Forced from their home by the Vietnam War, Vuong Loc’s family landed in Malaysia before a church group in the United States sponsored the family’s trip to begin a new life in Portage, MI. After studying classic French cuisine at The Culinary Institute of America, in 2000 Vuong moved to Seattle and opened his first restaurant, Portage, and his second, Pig’n Whistle, just two years later. These two restaurants earned Vuong a StarChefs Rising Stars Award in 2009. In 2014, he opened the classical French-influenced Pomerol and then his latest venture, the pizza-and-dumplings spot China Pie, next door.
Vuong joined Bon Appétit Management Company as the executive chef at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle in October 2012. “I had some time, and I wanted to work somewhere that was stable for my young family. Bon Appétit has been a great marriage.”
Vuong says that his public restaurant experience helps him be current with food trends and know what is happening in the local food scene. “With Seattle being such a small big city, a lot of my regular customers work here at Starbucks. They like it that I am here,” he says. “Bon Appétit has really let me grow in other cuisines. In a standalone public restaurant, you tend to have to follow one concept. Here we can create a new global menu every week!” He adds that working for Bon Appétit has also “really honed my people skills, given me more training in things like safety and sanitation, and allowed me to have a better understanding of our workforce.”
Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
The most inspirational person in my life is my mother. She is an amazing chef. She ran a small food stand on the fishing docks in Vietnam to make money. While growing up, we always had amazing food. In Michigan we grew our own vegetables, foraged for greens such as amaranth and watercress, hunted venison and game birds, and fished. We also raised our own chickens and ducks that produced eggs. I know that I was extremely lucky to grow up with such a strong food culture. And it’s stayed with me — I’ve kept my own chickens in Seattle for the last 10 years.
What’s your favorite food trend?
The one I grew up with — local foraging and harvesting the bounty of nature. I myself am an avid fisherman for salmon, clams, shrimp, crab, and cod. I also enjoy foraging for nettles, miner’s lettuce, and mushrooms. We’re spoiled in the Pacific Northwest.
Who has been your most exciting guest?
Probably Pearl Jam or Robert De Niro….I’ve also cooked for a couple presidents!