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Ae Southammavong levels up on Next Level Chef

And then “a year later, you’re standing around talking casually — well, not casually — with Gordon Ramsay.”

It was only recently that Ae decided she would try cooking professionally. Now she’s on TV.
It was only recently that Ae decided she would try cooking professionally. Now she’s on TV.

Ae Southammavong says she always liked cooking. As a little kid in Laos, she learned things in the kitchen at home, and by the time she was about 10, she was helping her parents prepare meals. Eventually, she started cooking for her friends. She did not, however, have childhood dreams of turning cooking into a career. At 17, she came to San Diego for college, and got a degree in finance, after which she went to work here at what she calls “a corporate job” where “everything was money-driven. It wasn’t what I was passionate about.”

She found herself considering a big change — and wondering if she could actually figure out a way to cook for a living. She found the challenge exciting; she recalls this crossroads in her life with gusto: “Do or die. Let’s go.” She says that, both then and now, she “really believes in this destiny thing,” and is confident that “whatever the outcome will be, it will just guide me to where I am supposed to go.”

Ae Southammavong, repping Laos and San Diego on Fox.

Feeling that she didn’t have much to lose, she quit the finance job at 30, and “started a meal prep thing (Stir Fry Master) that had more of a social media presence.” Then came some cooking for parties. She released more videos and gained more followers, and some of those followers started sending her information about a cooking show that she could apply to be on. She did apply, and was chosen, and now you can see her on Next Level Chef on Fox on Wednesday nights at 9. It all happened quickly. Ae is just 31 now, so it was only recently that she decided she would try cooking professionally. And then “a year later, you’re standing around talking casually — well, not casually — with Gordon Ramsay.”

Ramsay is one of the show’s three hosts, along with Nyesha Arrington and Richard Blais (known to San Diegans as the chef behind Juniper and Ivy, Ember & Rye, and the Crack Shack). The contestants are a group of five social media chefs, five home cooks, and five restaurant chefs working in a specially devised, tiered kitchen: three cooking zones, one on top of another. The elite kitchen is on top, with the fanciest ingredients and equipment, what Ae calls a “basic commercial kitchen” is in the middle, and a simply outfitted basement kitchen sits on the bottom. Each level has its pros and cons, and the show’s time limit pressures contestants into thinking quickly: they have only 30 seconds, for instance, to choose and grab their ingredients. “You never know what you’re going to get, and you have to make the best of it.”

Ae adores San Diego: “a big city with small town vibes. I love the culture. The food scene is great.” And she wants viewers to know: “I was repping Laos and San Diego. And I hope people tune in to watch.”

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It was only recently that Ae decided she would try cooking professionally. Now she’s on TV.
It was only recently that Ae decided she would try cooking professionally. Now she’s on TV.

Ae Southammavong says she always liked cooking. As a little kid in Laos, she learned things in the kitchen at home, and by the time she was about 10, she was helping her parents prepare meals. Eventually, she started cooking for her friends. She did not, however, have childhood dreams of turning cooking into a career. At 17, she came to San Diego for college, and got a degree in finance, after which she went to work here at what she calls “a corporate job” where “everything was money-driven. It wasn’t what I was passionate about.”

She found herself considering a big change — and wondering if she could actually figure out a way to cook for a living. She found the challenge exciting; she recalls this crossroads in her life with gusto: “Do or die. Let’s go.” She says that, both then and now, she “really believes in this destiny thing,” and is confident that “whatever the outcome will be, it will just guide me to where I am supposed to go.”

Ae Southammavong, repping Laos and San Diego on Fox.

Feeling that she didn’t have much to lose, she quit the finance job at 30, and “started a meal prep thing (Stir Fry Master) that had more of a social media presence.” Then came some cooking for parties. She released more videos and gained more followers, and some of those followers started sending her information about a cooking show that she could apply to be on. She did apply, and was chosen, and now you can see her on Next Level Chef on Fox on Wednesday nights at 9. It all happened quickly. Ae is just 31 now, so it was only recently that she decided she would try cooking professionally. And then “a year later, you’re standing around talking casually — well, not casually — with Gordon Ramsay.”

Ramsay is one of the show’s three hosts, along with Nyesha Arrington and Richard Blais (known to San Diegans as the chef behind Juniper and Ivy, Ember & Rye, and the Crack Shack). The contestants are a group of five social media chefs, five home cooks, and five restaurant chefs working in a specially devised, tiered kitchen: three cooking zones, one on top of another. The elite kitchen is on top, with the fanciest ingredients and equipment, what Ae calls a “basic commercial kitchen” is in the middle, and a simply outfitted basement kitchen sits on the bottom. Each level has its pros and cons, and the show’s time limit pressures contestants into thinking quickly: they have only 30 seconds, for instance, to choose and grab their ingredients. “You never know what you’re going to get, and you have to make the best of it.”

Ae adores San Diego: “a big city with small town vibes. I love the culture. The food scene is great.” And she wants viewers to know: “I was repping Laos and San Diego. And I hope people tune in to watch.”

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