George Walker III talks to local chefs about Vietnamese cooking

Jul 30, 2020

In this segment, George Walker III talks to Ben Wiley and Quynh (Quin) Lai, of Stock & Candor about Vietnamese cooking and a recipe for Korean Short Ribs.

You're listening to shaping narratives, a collection of voices from West Michigan's communities of color, brought to you by WGVU, NPR and PBS in West Michigan. In the partnership with the WK Kellogg foundation, the voice of this podcast is George Walker The Third. Host of WGVU's cultural ingredients, a TV show that explores stories of migration, culture, and agricultural history one person, one dish, one ingredient at a time. He's a sommelier and a small business owner. And for this podcast, he talks to chefs about simple cooking and kitchen management during the pandemic.

Hey, Quinn and Ben, how are you guys? Good. Good. I want to thank you all so much for doing this. Um, this is awesome. Uh, let's let's just get right into it. Um, so how did you all find the culinary world?

Um, I grew up in it. My mom is, uh, uh, uh, Vietnamese Chef. and so I I just like would wake up and she'd already be in the kitchen. Cooking. Um, and eventually she had me help out in her kitchen. She, she does like Vietnamese catering and, um, uh, on the weekends we would watch, uh, cooking shows together, like with Julia child and the Jacques LePen. So they inspired, um, us more into like a different cuisine other than a Vietnamese cuisine. And, um, yeah, I would help her out with shopping and labeling all her orders and, you know, shredding carrots or whatever. So I kinda just grew in, in it.

Oh, wow. And you had it from like an early age. What about, you.

So I grew up like just helping cook meals with my family. Like my mom and dad would, we'd always have all of our meals together, family. Um, you know, nothing special, but it was just a good, like good family time that we spent together. And, um, so it was always a hobby of mine. I did it in high school and college. I got cooked for my friends and I took meals to the family, but it was never really serious. And then kind of just random turn of events. I just needed a job and I fell into a job as a cook and I was like, Oh man, I really love this. So I just went like full on into it from there.

Wow. Yeah, I get that. Um,

For me it was, um, one high school ended. I asked my, I told my parents, I want to be a veterinarian. And they were like, absolutely not. We're not going to support you on that. Um, because to them, that profession was only useful in a well developed country and they didn't come from that. They, um, moved here from Vietnam after the Vietnam war. And, um, so they're like, you need to go to school for something. Um, Oh, no. Then I told him I wanted to be a cook and they're like, well, you don't need to do that right away. You can always come back to it. Um, but we want you to get your college education first. So I went and got my degree from a university. And after that, that I was like, all right, I did it. I have my degree. Um, and some other subjects and I'm ready to come back into cooking. Um, and the whole time I was in college, I was, uh, in restaurant fill to kind of make things me like I'm I was a server and a bartender. And then eventually, uh, when I was done with school, I was still interested in being a cook. So I asked one of the places I was working at to if I could, uh, work in their kitchen. And that's where my professional career started.

Oh, wow. That's amazing. So I'm going to get to kind of hit more on, um, your parents coming from Vietnam to the U S what was it like? Um, growing up as a first generation American.

Uh, pretty, it was frustrating as a kid. Um, I, the, although my hometown is San Jose. Um in California. And though there is a, in California, Asians are not the minority group there. They're now part of the majority. Um, the neighborhood that I was in was, um, mainly Mexican, like Hispanic and Caucasian. Um, so what I brought my breakfast or my lunch and all that, it was like, um, very strong aromas and, you know, everyone had a Ham and mayonnaise sandwich. And I had the roasted Cornish hands, you know, like, and had fish and it was just I as a kid. Um, I hated it. Like, I was just like, I'm not like my fellow, you know, my friends. Um, and we, uh, they put me into Vietnamese school, um, on every Sunday. Which I did not do well. And I was just like, just total American. I want to be, you know, just like all my other friends and I don't want to be there. I mean, and my, my family was so Vietnamese. Like my dad is like, uh, uh, He, I don't know how to explain it. He, he like runs, uh, or he did run coalition for, um, North California for, um, national Vietnamese people. So, yeah.

That's awesome.

