Utah chef Viet Pham came close to winning the title of “Extreme Chef” last night on The Food Network. But his final bite lacked flavor and the judges awarded Terry French the second season title and $50,000.
Pham, co-owner of Salt Lake City’s Forage restaurant, had a good start, winning the express challenge with a savory Thai Jungle Tamale. The win allowed Pham to move directly into the final and skip the Extreme Challenge. He sat on the sidelines and watched French and Tiffany Ward battle for the last spot.
In the final showdown, Pham and French climbed 274 steps of 1,3000-year-old Buddhist temple, collecting ingredients along the way. Their challenge was to prepare black chicken, a sacred food in Thailand, with notes of sweet, sour, salty and heat.
In the end, Pham’s roulade looked more appetizing and creative than French’s mignonette, but it lacked the salt and heat judges were looking for.
The challenge proved to be physically and emotionally draining for Pham, who said his mother made black chicken and herb soup for him when he was sick as a child. The thought of his Vietnamese parents — who immigrated to America and sacrificed so Pham and his brother could have a better life — brought the Utah chef to tears as he cooked.
“The journey has been a life-changing experience,” said Pham, after French received the knife with the red X on it. “I’m leaving with a whole new sense of self.”