Cooking Up the Next Celebrity Chef


By Alexandra Wexler

“I’m going to do this first and then I’m going to the hospital,” said one would-be contestant for the Asian Food Channel’s new reality show, coming out of the audition room bleeding — one of at least two people to slice their finger open at the Hong Kong audition.

“Next Celebrity Chef” is expected to premiere this fall, showcasing the talents of aspiring celebrity chefs in a series of real-world cooking challenges.

“I think this project is going to be completely different from other cooking competitions,” said Michael Saxon, director of hospitality and lifestyle at luxury property development group Eastern & Oriental Berhad, which is sponsoring the show. “We are definitely going to make it as real as possible.”

The contestants range from professional chefs to self-described “cooks” and amateurs who simply enjoy playing “Top Chef” for their families and friends.

“I watch AFC all the time when I get home from work,” said Judy Gabo Tchou, who works in design and fashion. “I’ve been dreaming about being one of the contestants.” Ms. Tchou’s husband has a restaurant in Hong Kong, giving her some real-world restaurant experience under her belt.

Lakshmi Harilela, who has been cooking since she was a little girl, said that the auditions were a great experience, despite her nerves.

“I think I did okay,” she said. “The judges said that they thought my food was a bit over-seasoned — I may have been a little heavy-handed with the spices, but I love spice!”

Ms. Harilela teaches healthy cooking classes in Hong Kong. Other potential contestants specialize in Korean food, baking and pastries.

“I love doing any kind of dumpling,” said Paola Sinisterra, a designer and food blogger. “Today was really a big challenge, though, because I usually take my time cooking.”

A recent graduate of London’s Le Cordon Bleu culinary school also had trouble with the day’s task: making an omelette.

“It went not so great, to be honest,” said Nicole Sousa, who had just finished an internship as a pastry chef at a restaurant in Hong Kong.

Others like Eddy Leung, who’s been a professional chef for 21 years, found the audition less of a challenge. “For me, it was just for fun,” he said, adding that he is used to difficult cooking situations and often tests himself by putting price constraints on his dinner parties. “For six friends, I will try to spend just HK$200,” he said.

E&O’s Mr. Saxon seemed lukewarm about the emerging talents he saw on Friday. “I think in Hong Kong there are a lot more top chefs that didn’t show up,” he said. “We could have had a few more applicants of quality.”

However, Anna Olson, a pastry chef on Food Network Canada and a celebrity guest judge for four of the five auditions, emphasized that they are not only looking for professional chefs.