Hi.

Welcome to Cookery by the Book podcast! The only podcast devoted to cookbooks and cookbook authors. 

 

#61

#61

Adventures In Starry Kitchen
88 Asian-Inspired Recipes From America's Most Famous Underground Restaurant

By Nguyen Tran

Suzy Chase:                  Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast, with me, Suzy Chase.

Nguyen:                  My name is Nguyen Tran and my cookbook Adventures in Starry Kitchen: 88 Asian Inspired Recipes from America's Most Famous Underground Restaurants.

Suzy Chase:                  2009. The market has tanked and you decided to launch an underground, illegal restaurant in your apartment in North Hollywood. What were you thinking?

Nguyen:                  I was thinking we were broke. I was thinking that my wife was unemployed at that point in time and she didn't have shit to do. I was also thinking that, before all that, we had no idea what was going to happen, and I was in film. So I was like a ... No, I was an entrepreneur. I was producing films and selling films, which means I would go to international film festivals like Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, and Berlin, all those things that people read about online or in magazines.

                                    But that was drying up, and I didn't know what to do. But something happened during 2009 that ... My wife started cooking all these original dishes and posting it up on Facebook, but my wife's not a food blogger. She didn't aspire to be that. And I always told people that ... People forget before the food porn revolution of Instagram and similar, only Asian people really took people of food with actual film, which people thought was ridiculous, because we love pictures of food. And my wife ... that's all she did after work. She did it because like, "Oh, I made another dish."

                                    And then my wife lost her job in April of 2009, and everyone was like, "You should cook like Kogi or anyone else." And that was the inception of Starry Kitchen. Three weeks later, though, I had to coerce my wife. She was like, "Why should I do that?" I'm like, "Because you're unemployed and you ain't got shit to do."

Suzy Chase:                  So tell me about Starry Kitchen, the hours and the menu. You went from Sunday lunch and then to Wednesday dinners?

Nguyen:                  Yeah. So here's a funny story about our hours, right? So we had a friend of ours. His name is Alex Al. He was, at the time, the executive chef at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and now he's in Vancouver. You know, he's really accomplished. Like, he was on the Canadian team for the Bocuse d'Or, which is the international cooking competition for countries. Like, this guy is a legit hot shot cook, chef.

                                    And he comes to our apartment because his wife is a really good friend of my wife's, and he says, "You know what? I'm going to give you one piece of advice. You're going to run out of refrigerator room very quickly." And so when we did that, the hours were Sunday lunch and Wednesday dinner only because we didn't have enough room to do any more than that. We wish we could've done more than that, because it was really working well for us, but that was really just by happenstance and necessity, because there wasn't enough refrigerator room.

                                    And everyone works during day on Wednesday, so like, "Let's do Wednesday night." And Sunday lunch was more like ... When we started it on Sunday, it was more, also, out of ... It's like, "Hey, most of our friends are available on a Sunday. Let's just try that and see what happens." And that was pretty much it. Like, everything in the history of Starry Kitchen from the inception for our apartment to where we are now always comes from a place of necessity than it does for, like, "Oh, we think these hours are going to be really cool and more people are going to show up." Like, we have no fucking idea. Like, we've been failing upwards the entire time.

                                    And then, it's important for me to tell people that, because anyone that reads our story or hears about us ... I mean, we've been really fortunate. We've been in the New York Times, the New Yorker and all these places. We're very appreciative of all that, but we still don't know what we're doing. We happen to be very lucky in the timing, and we've gotten better at what we've done since we started. But we're still figuring it out like everyone else.

Suzy Chase:                  How'd you get the word out at the beginning?

Nguyen:                  The simple answer is social media. Like, I always said that social media really built us up. It made us who we were. Without social media, it would've never caught fire as quickly as it did. And I created a Facebook page. I created a Twitter account, and I created a Tumblr account. At that time, Instagram didn't exist. And I would Tweet, Facebook ...

