Interview with Chef Hung Huynh
Chef Hung Huynh was born in Vietnam and raised in Massachusetts. He grew up working in his family's restaurant, became a Culinary Institute of America graduate, and won the coveted Top Chef prize from the third season of Bravo's popular reality TV cooking show. He has worked as executive sous chef at Guy Savoy in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, and is now Executive Chef at Solo, a Mediterranean and Asian restaurant in Manhattan known for innovative kosher cuisine in a high-tech dining environment. Chef Hung Huynh stands before his dishes at the Bocuse d'Or USA competition at Epcot, Walt Disney World. Photo by Christey Krause
Chef Hung was selected as one of the eight competitors for the Bocuse d'Or USA, to compete at Epcot, Walt Disney World, to represent the USA in the international Bocuse d'Or competition in Lyon, France, in January 2009.
During a question and answer session, Chef Hung mentioned the difficulty he had in preparing for competition, as Solo's kitchen is strictly kosher, which made practice for Bocuse nearly impossible. Nevertheless, he brought everything he had to the competition.
Foodbuzz was kind enough to send Christey and me to the Bocuse d'Or as part of their Foodie Correspondent Program, to write about and photograph the competition. This interview is our second post about our experience. Chef Hung graciously agreed to speak with me during the cocktail reception, before the gala dinner where the winner was announced. He had started cooking at 8:30 that morning, and finished his dishes at 2:10pm.
Chef Hung Huynh, describing to the media his troubles with preparing for competition at his home restaurant. On the left are (l-r) Daniel Boulud, Jerome Bocuse, and Paul Bocuse. Photo by Christey Krause
Chef Hung Huynh is interviewed by Al Roker and Chef John Besh after submitting his dishes to the judges. Photo by Christey Krause
Peter Krause, fotocuisine.com/Foodbuzz.com: So, Top Chef -- that was six weeks?
Chef Hung Huynh: Yeah, of shooting. Every day.
Peter: So, six weeks of competition. I remember you had said you had a hard time practicing because of kosher...
Hung: Yeah, I didn't! Barely.
Peter: ...so what is the pressure like on this, as opposed to Top Chef?
Hung: Here, I was actually a lot more calm than on Top Chef.
Peter: Calm? Calmer?
Hung: Calmer, yeah, but I definitely wanted to please all these great chefs here, but I knew I could definitely cook wherever I wanted, make it taste good here.
Chef Hung Huynh, cooking his competition dishes of cod and beef. Photo by Christey Krause
Peter: The ingredients themselves, cod and beef, are pretty standard ingredients, Continental ingredients...
Hung: Yeah, yeah
Peter: ...the presentation of course was absolutely beautiful.
Hung: Ah, I wish it could have been better, it could have been a lot better, but you know, given the situation, I'm happy with it.
Peter: There's always pressure, time considerations.... When you're looking at creating dishes for this, are you looking at presentation? I mean obviously, everything together...
Hung: Oh yeah, but for me, flavor is first, which is why I didn't do a lot of decoration on the top of the food for no reason -- Does it belong there? Do you really need it there? That's my mentality: No you don't. It looks great, but I did what I wanted to do.
Chef Hung Huyhn's beef presentation: potato encrusted beef tenderloin with braised beef cheeks, foie gras, and swiss chard. Photo by Christey Krause
Peter: Well, the potatoes wrapped on the outside of the beef, that was really pretty.
Hung: Yeah, that was good (grins) I liked that, it turned out better than I expected it.
Peter: Oh yeah? That's good! Especially, a lot of your dishes, you had a take on a lot of classic dishes -- ratatouille, olive oil poached cod, classic techniques...
Chef Hung Huynh, answering questions from the crowd after submitting his dishes to the judges. Photo by Christey Krause
Peter: Chef Besh and some of the others were talking about this competition being about the purity of the food...
Chef Hung Huyhn's cod presentation: olive oil poached cod with sea scallops, black truffles, and parsley sauce. Photo by Christey Krause
Peter: Your pattern on top of the cod was a pretty classical pattern with the truffles, I mean, I assume that had a lot to do with your presentation ideas?
Hung: Yeah, (grins) that came out of nowhere, I was like...
Hung: Yeah! I mean, I thought about that dish, but when I thought of that dish, it came out of nowhere, I was like...
Peter: It looks like the tile pattern on the floor of a hotel in Paris, 1920s, I mean, really pretty!
Hung: Yes, yeah!
Peter: The popularity of Top Chef, Iron Chef, both Iron Chefs, I mean, reality shows are reality shows, but the quality of the food has been getting better. America is definitely developing a palate in the last few years, have these reality shows helped the trend?
Hung: Oh, they're definitely helping, they're reaching out to people who don't normally cook, or people who just never got into food. Reality, it's popular... so, people who would not normally watch cooking shows, because it's entertaining, they're more educated now, I think. They're much more educated now. They're much more exposed.
Peter: Are you online at all? Do you have a food blog?
Hung: No, no! You're lucky if I return an email! (laughs)
Photo by Christey Krause
Peter: I know you're a chef, you're busy, do you have a restaurant now after Top Chef?
Hung: I'm working on it, in Manhattan, I'll learn a little more about it soon.
Peter: Thanks, Chef, I appreciate taking time with us.