Foraging


Chef Viet Pham is evolving toward simplicity in the culinary world.


 


By JANE LE SKAIFE


 


It’s hard to believe that one of the nation’s most prominent emerging chefs nearly dropped out of culinary school.


 


The waters off the bay in San Francisco tempted Viet Pham, and surfing and bass fishing were greater attractions than his classes at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.


 


But when Chef Laurent Gras, a Michelin-starred chef then at the Fifth Floor restaurant, came calling and offered a highly coveted internship, Pham realized his passion and career were in the kitchen and not on the water.


 



 


Now, the 32-year-old Pham co-owns a successful restaurant in Salt Lake City and his name is bubbling to the top of the food world. He will be one of the featured chefs at the Food Network’s South Beach Wine and Food Festival in Miami next month. Food & Wine magazine recently named him and his restaurant partner, Bowman Brown, two of 2011’s Best New Chefs. And the prestigious James Beard Foundation named the two semifinalists in the Best New Chefs category in 2011.


 


At their restaurant, called Forage, Pham and Bowman carry out their complementary surf and turf style. Pham focuses on seafood while Brown focuses on land food, and Salt Lake City diners have taken notice.


 


“I sometimes wonder to myself if we would have opened up a Forage somewhere else … if we would have been so lucky,” he said.


 


Among the unusual Salt Lake City restaurants, Forage is unique in its own right. Not only does it serve some dishes in bite-sized portions, but it lives up to its name by relying on actual foraging for many of its culinary delights.


 



 


Pham and Bowman’s daily harvest involves gathering fresh ingredients from their own garden on site, but they also forage for anything from wild carrots in the local mountains to urban herbs on the streets of Salt Lake City. For them, the wild and urban search for food has become an essential part of their cooking.


 


“People have always foraged. It’s inherent in us,” Pham said. “We forage. We cook on a fire. It’s very primal. A lot of people over the years and over the generations, however, have lost sight of that due to things being readily available. Because things can be flown here and things can be grown commercially, we have lost sight of that,” Pham lamented.


 


“Knowing where your food comes from is very important to us. I think it should be very important to a lot of people because I think people nowadays have become lost in the sense that they don’t know where their food is coming from. You just go to the grocery store and pick it up. However, the more you know, the more likely people are respectful by reducing waste and their carbon footprint.”


 


Foraging has definitely helped Pham and Bowman to waste less and become more “green,” but it has also given them a notable advantage in creating the most flavorful dishes for their patrons. Pham has discovered that a carrot found in the wild is so much more intense in flavor than any carrot bought in a grocery store.


 



Chef Viet Pham’s life is a whirlwind. When he’s not preparing his specialties at his restaurant, Forage, he travels to culinary events, meeting others in the food business, including chef and television personality Mario Batali (above), and Claudine Pepin (below), who hosted a television cooking show with her father, French master chef Jacques Pepin. Photos courtesy of Viet Pham

 


 


In most cases, a “bought carrot” has been given the most ideal conditions for growth while a “foraged carrot” often has fought to stay alive in rough conditions. Pham said he believes that it is the struggle to survive in the wild that provides the source of its intense flavor – survival of the fittest, in other words.


 


Once he has harvested the food, Pham skillfully enhances those naturally intense flavors in his cooking.


 


“For me, you get a turnip and look at it. OK, what can I do to bring out the most intense flavor of this turnip? Maybe, I will take this turnip and cook it in some embers, really roast it, really develop its flavors, and concentrate its flavors.”


 


It’s this return to simplicity in terms of ingredients and the preparation of them that marks what Pham considers to be his significant growth as a chef.


 


“As a cook, when you evolve, you start focusing on simplicity. You focus more on the main ingredients,” he explained.


 


Those main ingredients, however, often aren’t Vietnamese despite growing up eating great Vietnamese food daily prepared by his parents, particularly his mother’s banh xeo and bun bo hue. Despite his parents’ culinary skills, Pham never received professional or even at-home training in Vietnamese cuisine.


