By Sue Moore
It’s true. Vicksburg native Vuong Loc, now a famous chef in Seattle, went up against the famous Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s TV program, “Beat Bobby Flay,” and came up with a very big win on March 23.
He first had to beat another contestant in the qualifying first round where he prepared a roasted red snapper in 23 minutes. The judges liked what they tasted, so it was on to face the kingpin of the show.
Loc was able to choose the challenge dish and picked Chicken Pho, the national dish of Vietnam, his early home. The Loc family escaped as the country was being overrun by the Viet Cong in the early 1970s. They resettled on Austin Lake and the children went to school in Vicksburg. All seven of his brothers and sisters live in this area as does his mother, Hue Loc, who Vuong said was very influential in his cooking prowess. “She is an amazing cook. I even took her mortar and pestle with me to use on the show,” Vuong said. His father is deceased.
“The cooking competition is very real,” Loc said. “There is a lot of planning and communication with the show [producers] before you arrive to do the shoot, which actually took place in April of 2016. I was sweating. The lights were very hot and things moved very fast. The judges were appreciative as they definitely know what good food in general tastes like.”
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of New York, Loc apprenticed in many different restaurants in Florida and Los Angeles. Loc began his career in Seattle 10 years ago when he opened a small store-front restaurant in the Queen Anne neighborhood – and called it Portage. He was named a rising star chef in 2009 and now has two restaurants in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, where the reviews have been great in the Seattle news magazines.
How to beat Bobby Flay? There are hints on his website that come from his colleagues who have been with Flay the longest and know his style.
“He brings really bold flavors to the table, so it’s really important to think about that, so that your dish actually stands up to his dish. Otherwise, his dish will overpower yours,” cautioned Giada De Laurentiis.
According to Alex Guarnaschelli, Bobby’s competitors need “a real sense of self, a real sense of culinary identity – the courage to kind of put aside the 700 ingredients in the pantry and just make something that›s really true to who [you are].”
“Keep it simple. Cook what you know. Aggressively season,” a contestant named Jeff advises.
According to the show’s host, Ted Allen, “Competitors should be really afraid….This is a very specific skill. You’re going up against one of the most fierce, talented, competitive cooks on the planet. Know what you can accomplish that is exciting and excellent fast. What’s the key to beating Bobby Flay? Probably being able to control your panic, and being able to focus and concentrate and be aware of what you can do with this ingredient in a short period of time.”
“We have at least 200 items in our pantry daily for both contestants and Bobby to have access to,” the show’s producer said. “Some of these 200 items include 30 kinds of spices (plus more as the season has gone on), 80 items in the dry pantry (including breads, vinegars, dried fruit, etc.), [and] 45 different kinds of fruits and vegetables. On set we would have about 100 pieces of equipment including food processors, blenders, knife blocks, cutting boards, pots and pans of all sizes, etc.,” she said.
Flay is good, Loc said. “You don’t get that far by chance. He was fast, had good ideas. You could tell he had cooked a lot.”
“Vuong is true to his Michigan roots – still quiet and unassuming but, man, is he talented! It’s always a special treat to have a meal at one of his places,” said Jackie Koney and John Kern, transplants from Seattle now living in Vicksburg.