Are you tuning in? Season 14 of Bravo Media’s Emmy and James Beard Award-winning “Top Chef” culinary competition television series, filmed in Charleston, South Carolina, is a can’t-miss, and we’re thrilled to share an exclusive interview with our favorite “Top Chef” chef-testant, Charleston’s very own Emily Hahn.
Want to follow along Emily’s “Top Chef” adventure? Check her out on Instagram at @empanadamamma!
Charlestonly: What steps did you take to break into the culinary field?
Emily Hahn: I was completely smitten with the F+B world following a job as a hostess at a Mediterranean restaurant in college. The hustle and bustle of it all was amazing. I then began as a prep cook at Italian eatery Mamma Zu in Richmond, VA. I fell in love with the kitchen from then on.
C: What brought you to the Holy City?
EH: I moved to Charleston after visiting several friends at the College of Charleston. Following culinary school, I moved to work under Chef Mike Lata at FIG.
C: What steps did you take to score a spot as a contestant on “Top Chef?”
EH: Scoring a spot on “Top Chef” was a bit like swimming in beautiful Lake Winnapasaki as a young girl growing up in New England. I was at the edge of the beach, sticking my toes in, then my ankles, then my knees… all of a sudden I was freezing cold, getting used to the water. I went little by little – interview, gulp, interview, gulp, all the way to standing in terror on the first day of filming, preparing to start a challenge. GULP!
C: How did you react when you heard the wonderful news?
EH: I looped around the entire Warehouse Bar + Kitchen dining room three times, gasping for air. I calmly said “thank you” (with a terrified look on my face), hung up the phone, ran around the restaurant once more (now screaming), then burst into tears of joy. I couldn’t tell anyone at the time, so I took to screaming and crying around the restaurant for another few minutes, then got back to my prep for the evening.
C: What are you most excited about for this season of “Top Chef?”
EH: I am very excited for Charleston to be represented on national television for the wonderful food scene, and for the amazing tight knit community that embraces Lowcountry cuisine.
C: Where do you find inspiration for your cuisine?
EH: I cook what I crave. I’m inspired by the bounty of what is available to us in Charleston. I like to elevate childhood memories of food to unique dishes that make someone that eats the dish feel the same and taste the love.
C: Do you have a favorite meal to create?
EH: Right now, my favorite dish on my menu is a linguini and clams dish. When I was a kid, my mother made linguini and canned clam sauce once a week and it was my favorite! My dish is what I call the “adult version” of my love for canned clams. I took off the training wheels. I do a nori butter noodle, cook the clams in lime, togarashi and scallion, and serve with charred bread with an aioli made with bonito flakes and garlic.
C: What culinary trends are you predicting for 2017?
EH: Many chefs are turning in their tweezers and foams for a good taste of fast, casual cuisine. I’m happy for that; I love soul food!
C: What’s next for Chef Emily Hahn? …Without giving away any “Top Chef” spoilers!
EH: I’m happy to be back in the kitchen at Warehouse! I have an amazing kitchen crew that has my back at all times. I’m excited to report that I am currently working on a very fun project that may bring some fashion and function to the ladies of F+B. Stay tuned!
C: If you could tell your 21-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
EH: Honestly, my 21-year-old self molded me into who I am today, as did every other year leading to today. I learned a lot from that girl – I became a chef, a food lover. I might only say to my 21-year-old self, “Save your money, Emily! You don’t need 27 paris of amazing wedge boots.”
Three words I’d used to describe Charleston are: Beautiful, growing, supportive.
My favorite spot in the Lowcountry is: The beach with my four-year-old Chocolate Lab, Triggerfish.
My favorite meal and/or restaurant in Charleston is: Avila, a Venezuelan food spot that started as a food truck and is now working on a brick and mortar. I also dream of FIG Chef Jason Stanhope’s Burnt Eggplant + Cottage Cheese, as well as the crudo dish that The Ordinary Chef Vandy Vanderwarker puts out. Oh, and I cannot get enough juice from Huriyali!
What I love most about Charleston is: I can smell the salt and sea anywhere I go in Charleston. If I’m having a rough day, great day, or just taking a moment, I walk outside, close my eyes, breathe deeply, and know the ocean is near.
My culinary inspiration is: Ed Vasaio, owner of Mamma Zu in Richmond, VA. He taught me about humility, and how to make the best tiramisu, and many other things.
Plan your two-fork safari through Charleston and discover the top 11 reasons why foodies love the Southeast’s premier dining destination!