Is he the next Top Chef winner?

November 20, 2013

Season 11 contestant Brian Huskey is 100% Korean from L.A.  


Brian Huskey (Justin Stephens/ Bravo)

Brian Huskey (Justin Stephens/ Bravo)

Will another Korean come away with the title of Top Chef?  Stay tuned.

On the heels of Korean American chef Kristen Kish, who won last year’s aforementioned reality TV competition crowning the best chef in America, another Korean chef is among the 19 contestants vying for this year’s title.

Making Season 11 of Top Chef all the more intriguing is L.A.’s own Brian Huskey. The 32-year old Research & Development chef for critically acclaimed restaurants Paiche, Picca, and Mo-chica, also happens to be the oldest son of a well-known real-estate mogul in the Korean community – Han Huskey and his wife Sookie.

You could say he is one passionate young man who unmercifully turned his back on the wishes of his parents – for him to walk in their footsteps as a businessman – to pursue his own interest and dreams.

“No fire, no heat. No heat, no Life.”  Huskey says he lives by this motto in his endless quest for new culinary creation during an exclusive interview with the Korea Times.

“Crazy, awesome, and humbling experience”

“It’s been a crazy, and awesome experience. Also very humbling. I mean, it was a great opportunity for me to show off my skills, on a nationally televised stage, but you are also judged by celebrity judges,” said Huskey about the show.

Bravo-TV’s Top Chef is one of the most popular reality TV shows in America. Started in 2006, it’s currently in the early stages of Season 11. Especially appealing to younger viewers, celebrity-like contestants and the latest recipes are always hot topics.

Seemingly impossible tasks, cutthroat competition, and the suspense of elimination (one contestant being sent home every week with those dreaded words: “Pack your knives and go“) generate enough drama to pack every single episode, and if that’s not enough, the amazing skills and ideas of these ‘chef-testants‘ are also a treat to watch. Their ability to think on their feet and adapt and create is truly extraordinary at times.

They already know who the winner is, but…

Season 11 unfolds in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the first of the 17 episodes aired on October 2. With 10 more episodes left, the winner of Season 11 won’t be revealed at least until January.

One interesting element here is that the contest and the filming were actually completed four months ago. All involved, including Huskey and other contestants, already know who the winner is, but they are bound by the confidentiality clause in their contracts to remain silent until the final episode has been televised.

“We already know the outcome, but until all the episodes of season 11 are aired, we cannot talk about it. If we do, we can get sued for millions of dollars in damages. Even if it was a honest mistake during a casual conversation, if one of us let the cat out of the bag, it can spread very fast among bloggers and so on to completely ruin the show. For that reason, they made us sign what looked like a hundred-page contract,” Huskey said.

“See you later, alligator”

Filming was done in New Orleans, over 11 weeks from May to July. The contestants were required to stay in designated places the entire time – it was almost like being sequestered during a jury trial.

The contestants were faced with all kinds of unusual ingredients and assignments, as usual, things none of them are likely to ever encounter again in their lives. It’s too bad that nothing more than what’s already been aired can be revealed – like that alligator meat they had to deal with in the first episode.

“I had never cooked alligator meat before. A lot of people ask me ‘How do you prepare for Top Chef?’ but how can you prepare for something like that? Perhaps my eight-year experience as a chef and my life as a whole were all part of the preparation process,” Huskey said about the experience.

He also says he has seen many other chefs compete on Top Chef before while watching the show but he found actually participating to be completely different. When he was a spectator, he admits to having criticized the contestants – “What’s wrong with him?” he said. “Why doesn’t he do this, or why doesn’t she do that? It’s going to taste better this way, and it’s better to go with some other ingredient and so on, but I’ve come to appreciate them a whole lot more, after having experienced it myself.”

He went on to add that it was a lot more stressful than he had anticipated, as one mistake can knock you out of the competition. “If I make one mistake at work, I don’t expect to get fired, but here, you may not get another chance,” he explained.

“Just getting on the show is an achievement itself”

How he got on the show was through a recommendation of a friend who has “a lot of ties to Hollywood and the entertainment industry.” Still, the interview and the selection process was an experience in and of itself. “Just an interview with the NBC legal team took over an hour and a half. You also have to go through a screen test, a background check, and even a psychological test. Because it’s a reality TV show, they have to make sure you can mentally handle the stress and possible rejection. I heard about a dating show contestant committing suicide afterwards,” Huskey explained.

All in all, just being selected as one of the 19 finalists, out of thousands of applicants, is an honor, Huskey says, and since Top Chef is a nationally televised program popular among younger audiences, he is getting a lot of recognition. “When I’m walking down the street with my girlfriend, I hear them saying, ‘Hey, that’s the Top Chef guy’ and I can sense the stares. As a chef who mostly works behind-the-scenes in the kitchen, who knows when I’ll be on a nationally-televised stage again. I think that’s why all my friends are always telling me to hang in there as long as I can, and to do whatever I have to do to survive for another episode,” said Huskey.

Huskey majored in economics at UCLA and started his journey towards becoming a chef at CCA in San Francisco. He hooked up with much-celebrated Chef Ricardo Zarate three years ago and learned a great deal about Peruvian-style cuisine and currently works as a saucier.

He is credited with having assisted Zarate with the opening of three Peruvian restaurants – Paiche, Picca, and Mochica, and has also worked at L.A. Prime Steakhouse as an executive chef. He was also involved in the Patina Group’s opening of Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge in Costa Mesa.

 ”He is 100% Korean”

Top Chef Brian Huskey, right, and his mother Sookie Huskey. (Park Sang Hyuk)

Top Chef Brian Huskey, right, and his mother Sookie Huskey. (Park Sang Hyuk)

Brian’s mother, Mrs. Sookie Han, readily admits to not being happy about her son’s career choice.  She had hoped he would follow in his father’s footsteps as a businessman.

But since it came to this, Mrs. Huskey would like to take this opportunity to set one thing straight – that her son is 100% Korean. “Because his last name is Huskey, people have this tendency to assume that he is either a half Korean or adopted, but that’s not the case all. He even looks a little bit like Filipino ever since he was a child, so people get the wrong impression, but he is 100% Korean.”

How his last name became Huskey is a little bit complicated. Brian’s father, Han Huskey (his Korean name is Han Yong Hwan), went over to live with his mother in Japan after his dentist father was kidnapped and killed during the Korean War. His mother, who used to work at the embassy, later got re-married to an American diplomat named Richard Huskey.

At that point, Brian’s father decided to use his Korean last name as the first name, and took his stepfather’s last name to become Han Huskey.

Brian’s grandfather, after retiring as a foreign diplomat, worked as vice president of Western operations for the American luxury specialty department store giant Neiman Marcus.

Mrs. Huskey says Brian had a chance to change his last name back to Han, when he was 15-years-old, but resisted in tears. “All three kids love and respect their grandfather so much, they wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Mrs. Huskey. “They are very proud of their grandfather.”