By Richard Leong
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Award-winning chef Charles Phan chronicles his career and shares his recipes for Vietnamese cuisine in his newest cookbook, "The Slanted Door," named after his famous San Francisco restaurant.
The book, a follow-up to Phan's "Vietnamese Home Cooking," details the history of the restaurant he opened in 1995 and includes wine notes and cocktail recipes.
Last year, the prestigious James Beard Foundation named The Slanted Door the best U.S. restaurant, making it the first Asian eatery to earn the distinction.
Phan, a 52-year-old former architecture major who is considered an authority on modern Vietnamese cuisine in the United States, fled Vietnam with his family in 1975.
He spoke to Reuters about his culinary career and the evolving American taste for Asian food.
Q: How do the changes at The Slanted Door over the past 20 years reflect the changes in your career and personal life?
A: It changes every day. I still work my ass off. The team got bigger. At first, I was on the line by myself. There is more traveling. Now the customers are a lot more educated. They are more adventurous.
Q: The Slanted Door is more than just Vietnamese food. It showcases Chinese, French, American influences too. Is that what’s happening in Vietnam too?
A: It’s a part of the culture. It’s a byproduct of the cultures mingling. It’s become a tradition. It’s been passed down in the last 50 to 60 years. This is fusion that’s proven and it’s tasty.
Q: What role has your staff played in the success of The Slanted Door?
A: We have a lot of people who have been with us for a long time. My chef de cuisine just left me after 18 years. Maybe I don’t drive them crazy enough. You have to create opportunity for your staff.
Q: You are not afraid to mix things up like stuffed bitter melon with marinara sauce. What is the most popular dish at the Slanted Door?
A: All the dishes in the book are big sellers. The spring rolls, we just make them all day long.
Q: What do you think of the growing popularity of Southeast Asian cuisine in the United States?
A: I'm happy to see that. I’m glad it’s no longer a second-class cuisine.
Q: Any advice on stocking the pantry to make Vietnamese food?
A: You must have fish sauce and corn starch. Consider preserved cabbage and black beans.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Jonathan Oatis)