A few weeks ago we sent two of our chefs to Atlanta for the “Art of Catering Food” conference hosted by Catersource, the go-to magazine for all catering professionals. Executive Chef Dan Slattery and Chef Nancy Nguyen were immersed in classes, demonstrations, and seminars for three days. They came back with an unbelievable amount of knowledge and a ton enthusiasm to share with the Serendipity kitchen. I got together with Chef Nancy to learn more about her experience at the Catersource convention, and I asked her a few questions about her cooking experience (while I could briefly steal her away from the kitchen!)
In a nutshell, can you describe your experience?
It was a whirlwind! Three days in classes, seeing up to 10-12 speakers and professionals a day. So great to hear all these stories and being able to gain insight from others in the industry. Working up to fifty hours a week in the kitchen, you are not always able to see and meet other chefs; it was so great to learn more about what other chefs are doing and how they operate. Gave me great ideas to bring back to our kitchen. But, across the board I think most chefs (and I think the same) work smarter, not harder.
Did you have a favorite course, or lecture that you attended?
Everything was so diverse! Traditional culinary, molecular gastronomy, sustainability, and many different trends. My personal favorite was a speaker from the Research Chefs Association. He spoke about their fascinating studies, researching food recipes for groceries stores on what the consumers really relate to, such as thinking about what chefs can do for the everyday person—more family friendly foods with exciting flavors that have not been used in the past, like chimichurris, and unusual sauces added to more traditional dishes.
For me, I enjoyed delving more into sustainable and sourcing locally. Every good chef knows the best dishes start with the best ingredients. With great ingredients there is not a need to alter too much. Seeing and talking to the expert sustainable chefs at Catersource solidified this belief.
What are you most excited to add to your Serendipity cooking repertoire?
Because Serendipity is already known for a bit of whimsy intertwined with the classic and elegant, I really liked the whimsical event trend highlights…using different wording like the amazing display we saw at the convention. They had a sign that said, “All-seated buffet” so we assumed it was going to be a traditional get your plates, and get in line buffet. But when you walked in farther you discovered these white vintage sofas with the serving vessels, and a gorgeous food display sitting right on them, so the buffet itself was a “seated-buffet.”
Many Serendipity Catering Facebook followers and fans may know you, as you are our secret weapon when it comes to culinary competitions. Would you ever want to compete on a reality cooking show?
Absolutely! The best part of being in the kitchen is doing things on the fly. Creating dishes with I have on hand is my specialty.
I love watching what the chefs on shows like Chopped come up with in the short time they have. I like to get the adrenaline pumping and think on my toes. Competing like that drives me to be a better chef.
Personally, who inspires you to cook?
Honestly, my mom, and family. Before they came to the US they owned a busy restaurant in Vietnam and would serve a ton of guests everyday, the same people would always come back. They have taught me that cooking from the heart is what being a chef is about. I also admire women chefs, like Alice Waters, for really starting the farm-to-table-movement and Julia Child for bringing classic cuisine to the public. Many people may not realize professional kitchens have traditionally been run by men, and it has not always been easy for women in professional kitchens. These ladies have different ideas on how we approach food, and we are now seeing many more women cook professionally; it is inspiring to be a part of that.
Where do you find the passion to cook?
I log anywhere from forty to sixty hours a week and what I find drives me most is that no matter what, food gathers people together. I have a four-year-old son and like everyone, finding that balance can be tough. But in the end, food brings us together. That is what drives me.