                                    And I also ... I forgot. Not the social media, but I also printed up 300 flyers, and I flyered every unit. And on top of that, I would text and call friends and coerce them into showing up, too, and guilt them, because especially in LA, people go to plays and support their friends. And whenever your friend accomplishes something and tries something, you go out of support and not necessarily because you think it's any good, and that's how it started.

Suzy Chase:                  How did you figure out the menu? Did you serve the same thing on Sunday and Wednesday, or did you serve different things all the time?

Nguyen:                  We served different things all the time, and the concept, as we started, was, you know, we wanted to serve pan-Asian comfort food, and it was mainly comfort food dishes that you couldn't find in most restaurants, because it was peasant food, to be blunt. And what we would do is just make whatever we felt like, and we'd rotated. So it's pretty much ... we would come up with an idea. We'd make it for that day, and then, whenever ...

                                    Because we were just doing every Sunday at the very beginning, right? So after the first Sunday, I'm like, "Oh, that went well. What can we do next?" So it was kind of like creative expression and experimentation, and then we would ... Then, once we added Wednesday, it was obviously ... We were doing double time and coming up with dishes. So sometimes, we would revisit dishes when we had an idea of how to do it better. Otherwise, it's just basically what came to mind at that point in time.

                                    And honestly, I write about it in the book, too. My wife is the creative driver when it came to flavor, so a lot of times, my wife would have an idea. She'd toss it back to me. I'm like, "Look, let's do it," and that was as simple as that.

Suzy Chase:                  Did you start getting nervous when Yelp reviews started popping up?

Nguyen:                  I got really nervous when the Yelp reviews started popping up, because I didn't know what kind of clientele or any other person that would come in. But it was ... you know, the funny thing about that was that at one point in time, Yelp headquarters in San Francisco called us. And they're like, "Hey, so we're from Yelp. We want to talk to you. You know, it's great. You're getting a lot of traffic on your listing. Are you working out of your home?

Suzy Chase:                  Oh, no.

Nguyen:                  I was like ... oh, yeah, exactly. And I was like, "Maybe. Is that good or bad?" They're like, "We think that's great." I'm like, "Oh, awesome. Yes. Yeah. Yes, we are working out of our home." "That's amazing." And they're like, "We want to support you. This is amazing. Like, you are getting so much more traffic than ..."

                                    And at that point in time, you've got to consider in LA, there's about 30 thousand restaurants in LA, and we're ... At that point in time, we were almost ... I think we were number one in the Asian fusion category, and we were about to break the top ten of all 30 thousand listings in Los Angeles. And it did bring some people who were like, "But this isn't a restaurant. This is like an apartment." I was like, "Yeah, we did warn you about that. The other people writing about that, that wasn't a joke."

                                    But to be honest with you, for the most part, it didn't bring people that didn't want to be part of it anyway. I think it already weeded people out just by presenting that, people writing that story. Some people that thought that was not subversive or not cool, they just wouldn't show up for the most part. People that did, they would basically relay the story of what's happened, then, up until that point. So it was kind of like a ... This sounds really redundant, but it was like a written verbal history of what happened up until that point. Because people were like, "Oh my God, I found this couple in this apartment. This is what you do." And the next one would be like, "Oh my God, I found this couple, and this is what you do, and this is what's happened since then." And it was really fun to watch that.

Suzy Chase:                  And then, LA Weekly found you.

Nguyen:                  I'm not exactly sure how the writer found us. Her name is Katherine Spiers, who I'm incredibly thankful for finding this. And we're actually friends to this day. She came and interviewed us and wrote a great piece about us. I believe it's called "The Restaurant in Apartment 205." And she wrote a nice piece on us, and all of the sudden, people from New York and San Francisco and other places were starting to find us.

