Vail’s Liken holds her own on Top Chef |

Vail’s Liken holds her own on Top Chef

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/David Giesbrecht/Bravo
David Giesbrecht/Bravo | Episodic

VAIL, Colorado – As Bravo Television’s “Top Chef” began with the Quick Fire challenge in episode nine, and contestants picked their teams and chose the order in which they’d be cooking, it became obvious that Kelly Liken’s competitors trust her talent as a chef.

The challenge was essentially a relay team cooking challenge, where each chef cooks for 10 minutes and then passes off their dishes to the next chef. The kicker is that each chef waiting to cook is blind-folded, meaning they have to pick up where the other chef left off without knowing anything about what the previous chef started preparing in the kitchen.

When teammates chose Liken to anchor the relay, it proved she’s not only a good competitor, but also respected among her peers.

As Liken finished off the sauteed prawn dish with mustard sauce and tomato salad, one of her teammates watched and smiled.

“Kelly is doing exactly what I hoped she would do,” he said.

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Liken’s team won the challenge, splitting a $10,000 prize between the four of them. The celebration, however, was short-lived.

In the elimination challenge, the same two teams competed against each other in the television show’s notorious “Restaurant Wars” challenge. Every season the challenge is one of the most heated, both in and out of the kitchen.

The teams have to work together to create a restaurant and they have to deliver the best food, service and ambiance they can. In some seasons the challenge showcases chefs’ best talents, and often it reveals their worst talents, as well.

Liken’s team appeared to have the win as the challenge unfolded, with her team seemingly more organized and confident than the other team.

As judges ate their food, it became clear that flavor flaws would trump their strengths in organization and teamwork.

Frank Bruni, former restaurant critic for the New York Times, was the guest judge – something that added even more pressure to the contestants familiar with his often harsh criticism.

Liken’s team nominated her for the front of the house, meaning she would have to seat tables and be the face of the restaurant. It’s a position that has caused many casualties on “Top Chef,” as chefs more comfortable behind-the-scenes end up flustered and nervous when they’re on the other side of the operation.

Liken said she was nervous about the role, which is why she decided to prepare her two dishes quickly so she could make sure the front of the house was running the way she wanted.

She prepared a cold corn soup and a chocolate ganache tart – two dishes she felt she could execute before heading out to the front of the restaurant.

Judges were generally happy with her dessert. Food and Wine Magazine’s Gail Simmons said she loved the salt and the crust in Liken’s chocolate tart, although other judges commented on the accompanying ice cream as being flavorless.

Liken’s corn soup, however, did not get such rave reviews.

“Soup should be creamy and rich,” said Head Judge Tom Colicchio. “There’s got to be more than what she gave us in that dish.”

Lucky for Liken, it was her charisma that helped her shine above the mistakes she made in her food.

“It was a clumsy charisma that you had, but it was a charisma,” Bruni said. “And I think that really helped the evening go more smoothly.”

Check out next Thursday’s Vail Daily to find out how Liken does in episode 10.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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