 


“When I talk to people, I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I own a restaurant.’ They immediately think, ‘OK, there’s this Asian guy. He probably has an Asian restaurant.’ What’s really unfortunate is that I don’t know how to cook a single Asian thing or a single Vietnamese thing.”


 


Other prominent chefs, however, have learned to successfully incorporate Vietnamese ingredients into their cooking despite not growing up Vietnamese themselves. Pham talked about how Jordan Kahn, chef and partner at Red Medicine in Los Angeles, is a self-professed lover of Vietnamese cuisine.


 


“He uses nothing but Vietnamese herbs. He loves Vietnamese flavors,” Pham said.


 


Another Michelin-starred chef, Chef Curtis Duffy, has also tried to re-invent traditional Vietnamese dishes after having gone on a culinary tour of Asia. At a recent James Beard Foundation event in Kansas City, Mo., Pham met Duffy while he was making braised beef cheeks cooked in nuoc mau.


 


“Vietnamese ingredients have actually gotten really popular in the culinary world,” he said. Still, he predicts the use of Japanese ingredients is ready to soar in popularity among chefs. “You’ll notice more and more now. A lot of restaurants will use Japanese ingredients, a lot of Japanese techniques, and their simple plating designs.”


 


“In Japan,” he said, “there are more Michelin-starred restaurants than in France.”


 


Pham said he believes that Japan’s recent culinary success is due in large part to not only perfectionism, but also Japanese minimalism. “With Japanese cuisine, it’s very simple in the sense where they focus on the purity and intensity of the ingredients versus losing the ingredient through other ingredients.”


 


He aspires to learn more about Japanese cuisine and possibly visit there one day, but for his New Year’s resolution as a chef, he simply wants to be a better cook. He said Chef Laurent gave him this advice years ago, “He told me, ‘Try to do your best in everything that you do in the kitchen and you’ll become a better cook, and not only will you be a better cook, you’ll become a better person.’ “


 


That’s just one of the tips he’s picked up from chefs through the years. From Thomas Keller, chef at the French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley, he’s learned bigger isn’t always better.


 


“[Keller] works on something called ‘The Law of Diminishing Returns,’ which is why a lot of the courses are small. The reason why is if you sit down, and you are given a 16-ounce steak, you take your first bite, it’s wonderful. You take your second bite, it’s great, and the third bite is good. Your fourth bite, it’s OK.


 


“With Thomas Keller, he wants every bite to be excellent, which is why all his portions are small. You take one bite; it’s so good and you think, ‘I can’t wait to take my second bite.’ You take your second bite, it’s awesome. And then after your third bite, it’s gone. He takes the plate away and you’re wishing you had another bite. That’s what his goal is. So we try to follow that in a sense that we serve multiple courses.


 


“You can’t expect to get a huge plate every single course because you’ll be too full. So with all of our guests that come in, they get started off with a series of various canapés or “amuses” (bite-sized hors d’oeuvres). They get between three and four. Then you have your five courses and then your intermezzo – we sometimes will give you an in-between snack before your next course. And then you get your mignardises [bite-sized desserts] and a little giveaway before you leave. It is an experience.”


 



 


FIVE THINGS ABOUT CHEF VIET PHAM


1. His treasured tool in the kitchen is the egg topper, an innovative tool that allows him to seamlessly crack and remove the tops of eggshells.




2. His favorite foods involves two items that probably lie on the opposite ends of the culinary spectrum: uni (sea urchin) and fried chicken.


3. The best restaurant he has experienced is the Michelin-starred Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos, Calif.


4. He often doesn’t play music while cooking, but if he did, he would listen to either classical music or hip jazz-like tunes.


5. The first dish he “invented” involved transforming packaged ramen noodles into a noodle stir fry as a young child.


 


  


 


 


 


 

Báo Người Việt hoan nghênh quý vị độc giả đóng góp và trao đổi ý kiến. Chúng tôi xin quý vị theo một số quy tắc sau đây:

Tôn trọng sự thật.
Tôn trọng các quan điểm bất đồng.
Dùng ngôn ngữ lễ độ, tương kính.
Không cổ võ độc tài phản dân chủ.
Không cổ động bạo lực và óc kỳ thị.
Không vi phạm đời tư, không mạ lỵ cá nhân cũng như tập thể.