                                    It's fun, because people would show up, and they're like, "Oh my God, this is Starry Kitchen?" Like, "Yeah." It's like, "Oh my God, I'm from New York and I just read about you." I'm like, "What?" Because it was really cool to see people from other places in the country be interested and generally just intrigued by what we were doing. And they would pay $5 ... or a $5 donation, I should add, like anyone else, and then they would just sit with everyone and kind of commiserate.

                                    And you know, that was the best part about, actually, Starry Kitchen, was the community. Like, a lot of people be squeezed up against each other. It'd be whether the black ops version in our apartment or out on the patio before we got caught. And they would just share the stories of how they found us and what they did. And you know, people from different walks of life, different affluence ... In LA, too, people tend to be a little bit cynical, so people tend to not associate with each other as much as they would in, like, New York. But in our apartment, that was different, and people really got to know each other and became friends. And that was really cool.

Suzy Chase:                  So describe your showdown with the Health Department.

Nguyen:                  Well, I think you asked from the Health Department's perspective. They would use the word showdown. I would describe it as a very pleasant conversation that ended in them not eating anything, but so the Heath Department-

Suzy Chase:                  A 45 minute conversation.

Nguyen:                  Well, you know, that's a great conversation. You can't stop talking.

                                    But well, I should probably tell you, the first part is that there was a local restaurateur that I did get to ... I didn't get to know him, but I knew him visually, and one time I saw him outside of our apartment when we were serving out of apartment. I was like, "Oh, that's strange. What is he doing in my apartment? He has that restaurant in the other building." And then, the other shoe dropped.

                                    And one day about a week later, we come back home. And there's this business card on our doorstep. I'm like, "Oh, this is interesting," and I turn it over, and it says Department of Health Services, Los Angeles. I'm like, "Oh, wow," and my wife is so scared. She was like, "Oh my God." And I wish she was like an old robber from 1930s or '40s films. Like, "Oh, the jig is up," but it was the look that she gave me. But she goes, "The jig is up. Oh my God. Let's make a break for it." But me, I was like, "Oh my God, Honey." She was like, "Why are you smiling?" I'm like, "You have no idea. This moment is going to be very special." She's like, "Are you an idiot?"  I'm like, "No, this is the moment that we were going to get legitimized. It's amazing."

                                    So I call them, and they start interrogating me over the phone. THey're like, "Excuse me, sir. Do you have a refrigerator in your establishment?" I'm like, "You saw this was an apartment, right? So yes." And then, we got into a debate about how I was running an illegal restaurant. And I was like, "Well, what makes it ... what's the difference between an illegal restaurant and a dinner party? Because what I'm doing is a dinner party." And she didn't have any of that, and we kind of ended that conversation. And I was like, "Oh, okay. That's the end of it," but I knew that wasn't.

                                    And we had a private email list, and I emailed everyone. I'm like, "Hey, everyone, here's what's happening. The Health Department has found us. We're just going to keep on going. Here are the rules of what we're going to do if the Health Department shows up. We're going to invite them in like they're part of the party, and we'll see what's up." And literally the next Wednesday ... So that was on a ... They left the card on a Sunday. I called them on a Monday. That Wednesday night was the next service we had, and the Health Department shows up five minutes after we start.

                                    And it was really interesting. It was two guys. It was an older guy and a younger guy, and I invited them in. They're like, "I don't think you want us in." Then, I was like, "No, please come in. Come into my dinner party." And it was interesting, because the young guy, I could tell, was really into it, because we could ... At that point in time, we were making galbijjim, which is a braised Korean short-ribbed stew with things like jujubes and soy sauce. God, it's amazing. And the entire apartment was filled with the bouquet of this incredible Korean dish, and the young guy, you could tell ... I could see him really ... like, he was craning his head back, like wafting all of the flavors in. And he had a little smile on his face.

                                    But the older gentleman that was with him was totally not having it, totally interrogating me. You know, telling me that I was running an illegal restaurant and that I shouldn't be doing this, and why was I doing this? And I was telling him, "No." Then, all of a sudden, he prints up my Twitter feed and prints it all out for me. He's like, "Well, what about your Twitter feed? It says otherwise." In my head, I was like, "That's brilliant." But verbally, I was like, "That's for my friends. I'm so sorry."