It is now I appreciate it now, but when I was a kid, I just, I just wanted to be far away from it. Um, and I didn't. Um, appreciate my culture until college, I think. And luckily, while I was still very young, they, they forced me to eat Vietnamese food. I can only eat my mom's cooking, you know, so I would always be Vietnamese food. Um, and eventually like in my teenage years it became like my favorite cuisine to have and was just kind of stuck ever since then.

Wow. That's amazing. I mean, I can, so I could only imagine that that influence only had a even bigger influence on why you all cook so many, so much, um, kind of Southeast Asian cuisine, right?

Yeah. Yeah. When I moved to Michigan, um, the.

Which I'm sure was like a entirely, like culture shock coming from California, like your family, and then coming to Michigan, really. I mean, for quite frankly, whitewashed, for the majority and West Michigan particular. So what, so what was that kind of like, uh, like adjusting to West Michigan and a meat and potato type of dishes that we usually have here and then, yeah.

I, I didn't mind it. I didn't even notice it. Yeah. At first I left California to focus on my career because I had too many way too many distractions in California. Um, when I came here, the first thing, so when I came here, I was just in the kitchen. I just didn't really see anybody except for who I worked with. Um, and I worked for my family and saw the top. So besides my two. My two cousins and like the two other people that are established in back of house. Um, I didn't see anybody. I didn't really get to talk to anybody. The hours were, you know, they took up most of my time, um, when I moved to grand Rapids and was, um, mobile. Um, the first thing I noticed was the lack of diversity. It didn't, it didn't like. Dawn on me. That there's a, there was lack of Asians. It was very specifically like anybody else. So, um, I didn't mind it at first because, um, uh, when I was young, uh, in high school and middle school, the majority of the, of the community was Hispanic, and Asian. So I didn't notice it too much until I started craving my own food. Um, And then I noticed, like I don't have anywhere to go get this. And, uh, so then I started focusing on making Vietnamese food for myself at home. Um, back in San Jose, you don't have to cook anything. You don't have to look far. You don't have to make any. There are no hundreds of places that make Vietnamese food. You just pick the one that you liked the most. And here I have. Two places I can think of that. I no go for a or they made food. So it, it ended up making me a better even cook because I had to, I had the taste in my mouth that I was craving and couldn't really get it. So it's forced me to look into how to make it. I remember what my mom used to do. Um, I just really dig back into that memory bank.

Wow. That's that's brilliant. So I can only imagine. Yeah. Was that how let's just talk about Stock and Candor real quick and how dope, uh, you all a business is? Yeah. It's like, can we just talk? You all have like the startup that's, um, and in this business, that's okay. Doing amazing, amazing, dope stuff. Like these underground pop-up dinners are super, super dope. So yeah. How does that even come out?

Um, do you want to?

Yeah, so we kind of started out, um, you know, when Quinn and I were super dating, we would really be, even before we would just cook, like all the time.Like on our days off, before we started dating, we would still like cook for. Our friends and just have a bunch of people over and like, just hang out, you know, have some drinks and just make some food that we were craving. And that was always a really good outlet for us, just as something communal and it's something kind of creative. I troed out dishes on people we knew, but definitely be accepting as a food. And meanwhile, all that was happening. Professionally, we were kind of meeting a lot of roadblocks in terms of like, we wanted to put out food that was a little bit different than the restaurant had in mind. And we kind of just met a lot since then kind of like stifling the creativity that we had.

Right.

And so then the idea of like, you know, turning these dinners into something else was kind of like where Stock and candor kind of became focused on. Yeah, we were, we were pretty, um, frustrated with what was going on in our job. And we, we, it felt like there wasn't any demand for the type of food that we wanted to cook. Um, except for our close friends. And eventually our close friends would be like, no, I have friends who would like to eat this too. Like, there are plenty of people who like the food. Um, So we were like, well, where are these people? You know, like we're running restaurants. And, um, so we were like, you know, well, it's the kind of community like the adventurous eaters that could, they must be, like a true foodie. Not that many of them like this, the community must be fairly small. So let's not think about what we're going to do in our restaurants. Let's think about if we want to, if we want to do a dinner for like, 15 people or four 30 people, um, what would we want to do and how will we put ourselves out there? So we really wanted to go to the super underground. Like you gotta know somebody in order to get to us kind of thing.