Tòa soạn sẽ từ chối đăng tải các ý kiến không theo những quy tắc trên.

Xin quý vị dùng chữ Việt có đánh dấu đầy đủ. Những thư viết không dấu có thể bị từ chối vì dễ gây hiểu lầm cho người đọc. Tòa soạn có thể hiệu đính lời văn nhưng không thay đổi ý kiến của độc giả, và sẽ không đăng các bức thư chỉ lập lại ý kiến đã nhiều người viết. Việc đăng tải các bức thư không có nghĩa báo Người Việt đồng ý với tác giả.

Giới thiệu thơ: Nguyễn Phương Thúy, Đỗ Tấn Đạt, Tâm Dzao.

I. Một bài thơ cũ: Tuần này chúng tôi giới thiệu nhà thơ Hoàng Trúc Ly. Tiểu sử tác giả: Nhà thơ Hoàng Trúc Ly tên thật là Đinh Đắc Nghĩa, sinh năm 1933 tại Đà Nẵng, nguyên quán Bình Định....

Một ông ở Texas bị mất 9 ngón tay và cả hai chân vì biến chứng cúm

video
Một người đàn ông 51 tuổi ở tiểu bang Texas mới đây vừa bị cưa cả hai chân dưới đầu gối và chín ngón tay vì các biến chứng do bệnh cúm gây ra. Bản tin của tờ báo địa phương Star-Telegram cho hay hôm 3 Tháng Giêng, ông Brian Herndon bị sốt nhẹ. Nhưng sang đến ngày hôm sau, thân nhiệt của ông vẫn không sút giảm.

Trúng số $560 triệu, nhưng vì muốn ẩn danh, không lấy được tiền

Một phụ nữ ở tiểu bang New Hampshire vừa trúng độc đắc hơn nửa tỷ đô la, nhưng lại không lấy được tiền, chỉ vì bà không muốn thế giới biết mình là ai.

Tiệm CaliBurger ‘nhìn mặt’ khách hàng, có thể đoán sẽ mua gì

Một tiệm bán hamburger ở thành phố Pasadena hiện là nơi thử nghiệm kỹ thuật giúp cho khách hàng vào mua không cần phải rút ví trả tiền, vì đã nhận ra mặt của họ, theo bản tin của đài truyền hình KABC 7.

Giám đốc CDC Mỹ từ chức do xung đột quyền lợi tài chánh

Người được Tổng Thống Donald Trump bổ nhiệm vào chức vụ giám đốc Trung Tâm Kiểm Soát Phòng Ngừa Dịch Bệnh Mỹ (CDC), bà Brenda Fitzgerald, bất ngờ đệ đơn từ chức hôm Thứ Tư, sau khi có các nguồn tin cho hay bà từng mua cổ phiếu của các công ty thuốc lá.

Nhớ Đinh Cường.

Phạm Xuân Đài Họa sĩ Đinh Cường sinh năm 1939 tại Thủ Dầu Một, VN, sống ở Huế, Đà Lạt và Sài Gòn cho tới năm 1989. Hiện ông cư ngụ tại Burke, Virginia, Hoa Kỳ. Ông là học sinh trường...

Đô la Mỹ tiếp tục xuống giá

Giá trị đồng đô la Mỹ tiếp tục đi xuống so với tiền tệ các nước kinh tế quan trọng trên thế giới, và các nhà xuất cảng ở Mỹ rất vui mừng.

Nhớ Đinh Cường

Phạm Xuân Đài Tuần qua, trong khi xem lại một số giấy tờ cũ, tôi tình cờ thấy mấy bức thư của họa sĩ Đinh Cường. Trong thời gian tôi làm báo Thế Kỷ 21 từ năm 1993 đến 2007 tại...