                                    And my wife is sitting at ... And she actually left the kitchen. We have an open kitchen, and she left the kitchen. She sat on the couch with her arms crossed and giving these guys a death stare the entire time. And it was uncomfortable.

                                    But I'm that weasel of a friend. Like, everyone has that friend that can get their way out of everything, and I did. And they're like, "Look, don't do it again or we'll take you to Health Department Court." I'm like, "Fine, sir. I won't. I won't do it ever again," and then I sent them on their way. And of course, I did it for another three months.

Suzy Chase:                  Oh my God. What happened after the 45 minute conversation and you closed the door? What did your wife say?

Nguyen:                  My wife said, "All right. This is over. We're shutting this down. We can't do this anymore. They've found us. I can't believe you put me through this, Nguyen Tran. What the fuck were you thinking? I knew we were going to get caught. I always told you we were going to get caught."

                                    And I was more like, "Honey, don't worry about it. Literally, we're going to spin this, and it's going to be so much fun."

                                    She's like, "Are you fucking crazy? Are you fucking mad, Nguyen Tran? We've been found. Like, this is not cool. Like, what are you going to do?"

                                    I'm like, "Don't worry about it. We're gonna have a lot more fun. Trust me."

Suzy Chase:                  I love how you call it a beautiful accident gone right.

Nguyen:                  Because it is, because you know, that's so ... That's why I keep on saying ... Like, you know been using the term failing upwards in the last three or four or five months of ramping up for the book. And the beautiful accident gone right is what it was. Like, we didn't ... And I mean this with the utmost respect. Our dream was not to open a restaurant. That was not our dream. We didn't have a dream.

                                    It was more like, "You know what? My wife is talented. We're both unemployed. We don't have shit to do. Let's just see what this is." And you know, part of the pitch when I coerced my wife into doing this was like, "Look, honey. You don't have anything to do, but what we need to do is do this regularly and see what will happen. What's going to happen, hopefully, is that we get compensated in donations for the food that we buy. We'll get better at it, and we'll just see what happens. And if this works, we'll just keep it going."

                                    And we just never expected to make it this far.  We didn't expect to have a Wednesday service. We didn't expect LA Weekly to find us or the Health Department to find us and different food bloggers and the like. You know, I have so many fun stories of people that didn't even know who we were.

                                    Like, we lived in North Hollywood, which is pretty close to Universal. And at the time, Conan O'Brien was shooting there, or at NBC Live near there. And I remember this couple that was from Orange County, which is basically an hour away from where we live, happened to go to the Conan O'Brien Show. They were so hungry. They found our listing, landed on our doorstep, and they're like, "Is this Starry Kitchen?" I said, "Yes." And they're like, "This is an apartment?" I'm like, "Yeah." Like, "Oh, we don't care. We're just really hungry. Can we eat?"  I'm like, "Yes, come on in.

                                    And that's like the epitome of the beautiful accident gone right, and it went the right way for us, so ...

Suzy Chase:                  I found it so interesting reading about one of your earliest Vietnamese meals at an underground restaurant outside of Dallas.

Nguyen:                  I tried to recall as much as I could in the book, but it was something that really stuck to me. I just remember being with my parents. I was around five years old, and we were going to a North Dallas suburb. It's called Richardson, and I just remember going to this house. And it wasn't abnormal at that point in time, and I knew we were going to go get lunch.

                                    I just remember ... And the way I recall it in my head, kind of theatrical, is I just remember the door just slowly creaking open, and all of the sudden I see kids and people running back and forth. There were so many people. And then, we walked through the house, the backyard, and all of the sudden, there were tons of tables laid out in rows and lots of people sitting in the back. And you see people walking like ... And this is not a restaurant, and there's people running around with plates of their food, dropping it on tables, people just having a great time.