Right. I remember when I first got my text, like that was like, yo, this is so dope. I'm so excited.

Yeah. Cool. Um, I'm. Really happy to hear when people say that. Cause for such a long time, we were like, um, really, uh, disappointed, you know, like, Oh, like we're just going to cook for the select few, like very few people and that's it. And um, so here, like, no, there are people who want your food. And I was like, Oh, okay, cool. Oh yeah. There is?

There's no question about that there at all. I mean, I guess, can you walk us through, uh, what a stock and Kenneth dinner is like? Yeah.

Yes. So, uh, we have several different styles because we understand not everyone can, can do like $150 a person or whatever. So we have a couple of dinners where people are looking for a fine dining experience. Um, we will arrive at their homes. And we'll before we'll, we'll, we'll arrive and we'll talk through a menu and see if that's what they're looking for. If they're celebrating anything, we'll learn about the, our, our guests and try to, um, uh, form the menu to be the specialized to towards them. Um, and that. It's it's a menu of dishes that Ben and I really want to cook. It's not, they don't really have a say in what we make. Um, well here I'll like, Oh, I can't eat eggs or something like that. If there's not too many restrictions or allergies, then we'll, we'll make the, the modification. Um, And then we have, uh, it used to be like, I would do all the wine and Ben would do a bunch of the cocktails. And now we have somewhat of a team going on and we have a bartender and we have like, you know, a server and stuff like that. So it goes a lot more smoothly. Umm umm. With those dinners, if we have a bartender and all them, then the bartender comes up with, um, cocktails or wine that will pair well with our food.Um, And it's yeah, it's just a, your own personalized, fine dining experience. And that, that a certain price point. Um, then we also have like things where we really just like any restaurant, you know, when you're like out of your friend's reach of, you know, actually being able to eat your food, we have, um, more casual, um, events as well. Like our friends, all cook, you know, so they can't afford a hundred dollars a meal. You know, they, they just, they shouldn't, you know, kind of thing. So we'll do like, um, outdoor events or something like that. Um, whereas like Korean barbecue.

The outdoors that I remember the outdoor series that you all had, or the pop up that you all did at, uh, what was that restaurant? I can't even think of it right now, though. That was a pop up that you all did over on the West side where it was out for street food. Oh my goodness. That was amazing

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was a collaboration with us. Sovengard. That was the first. Yeah. Yeah. Then, um, then used to work there in the morning. So he's, he's a really close with. Pierre. He was the farmer shop there, Patrick Conrad, and, um, uh, the owner, uh, Rick, um, had this great idea of like, let's bring in, um, you guys to do, uh, Asian food because they had a series already going. Um, Sovengard had like a, I think their theme was just street food, but every month was a different, um, a different country. So for the Asian one, um, because they knew Ben was already part of this whole stock and candor thing. They're like, do you guys want to do it? And we're like, hell yeah, we want to get our food out to as many people as possible. And you guys are perfect for that.

And I'm almost positive that that was their busiest one that they ended up having, because when I went it was a mad line and all my was.

Yeah, we were not expecting, it seemed that, uh, we had gone to, um, their previous ones and thought we had it all figured out and whenI think around, uh, uh, doors were supposed to open at 11 or something. And at 10 o'clock we heard how long the line was. He can't see the line from the kitchen. R

ight. Be mindful. I said, listen to those. This is like 11:00 PM. So like it starts at 8:00 PM and everyone's just kinda like outside outdoors, um, at this, uh, at this beer garden, then Sovengard, which is in grand Rapids. And essentially they have a DJ that's playing and some really dope food.

Yeah. Um, so we, the, uh, the food that we put out for that menu were some dishes that we really, really wanted, um, the community of grand Rapids to be exposed to. Like there were. Fairly uncommon dishes. And, um, but they're also dishes that we felt we could dish out quickly. Um um. We just couldn't keep up. It was just crazyness, we had like, like adrenaline and anxiety for like two hours straight. I just, it was just like, go, go, go, go, go. And. Yeah. Yeah. That one was a crazy crazy event.

We had a ribs on that menu. You had the, bon mi. What else did you guys have on that menu? You had some other stuff too. That was just crazy.

