There has been alot of buzz around the world with the new concept of the “underground” or “pop up” restaurant. The idea is that Chef’s who can’t afford to jump right into starting their own restaurant can have the chance to do it inside of their homes or at featured venue’s. This is an exceptional idea and a unique way for Sous Chef’s or Cook’s to show their chops without their hard work being hidden by the name of a restaurant or the Executive chef. All of this without the risk of crippling debt that comes with a failed restaurant.
I have lived in Saigon for the last two years and suffer from “Great food envy”. This is the dark and deep depression that might enter a cook, chef, or foodie’s life when he is not able to book a dinner at a new restaurant with a creative menu from a young aspiring chef. The excitement that comes from seeing a cook push the envelope or take a step on the ledge with a new tasting menu or restaurant concept.
Why do I suffer from this when I am surrounded by some of the best street food in the world? Well, in all honesty, I grew up on it. Spending away the hard earned minimum wage money that I earned on my Externship eating my way around the Big Apple at 18. It was just what I was into at the time, and I have not grown out of it.
It seems that Saigon is lacking a movement of Chef’s who are looking to remove labels from their food such as “Vietnamese Cuisine”, “French Cuisine”, or anything else that will restrain the creativity in which a chef or cook looks at when planning a menu or dish. Sure, you can find a few restaurants out there who are serving great Vietnamese, French, Spanish, or Italian cuisine. This isn’t what I want though! I want someone who went to the market in the morning, found fresh ingredients, and came back to the restaurant to create.. Whatever the hell they wanted! Without the labels or confining themselves to stick to a certain realm of techniques just to satisfy the classification of their restaurant.
This is where Chad and I stepped in to take care of business ourselves during the summer of 2013 when we created, Tasty Inc. Chad and I met in Culinary School in New York in 2005, we were both cooks, and in 2013 we were living in Saigon with some time on our hands. Chad being the owner of Back of the Bike Tours. Fredrick, that is me, was looking at starting up cooking classes and was already restaurant consulting. Both of us had a bit of extra time on our hands and were interested in starting up a new project. We looked at the size of our apartment, kitchen, and the interest of possible foodies in the city. It would be difficult to do but nothing worth doing isn’t. So we picked up a few kitchen equipment supplies, dishes, and had some furniture built. Within 4 weeks, we were serving our first guests.
Chad took the role of Executive Chef in the way of planning our menu’s. I took the role of Sous Chef, which meant doing whatever was needed to make the dinner a success.
Our first dinner was an excellent experience with Chad showing a bit of his time at Daniels Restaurant in NYC and some inspiration from his time at Alinea in Chicago. These two styles combined with the fresh local ingredients at the market were a huge success.
Braised Beef and Chili
Cashew Puree, Lime, Candied cashews, Onion, Cilantro
Avocado Puree, Pickled leeks, Shaved Radishes, Fennel, Shallot
Braised Pork Belly With Roasted Pumpkin, Mustard Leaf Puree, Garlic Puree, and Garlic Chips
The above dishes are 3 of the 6 courses that were served on our first night.
We would continue to serve out of our house for the next two months and begin to get some regular guests and great feedback. Among our greatest moments, we got a write up in Oi Magazine which you can read here: Secret Supper Club
We even got the chance to do a private dinner for Chef Luke Nguyen, one of the judges of Australia’s Master Chef show.
Unfortunately, we had to close the door when Chad and Thuy, his wife and co-founder of Back of the Bike Tours, decided that it was time to move back to America.
When I think about my favorite time of cooking in my entire life, I think of the days of Tasty Inc. The idea of going to the market and cooking whatever looks best that day was a consuming desire when I was a young cook. This was the backbone of Tasty Inc and what made us so unique and interesting for our guests. The techniques and ways of thought about food that I learned while working with one of my best friends in our small apartment kitchen will never allow me to look at cooking the same way again. This was also the heart of Tasty Inc, pushing the envelope on what people have come to expect when eating dinner in Saigon.
I hope that someone else takes the torch that was lit by Chad and I. There are hungry people in Saigon who are looking for something new and different. I am one of them!