                                    And this was bigger than a party because it was really organized, right? And this is very methodical about what they were doing. Like, people were taking orders, right? People were dropping orders. No one knew each other, but people were having a great time. And I don't know why this stuck with me, but I was like, "Oh my God, this is a restaurant. This is weird. This is really fun. This is in a home."

                                    And I remember, because I didn't actually eat much Vietnamese food at the time, too, so I kind of just took it all in. That's probably why I took it all in, because I was such a burgers and hamburgers kid at that point in time.  Part of it also being me just being uneasy about my Asian heritage in an American town, that I just didn't participate in eating. So I just watched it all.

                                    And I remember when were done, we walked out. The door closed behind us, and it's like we got escorted back into the real world. It was like being in Alice in Wonderland and coming back to the real world, out of the rabbit hole. And it's like it never happened. Like, the door closed, and we were just in another suburban neighborhood in North Dallas. And it just had this profound effect on me that it just made sense, whenever this idea came to be.

                                    And that's the inception of why we did it, too, because a lot of people think we did it to be cool. I'm like, "No, it was just a great idea that I saw when I was a kid, that I just wanted to relive a little bit of that myself." And I wish I could recall where it was at. I should ask my parents. Oh, and I should ... Like, I don't even know if those people actually ever opened a real restaurant, but it was a lot of fun. And I really cherished that moment in life.

Suzy Chase:                  The first sentence of your cookbook got me. You wrote, "Hi, I'm Nguyen. I'm no one special." But what kept jumping out at me in your stories in this cookbook is that you have such a solid group of loyal friends and followers who obviously think you're special. That got me.

Nguyen:                  I really appreciate that. I say that for a lot of reasons. Like, part of it is I did grow up with a lot of issues. That happened pretty early on in my life. The other part is I've been hot shit, also, and being hot shit ... like, a hotshot, I've been knocked down, as well. Like, I've been arrogant, and I've bought into my own hype. And I started realizing that my story ... the only thing unique about it, at least from my perspective, is that I'm willing to share it. I wouldn't say I'm articulate, but I'm articulate enough to be able to give you the details so I can paint a picture for you to understand what's happened to me.

                                    But everything that's happened to me either has happened or can happen to anyone else. Like, I've been incredibly humbled by this business, and that's the other part of it. Like, this business, if it's taught me anything, it's humility. It is not easy, and I've learned a lot about myself, and that is the thing that it taught me. Like, that no matter what I do or what I've done and whatever publication I've been written up in and whatever TV shows I've been on, I'm still, at the end of the day, the same guy. I am no one particularly special. You know, I walk down the street like everyone else does. I breathe like everyone else does. I pay for my food. I'm courteous. Like, I ask for permission for things. I have no credibility to ask for any more than what everyone else deserves. I have no credibility to judge anyone else.

                                    That line ... it means so much, even more than I can even articulate. But it's important for me to level the playing field for people, because when I was a kid, I always get left out of things. And so I have a lot of mottoes in my life, and one of them is that elitism doesn't sit well with me. To feel like you're better than other people, just things that other people should be ... Like, to put people down, it's not a great feeling when you're that person that's being put down. And I don't know why other people will do that to any others, too. Because you know, if you get up, you should pick people up. You shouldn't have to put them down to make yourself feel better. It makes you feel more solace, at least for me, so ...

Suzy Chase:                  You were on Chopped Junior as a judge, and you were so sweet with the kids, too.

Nguyen:                  Thank you. That was an incredible experience. Those kids were so talented. I was so amazed. And you know, what was great about that show, too, was it was very sobering to see these 13 year old kids cook at such a high level, but seeing the amount of genuine confidence and interest in food and also in who they were as people ...

