs need to borrow from their knowledge and experiences in order to adapt and perform in the moment.

The biggest challenge that Chef Soo had to overcome was the time constraints. He said that “you kind of just go with your guy instinct” and try not to make any mistakes. While it is not necessarily like keeping the ball in the fairway in golf, there is a notion to staying away from going too far off into the rough.

One of Chef Soo’s Last Chance Kitchen challenges involved using Limburger Cheese. The funky, pungent, stinky cheese was not an ingredient that he uses. While he admitted that he is a fan of funky cheese, he thought it was a little over the top in its particular aroma.

Still, the dish that Chef Soo presented was smart. It borrowed from his knowledge of Italian cuisine and it made sense given the time constraints and challenge requirements. Overall, it was his ability to make a decision, see the path, and execute a dish in the moment. Whether or not that particular dish becomes a special at his Chicago restaurant, Adalina, remains to be seen.

While Top Chef Season 21 was filmed in Wisconsin, Chicago chefs have had great success on the award winning Bravo food television show. When asked about joining that Chicago chef legacy, Chef Soo mentioned, “we all respect each other very much, but, at the end of the day, we are competitive. We might not want to say that we’re competitive, but we want to be talked amongst everyone.”

Looking at his career, Chef Soo is grateful for the chefs and experiences that have influenced him. As he explained, “I have to give credit to all my past mentors and chefs who have given me the opportunity to work in their kitchens. I found techniques that I would have never learned unless I was with them. That background and arsenal of flavor profiles has helped me.” It is a concept that applies in his daily life as well as on Last Chance Kitchen.

Whether Chef Soo Ahn wins his way into the main competition of Top Chef Season 21 or not does not matter. He holds a unique piece of Last Chance Kitchen history. More importantly, viewers are hungry to try his food and learn more about this talented, thoughtful chef.

Chef Soo Ann is Executive Chef at Adalina, an Italian restaurant located on Chicago’s Gold Coast.

Last Chance Kitchen airs new episodes every Thursday on Peacock and wherever Top Chef can be streamed.

Top Chef Season 21, filmed in Wisconsin, airs new episodes Wednesday nights on Bravo. Episodes can be streamed the next day on Peacock.