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Interview with Mason Dixon Master Chef competitor Keit Philavanh

Chef Keit Philavanh cooking in round 1
Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament

The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament is in full swing with the tournament in round 2 right now. The round 2 Chefs won their match in Round 1 and are competing to take home the grand prize.

Some of the competing Chefs you may have heard of or have dined at their restaurant, while others you have never heard of or have had the chance to try their restaurant.

Let me introduce you to Chef Keit Philavanh of Basta Pasta. Chef Keit was born in Thailand from Loa parents, and grew up in Ocean City, MD. He studied at The Baltimore International College (BIC), but is mostly a self-taught chef, having learned from close friends and traveling. Chef Keit says he continues to learn today from the people he meets and experiences he has.

Chef Kiet describes his style as Spanish, Italian, and Mediterranean, with a flair of South East Asian. He is proud of all of his creations, but most proud of the fact that he makes his own mozzarella cheese! Chef Kiet will be competing in Round 2 on Tuesday, July 29th against Chef Gerardo Gonzales of Tapas Adela and Anastasia.

The Interview

Jessica Lemmo: Did you cook growing up?

Keit Philavanh: “For as long as I can remember I made attempts as a child. When I was 4 I tried to heat a pot of pho myself and dowsed my self with hot broth. Ouch! That didn't stop me from trying again. We had a house full, both parents and four kids latter 5 when my baby brother was born 8 years latter. So yes we did a lot of cooking. Family BBQ’s in the summer were the best. We would spend the whole day at the bay fishing and grilling. Then there was the massive garden with every vegetable known to man. I still have nightmares about tending the garden as a child. Then cooking for friends and introducing people to new and strange thing.”

JL: What made you decide you would become a professional cook?

KP: “It was something I just kind of fell into honestly. Put it this way I’m a jack-of-all-trades. Well, everyone has to eat; I just like to eat better than the average bear. I always went out of way to eat good food. I spent a bit of time introducing new food to people and it made sense to start a carrier out of my hidden skill.”

JL: Where you were trained and how difficult was your training?

KP: “I learned quite a bit from family and friends from different parts of the world. My mother was an exceptional cook. I was lucky to be a first generation American. Having my south Asian heritage and still appreciate crab cakes and hot dog as well. I studied at the Baltimore International College. It was frustrating times at BIC for a 25 year old next to 18 year old that couldn’t even cook an egg. I would argue with my Chef instructors about Asian. It felt like I new more about Asian food than they did at time. I was a stubborn and told I was too ambitious…whatever the hell that meant! Tough I am great full of all the education.”

JL: Would you do it again?

KP: “Learning is a building block so yes in a heartbeat!”

JL: What is the best part about the job?

KP: “The best part of my job is being able to create.”

JL: Best piece of advice you would give a home enthusiast?

KP: “First of all cook what you like. You have to try new things. Keep it simple!”

JL: Best cooking tip for a novice?

KP: “Build your database of flavor, the world is a culinary fusion. More result equal’s success. History of culture and cuisine was a favorite of mine.”

JL: Favorite kitchen gadget?

KP: “I’m pretty third word when it comes to gadgets. Don’t really have a favorite.”

JL: Funniest kitchen incident?

KP: “A cook sleeping standing up during service with thongs and a spatula in his hand.”

JL: Favorite food to cook with?

KP: “Fish and shellfish!”

JL Favorite dish to make at work/signature dish?

KP: “Fresh mozzarella!”

JL: Your favorite cookbook?

KP: :Antony Bourdain!”

JL: If you were to write & publish a cookbook what types of things would you include?

KP: History of cuisine and culture’s - Flavor, texture, and fusion.”

JL: When at home, what do you like to eat?

KP: “I eat simple food. Korean, random of Chinese take out.”

JL: Which item in your home refrigerator would you least like to cop to?

KP: “Milk”

JL: In your opinion, what are the most important elements when creating a recipe from scratch?

KP: “Preparation is the key to success. Ingredients!”

JL: What’s your favorite music to play in the kitchen?

KP: “Bob Marley James Brown, Lynyrd Skinner”

JL: Best meal you have ever eaten at a restaurant?

KP: “I have eaten some phenomenal food. There’s so many too choose from.”

JL: What’s your favorite meal?

KP: “I love sushi.”

About Basta Pasta:

Basta Pasta's journey started in 2004, with a philosophy of becoming the ultimate expression of what an Italian casual dining experience should be. It features a blend of exquisite Italian food and seafood in casual elegance with expert, attentive, and cordial service. At Basta Pasta one should expect incredibly fresh and flavorful choices with masterful preparation and presentation. It spares no effort in sourcing the finest available ingredients in the market and emphasize the simplicity of Italian cuisine. Offering endless salad and breadstick with your entrée, you can enjoy your choice of hearty homemade pasta dishes or our fresh selection of seafood and pair it with the finest of wines representing the world’s most notable regions.

About The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament:

The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament, a live, local, interactive culinary competition, completed Round 1 competition this week. The original field of 16 top area chefs is now down to just eight, as the competition enters Round 2 and the final weeks of competition. Each week the competition is getting more intense and the scores tighter, as chef teams vie for the over $10,000 in prizes and the title of Mason Dixon Master Chef Champions! Matches are being held throughout the summer on most Mondays and Tuesdays at the Inn at the Colonnade in Baltimore. Round 2 matches are listed below. 10% of each ticket sold goes directly to Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, the competition’s charity partner. The $25 ticket price includes admission to that night’s competition, wine/spirit tasting, passed hors d’oeuvres during happy hour, dessert and coffee bar, all taxes and a 10% donation to charity. Tickets are on sale now, and are expected to sell out quickly.

Tickets*: $25 for general admission (includes tax)

$45 for judging experience (includes tax)

Available for purchase at:

*Tickets must be purchased in advance for the above pricing. $35/ $55 day of and at the door (if available).

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