Today we continue our talk with Chino Latino's executive chef, Tuan Nguyen. Nguyen, who has worked at Goodfellow's in Minneapolis and Wolfgang Puck Café in Las Vegas, is no stranger to the dangers of restaurant work. "I learn from my mistakes," says Nguyen, so he doesn't mind sharing his stories. Today's offerings include tales of spilled food, a scimitar-slashed hand, and a near-firing over a butchered fish. (Here's part 1 of the interview if you missed it.)
What has been your proudest moment as a chef? When I became a chef at Wolfgang Puck. I was 30. I became his executive chef at the Wolfgang Puck Cafe in the MGM Grand. Then in that year, I became Chef of the Year [within the Wolfgang Puck network]. He flew my wife and I out to France for a week. That was probably one of the best experiences I've had.
What did you do in France? Played. Enjoyed. One of my best memories is of buying a baguette with some prosciutto and a nice bottle of Beaujolais, sitting outside my hotel room and just people watching.
What is your favorite knife or kitchen tool? It would have to be my scimitar. I use it for butchering and filleting and cutting up lots of meat. It bit me in the hand one time, and I had to get my hand cauterized, so it's become one of my favorite knives. I take good care of it, and it takes good care of me now. I've had that for 20 years.
What is the hardest lesson you have learned as a chef? I almost got fired for butchering salmon. I was supposed to fillet it, but I butchered it. My chef at the time assumed I knew how to fillet salmon. He threatened to fire me. I went home pretty deflated. That night I couldn't sleep. I was off the next day, so I researched how to cut salmon. I asked my roommate, who also worked at Goodfellow's, how to do it. The next time the chef asked me to fillet salmon, it wasn't a problem. I learn from my mistakes.
What was your most embarrassing moment in a restaurant? I like going out and talking to people. When I do that I also run food. Back at Wolfgang Puck I brought a pizza out and a couple other items. I couldn't balance it well, and the pizza fell off and fell into the gentlemen's lap. They were very cool about it. I was very embarrassed and turned red. I offered to pay for his pizza, and he was okay with that.
What are some of your favorite cookbooks? The Food Lover's Companion. It's a glossary of different terminology and items. I use that quite a bit.
The pretty restaurant book would either be the French Laundry or Nobu.
What celebrity chef do you think should just shut up? Emeril and Bobby Flay. I believe--this is just my belief--Emeril really can't cook. He got in the limelight and took it from there. Bobby and I did an event in Vegas, and he came across as arrogant to me. Times have changed now where chefs have become celebrities. It's okay to be arrogant and have that ego, but at the same time I believe you have to be very open to the public and show them that you're approachable and you're down to earth.
What is the weirdest custom request you have ever had? I've had a lot of weird requests. In all my years of being in the business, I've had to learn how to bite my tongue and go with what people want. What's nice about working at Chino and pushing the envelope with people, I can be confident to help explain a dish to someone, to say, "Hey, this is not going to work. You should try this instead." Hopefully they understand it.
Our talk with Tuan Nguyen concludes tomorrow.