                                    Like, there was the one kid that I had to chop, and I had the hardest chop, because I was at the end of the show. So I had to give him all these reasons throughout three rounds of why they were not the best.  That kid had a huge effect on me, because he was very unapologetic. He was 13, and I had to tell the kid. I'm like, "You know what? You have it more together than most adults I've ever met, and I hope you understand that and appreciate that. And don't get too big headed, as well, because if you keep that, you'll get really far in life. And don't let this chop be the end of this story."

                                    And the great part about that is, so I filmed that, actually, in November with the Food Network, and the episode of Chopped aired about a couple weeks ago from now. And his father wrote on my Facebook page, actually, the day that the Chopped Junior episode came on. And he wrote an incredibly moving note about how what I said to his son that I chopped had an incredible effect on him and how, when they're coming to LA in six months from that point in time, that his son said that he has to come to my restaurant. It's the first thing he wants to do when he gets off the plane.

                                    So that made me shed a tear. I won't lie, and it was very touching. And that entire experience, if I never get to do it ever again, I will cherish it for the rest of my life.

Suzy Chase:                  So Sunday night, I made your recipe on page 11 for braised and caramelized Vietnamese Coco pork belly.

Nguyen:                  Yeah.

Suzy Chase:                  I was wondering, how did Coco Rico soda, a Puerto Rican soda, make its way into this Vietnamese recipe?

Nguyen:                  Growing up, in every Vietnamese and Chinese store I've ever been to, Coco Rico soda existed in all of them. So that is part of it. Like, it already ... In my history, since I was born in 1977, Coco Rico soda has always been part of it. So there was never a question. Like, I always thought it was an Asian soda, right? A Puerto Rican soda? Like, I always associated with ... well, it's in an Asian store. It must be an Asian product, so we should use it, and that was part of it. Like, I didn't know otherwise. Without the help of Wikipedia, I just didn't know that.

                                    So you know, it started coming into that being ... As we started cooking and playing with different ways to ... Because a lot of traditional dishes have different specific notes, right? So that would've been coconut milk. And at one point in time, we started making a fish sauce with Coco Rico soda to get a sweet note, and my wife ... I mean, I don't even remember the inception completely. She was like, "You know what? Instead of coconut milk, let's just use Coco soda, because it's lighter and it's like it has this nice freshness." And that's how it came to be.

                                    So you know rewind, we didn't know it was Puerto Rican. I had always thought it was an Asian product. It was in every Asian store. We picked it up. We threw it into this dish, and it was delicious. And that is the history, as I know it and as I saw it.

                                    You know, and thank you, Puerto Rico. I appreciate it. I appreciate you. Thank you for making this soda, because without it, we wouldn't have this delicious ingredient, because we don't actually even drink it, and not because we don't like it. It's funny. Like, we don't drink alcohol either, really, to be honest with you. All the alcohol we buy in liquor stores and everything else, we buy it for cooking. So a lot of ingredients that we buy, we don't think of it from the perspective of what it is, how it's normally consumed, and Coco Rico soda being that very item.

                                    Like, we ... I think I had a sip of it once in the last two years, and I thought it was too sweet. And then, we just put it back in the pork belly. I'm like, "Oh, this is the way you should have it." And this is the epitome of our original idea of the comfort food that is eaten at all Asian homes. It's a dish eaten by every family around the world, and for all intents and purposes, I'm very American. But really, it'd be that one thing that can bring you together with someone else that's Vietnamese.

                                    Like, I met Vietnamese Australians, and they had a very thick Australian accent and very Australian. But you mention thjt kho and everyone's like, "Oh my God, my mom makes the best thjt kho. Oh, that is my dish when I grew up." And then, Vietnam's the same way, too, so it's like the one thing that brings all Vietnamese together.

                                    But in every culture, there's that signature dish. Like, in Philippine culture, at least for a Filipino to grow up in America, like, adobo, that dish. For Koreans, I feel like galbijjim is that. Like, there's always that one dish that's made by every parent in any ethnic society, I think. I think in American culture, I feel like meatloaf is the quintessential American dish that every American kid grows up with.

Suzy Chase:                  Yeah.

