Did your family cook when you were a child? Yes, my mother had nine children. She developed her great cooking skills feeding her nine children. Life was a little challenging in providing food for her family, so she had to make the best of the ingredients she had at the time.
How old were you when you started cooking? About fourteen years of age, I started to help my mother cook. What started out as a chore quickly evolved to a hobby and then into a passion.
First cooking job? When my mother opened a restaurant in Vietnam. My first cooking job was when we opened our restaurant back in 1994.
Did you attend culinary school or college? No.
What do you eat? Ninety-eight percent Vietnamese cuisine, and the other two percent is pizza.
What do you cook at home? Mainly vegetarian Vietnamese cuisine. I have been focusing more on creating vegetarian dishes derived from traditional Vietnamese dishes. So at home I use my family to test my vegetarian creations.
The local chef who most impresses you? Kevin Willmann of Farmhaus. He uses quality ingredients and focuses on freshness. He has a similar style to cooking: the mentality of doing it right, not taking shortcuts and being consistent.
Your favorite restaurant elsewhere? Saron International in Memphis, Tennessee. They served fantastic hummus.
Your favorite food city? St. Louis. The majority of different ethnic restaurants are located close to each other. Many major cities have ethnic "towns," which makes it a little more challenging to visit different ethnic restaurants.
Most essential ingredient in your kitchen? Nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce). This ingredient has been used in the majority of Vietnamese dishes to provide flavor. Get your taste buds out when utilizing this ingredient; the right amount and usage will make your dish. One wrong dose will kill your dish.
Five words to describe your food. Fresh, clean, balanced, tasty and exciting.
One food you dislike. Tacos.
A food you can't live without. Chicken curry rice.
An ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. There is an herb called fish mint or diep ca. This mint amazingly has a strong fish smell to it. We used to grow it in our garden prior to having the restaurant. My children would hold their noses when I have it at the dinner table. Needless to say, it requires an acquired taste.
Culinarily speaking, St. Louis needs more... Local growers; greenhouses to grow fresh produce during the winter months.
Best tip for home cooks? Use fresh ingredients and treat cooking as an activity rather than a chore, and do not be afraid to try out your own spin on a traditional dish.
Favorite kitchen tool. My Santoku knife.
What inspires you? I focus on fresh ingredients and traditional ways of Vietnamese cooking. Therefore, items like garlic, lemongrass, etc. are chopped by hand. When someone lets me know that they enjoyed a meal that I have created, it inspires me to continue to cook in this fashion.
Chefs who inspire you. Gordon Ramsay, because he stresses quality and consistency.
Favorite cookbooks? My mother's mind. She has nothing written down. All of her recipes are from years of repeating the many dishes that she cooked for her nine children, thirty-one grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren.
Favorite music to have in the kitchen? Classic Vietnamese ballads.
What's on your pizza? Cheese.
What's in your omelet? Tomatoes and onions.
What are you drinking? Vietnamese iced coffee.
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