Duy Pham, exec chef of Epernay, on why he'll never cook in another chef's kitchen
1080 14th Street
This is part two of my interview with Duy Pham, exec chef of Epernay; part one of our chat ran yesterday.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? I have three. The first is when Corky Douglass, the owner of Tante Louise, sponsored my trip to Napa Valley and San Francisco to study under Jean-Louis Palladin; second is when one of my cooks, Seiji Nakatani, gave me a hand-crafted Japanese knife that he designed, which, I have to admit, I'm kind of scared to use; and third is when my pastry chef, Adriene Laurer, gave me a French terrine mold, which I still cherish to this day.
What's your fantasy splurge? Go to Japan and eat at Sukiyabashi Jiro's place; I'd indulge in so much Kobe beef that my tummy would explode.
What was the last cookbook you bought, and what recipes are you cooking from it? I have a subscription to Art Culinaire, but I don't get recipes from cookbooks. I like to experiment and develop my own recipes, because it helps me to be more creative. That said, I do love looking at pictures; they inspire me to create new dishes.
What recent innovation has most influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way? The wealth of information available on the Internet has certainly made a big difference in how we learn about cooking and food; it's so easy to see what other chefs around the world are doing, and at the touch of a button, you can learn anything -- and everything -- you've ever wanted to know about food.
Best tip for a home cook: Cook with your heart and don't take it too seriously; just have fun.
What's your biggest pet peeve? Non-edible garnishes and food that's overly salty or overly sweet.
Describe the challenges facing today's chefs: The prices of food are going up every single year, so it makes it harder to get special ingredients without paying a premium price.
What piece of advice would you give to a young chef? If you're going to work in this industry, make sure it's because you have passion and not a lust for money, because if you do it for money, you're in the wrong industry.
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? Solid knife and organizational skills, the ability to cook to temperature, and cleanliness.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: Not having enough mise en place.
Which chef has most inspired you? Jean-Louis Palladin, because he's by far one of the most talented chefs I've ever had the pleasure to work with.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? That won't happen, because I'm very fond of my own kitchen. I get nervous in other kitchens, and I don't know where everything is.
Craziest night in the kitchen: When I was working at Zoe's restaurant in Naples, Florida, there were 200 people having dinner when the power went off. I had to cook with candles and flashlights while trying to deal with a full ticket line.
You're stranded on a desert island. Which chefs would you want to have with you? Kristen Kish, last season's Top Chef winner. I'm pretty sure we could make cute babies together, plus she can cook her ass off.
Best compliment someone could give to you: When guests tell me that my food tastes like home or like grandma's cooking.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: The grand opening of my own restaurant. I've been waiting my entire career for this to happen.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Just being a chef is already a big accomplishment, because before I became a chef, I had really low self-esteem and thought I'd always be a sous chef.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? A lot of people think that just because I'm a chef that I can't enjoy simple food, but I like all kinds of food, even burgers and bratwurst.
Last meal before you die: A whole bunch of Vietnamese street food.
What's always lurking in your refrigerator? Häagen-Dazs ice cream. My son Xander and I are completely addicted to it; in fact, we have to eat it at least once a day.
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? I'd have a farm and grow specialty vegetables, but most important, I'd raise poultry. I had a poultry farm in Pueblo, where I found out, for the first time, that my other passion besides cooking was raising chickens.
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? I'd open a restaurant called Pangea. The name comes from a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. At Pangea, I'd have no restrictions and I'd cook food from all around the world.
What's your idea of a great dining experience? Spending three hours for dinner, having a twelve-course tasting with wine pairings, and enjoying it all with great company.
What's in the pipeline? I'm very committed to making Epernay a success, and in the near future, I'd like to start doing chef's dinners and wine-pairing events on the days that we're closed. I'd like to open more restaurant concepts, too
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