Nguyen:                  And if it's not, then something similar to that. And then, everyone can tell stories of how bad or good their mom and dad's meatloaf was.

Suzy Chase:                  Okay. Can we talk about the caramel sauce?

Nguyen:                  Yeah, I had a feeling you'd bring this up, because I saw your tweet about the caramel and how you ... So you tried to make it three times, right?

Suzy Chase:                  Yes. Well, I didn't realize that you had to kind of brown the sugar and then put the water in. The first iteration was just kind of like a water/sugar mixture, and it just kept bubbling. And I thought, "Oh, okay. Any minute, it's gonna get brown."  Then, I pitched that. Then, I tried another one. And then, finally, I figured out, "Maybe I should brown the sugar." And then, I thought I just burned it, but I guess when it gets that dark brown, then it's perfect.

Nguyen:                  I don't know if you noticed, but there's a coin next to every recipe. That's supposed to signify the actual level of difficulty. Like, one coin is easy. Two coins, that's medium. Three coins is hard. I wouldn't say this is hard, though, but that's funny. It's-

Suzy Chase:                  It's a four coin recipe, but that's me. I'm just a home cook. I'm just a gal cooking in my kitchen in New York City, so ...

Nguyen:                  Well, okay. Can I tell you something before I talk about the caramel sauce? Now that you say that, I say ... So the idea of I'm no one special, let me say this. You said, "I'm just a home cook." That's where I'm going to call bullshit on that. Like, bullshit in the way ... No, no, but bullshit in a way that hopefully you'll hear me out on this. Like, we were just home cooks. We were not experienced in anything, any of this business.

                                    And I think it's amazing that you're a home cook. I don't think that should be discounted. And by the way, we have professional cooks. We have professional chefs. I gave them one recipe. I give ten cooks one recipe. I can promise you it'll come out in ten different ways, no matter how well articulated. Without giving them the actual metric, the bar, it's gonna come out ten different ways. So you know, what you say is ... You might've said you messed up my recipe. I would say you interpreted it differently, right?

Suzy Chase:                  Right.

Nguyen:                  And that's important for me to put out there, because you just being a home cook ... Like, I remember reading this quote from Thomas Keller, right? He's the founder of The French Laundry and Per Se. He said some of the best cooks he knows are home cooks, and I agree with that.

Suzy Chase:                  Well, let me just tell you, though, that the pork belly turned out really well. And I put it on my Instagram and Twitter.

Nguyen:                  Thank you. I saw it, and by the way, the color came out really well, too. I saw it. It came out ... It looked ... and yeah, I actually got hungry looking at that. And I was very moved that you made it, too, when I saw that. So thank you so much. I'm so glad the caramel came out really well.

                                    And here's the funny thing about that. That recipe used to be far more complicated, and then we figured out the basis of it was the caramel, which I was a little ... You know, thankfully it's easy. It's sugar and water, so if you don't make it right, it's easy to dispose of and make it again.

Suzy Chase:                  Exactly.

Nguyen:                  But that's the key. That really is the underlying key of that dish, because it brings all the other flavors together, which is really nice.

Suzy Chase:                  Where can we find you on the web?

Nguyen:                  You can go to starrykitchen.com, number one, or Facebook.com/starrykitchen, or instagram.com/starrykitchen, or twitter.com/starrykitchen. You can find me at any of those places, any of those apps. You can also write me at any point in time with either complaints or critiques or questions. I will try to answer all of them, possibly in an amusing fashion.

Suzy Chase:                  This cookbook is so much more than a cookbook. It is the great American Dream story. Thank you so much, Nguyen, for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.

Nguyen:                  Thank you so much for listening to me babble. I really appreciate it.

Suzy Chase:                  Subscribe in iTunes and follow me on Instagram at Cookery by the Book, on Twitter at iamsuzychase. Thank you so much for listening to Cookery by the Book Podcast.

#62

#62

#60

#60