Last season’s Top Chef winner Hung Huynh, who previously cooked at Per Se, Gilt, Manhattan Ocean Club, and others, is back from a year and a half at Guy Savoy in Las Vegas — this week he started as executive chef at Solo. The Mediterranean-Asian restaurant happens to be kosher, meaning Huynh can’t use his beloved fish sauce or sherry vinegar. “I’m pretty limited to proteins,” he tells us. “I have to be a little bit more creative with my flavor profiles.” If Padma and Tom paid a visit, he says, he’d probably serve them his sweetbreads glazed with truffles and served with lemon-honey carrots. But forget what he’s cooking; we’re more interested in what he ate this week.
Friday, February 29
For breakfast I had sweetbreads and carrots because I was testing a dish. Right now I’m working on one or two dishes a day.
I was staying at the Hudson (now I’m living up at 71st and Columbus). For dinner about 2 a.m. I had a disgusting turkey sandwich at the Carnegie Deli. I had never been there. I wanted the processed turkey with more flavor, but they had this fresh, dry, roasted breast that they sliced up. Bland, flavorless, and bad. They kill you with all the meat. I ate half of the sandwich and got some meat off the other half.
Saturday, March 1
Family meal is pretty good — it’s usually chicken or chicken or chicken. I had a braised chicken and rice braised with red peppers and onions and rice.
For dinner around 2 a.m. I went to a deli next to the Carnegie and had a better sandwich — wheat bread, lettuce, tomato, and extra, extra mayonnaise. It was half the price, and it came with some chips, which I didn’t eat.
Sunday, March 2
I was in San Francisco. I had some mussels cooked in white wine and a piece of sourdough bread seared up in olive oil for lunch. I taught a cooking class there, and I ate some Dover sole with cauliflower; some rice cooked in mussels, scallops, and shrimp; and then I had pandan panna cotta that I made for a cooking demo.
For dinner I had one of the most amazing Chinese meals ever. It’s like a one-man show — this guy cooks everything banquet style. You show up at a certain time, and he bangs everything out. We had 30 courses, tiny little dishes: braised pork shin, shark fin with lotus root, tripe with shark fin, abalone sautéed with egg whites, fifteen varieties of pickled vegetables (from cucumber to tofus), shrimp sautéed in peppers, fish sautéed really naturally with garlic, and the best crispy orange beef. It’s thinly sliced but crunchy — it’s like eating a chip — with awesome pickled tangerines.
L.A. definitely has the best Chinese food and the best Asian food. It’s just like eating back home. In L.A. or Vietnam you get a whole platter of fresh herbs that you choose from with every dish. I wish some of the Vietnamese restaurants here had more traditional dishes. All we get is pho or rice and pork chop or common things, but on the West Coast you get the home-cooked meals. The real stuff.
Monday, March 3
For lunch I had a cheeseburger, which I don’t usually eat. It was from the Ritz-Carlton — average burger, no big deal. I do love Pop Burger — I used to eat that two, three times a week back in the day. I got on a plane, ate some peanuts, and had some ginger ale.
Tuesday, March 4
I tasted everything at work. I ate a roasted fennel, a piece of squash. I tasted some butternut-squash purée. And two cups of coffee.
Then I went home. I had another cheeseburger at the Hudson. It’s like $40 including tip — sucks! On an average night I’d be in Chinatown. The food I cook at work tends to be a little more Western. But on my days off I like to have rice, broth, a lot of herb and vegetables, with meat as a garnish.
Wednesday, March 5
I had a cup of coffee at 10 a.m., then I had half a corn muffin, and at work I ate glazed chicken with tomato and white rice (family meal again). For dinner I stopped at Empire Szechuan and had Mongolian lamb with a bunch of scallions, and white rice and some tea. Not too good. If I’m working, my diet’s not that great!