Yeah. There was a Korean savory pancake called Tajan here's that are green and you dip it with a, like a tangy soy sauce. And then we did a, uh, crispy. Crispy egg noodle dish with stir fry on top and Vietnamese has called Mi Xao Bo. Uh, so my English interpretation of it is crispy egg noodles with stir fry, uh, stir fry meats and vegetables.

What was the Vietnamese name for it?

The Vietnamese name for it is Mi Xao Bo.

Ah, Mi Xao Bo.

(Unintelligible)

So, so one more question, if you all were to cook, um, if we, if you all could just have like a, like a quick and easy dish that our listeners can make at home, what do you?

uh, so we were kind of back and forth on, uh, a bunch of things. And one that came to mind was kalbi is. Korean short rib, super popular, just as it's getting kind of nice out the springtime. It feels like a great time to barbecue. And Kalbi is like relatively easy thing to put together.

Um, yeah. Do you want the, you want the recipe like verbatim? Like how much of each thing?

Well, um, well you don't have to do how much just to give us like a, kind of like a rough, a rough walk through of how to, how to do it.

Oh, okay. Okay. So you're going to start with making a marinade, which is onion, peeled Apple peeled par, a bunch of garlic, cloves. Um, so it's all sugar, some water, Sesame oil, black pepper, and you just blend it all together and then you want it sit a day. It's kind of even better. And then after that, since the day you put in some bone in short ribs that are LA style or flank style, which is against the bone, but a little bit thinner than a, English style, short rib, that's really that iconic, like, look at like you see the cross section of the bone, um, usually three or four bones, and then there's like a thin layer of short of meat on it. And because of the way it's cut and the. The amount of sugar in the marinade. It really tenderizes the meat really, really well. Um, so that it's super tender and just really delicious. Do you see either slapping on a grill and it's pretty much good to go?

Yeah, that's that's for short ribs that we did at, um, at the street food event that you went to.

Oh, my gosh, those were so good. And that sounds so good right now. I'm this is making me so hungry and I can't wait to make this dish. I'm so excited.

Yeah, I can send you, I have an exact recipe if you want.

Oh, yes, please, please, please send that because yes, we definitely need that, but I do want to thank you guys so much for coming on and being a part of this e[isode I really appreciate it. I love, absolutely love the work that you all have and doing. Um, I've been following you guys for a minute now, especially you Quinn. You're over at Maroo. Um, and it's, it's been awesome to see how not only one, you also relationship has developed and grown and flourished, but also you all's business and how your love and your passion for food, um, has shown immensely, uh, through, throughout the city.Uh, I respect you all so, so much, uh, I can go on, I can't wait to get the Bon Mis that you guys are doing, I am giving off this week. I'm super deep for that. Um, but also, uh, once this COVOID is over, um, we can all kind of come together again and do what we love. So again, thank you guys so much.I really appreciate it.

Yeah. Well, we appreciate you. I thank you for this honor. Like, we are always surprised when people want to talk to us and we're very odd at interviews. Cause it's like, we kind of forget how to talk. Cause they're in the kitchen. You don't really speak that much. Um, but yeah, I appreciate your interest and that you want to hear our story. We can't wait the cup for you yet. Your bon mi we're working on it right now. Actually we're I'm baking bread right now. Wow. Yeah, we look forward to one. This is over and we can like cook and have a great meal together and wine and dine and all that together. For sure.

Yeah. Yes. Yeah. So again, thank you guys for being a part of cultural ingredients, the COVID series.Um, and I'll talk to y'all soon.

Alright, thanks. George

Shaping Narratives a collection of voices from West Michigan's communities of color is brought to you in partnership with the wk Kellogg Foundation, a partner with communities where children come first. Want to hear more Shaping Narratives episodes download and subscribe at WGVU dot org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe if you get a chance, it helps us to know you're listening. Shaping Narratives is produced by WGVU PBS and NPR in West Michigan through the facilities of the Meijer public broadcast center in the service of Grand Valley State University. Matt Gruppen processed all the audio, Joe Bielecki edits each episode, Vance Orr designed our graphics and manages our Web presence, Phil Lanes is our director of content. The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the hosts and their guests and do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU or Grand Valley State University.