'Forbes under 30' chef puts Vietnamese restaurant on world map

March, 20/2022 - 07:40

A few years ago, a young Vietnamese university student in Finland who didn’t know how to use a kitchen knife, challenged himself in the best Michelin-starred restaurants in Scandinavia. He then returned home and opened the first Vietnamese tasting menu restaurant.

 

For 30-year-old Hoàng Tùng, T.U.N.G dining being in Asia's 100 Best Restaurants 2021 list was an extraordinary moment for the young chef, proving his chosen path was the right decision. Photo courtesy of T.U.N.G Dining

As head chef and co-founder of T.U.N.G Dining, one of two Vietnamese restaurants to be listed in Asia’s 100 Best Restaurants 2021, Hoàng Tùng is living his dream of putting Việt Nam cuisine on the world map. As the chef is named in the list of Forbes Under 30 Class 2022, Hoàng Hồ spoke with Tùng about his passion and dedication to get to the top.

A few years ago, a young Vietnamese university student in Finland who didn’t know how to use a kitchen knife, challenged himself in the best Michelin-starred restaurants in Scandinavia. He then returned home and opened the first Vietnamese tasting menu restaurant.

Inner sanctum: What was the turning point and inspiration that led you to the culinary world?

For me, this profession is destiny. Before, I was an international student at the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences. Although I had a full scholarship, I worked part-time at a restaurant.

Before starting, I didn't have any idea about this field as my parents prepared everything so that I could focus on studying. While working for the restaurant, my love for the kitchen was naturally nurtured. Combined with self-study and a little talent, I discovered my passion.

After graduating, I knocked on the doors of Michelin-starred restaurants to work for free because to become a great cook, you must be trained and moulded under excellent chefs.

At these restaurants, everything is carefully planned and ordered; every step has to be strictly followed. At first, when I was assigned to deal with carrots, I didn’t follow the instruction and peeled all of them. I even removed their leaves and stalks as is habit when cooking in Việt Nam. The chef had only asked me to wash the carrots without touching the peel and stalks as the purpose was for baking. I had to do everything over again. It was not only a waste of food but also a great lesson about working in high-end kitchen environments.

Inner sanctum: T.U.N.G Dining is the first Vietnamese restaurant to apply and elevate the tasting menu style, can you explain this idea?

T.U.N.G dining has always been my dream, with a friend from college. We’ve always wanted to come back to Việt Nam and open a high-end restaurant. In 2018, Việt Nam had a lot of room for tasting menu restaurants, so I thought this was a golden opportunity to make my mark.

The menu is divided into three parts with 20 dishes.

The first part is small dishes brought together with various flavours to stimulate the taste buds. For part two, diners enjoy each dish separately with an increasing taste bud structure from vegetables to seafood and meat. The final part is a dessert with small sweet dishes to serve with coffee or tea before ending the wonderful dining experience.

Between each part, diners will also experience a small dish to refresh their taste before moving on to the next part.

It’s like a tour to Europe where you can enjoy the magnificent classical beauty in famous cities like Paris, and simple but delicate flavours from Northern Europe. However, not all experiences will be delightful as you may also encounter problems and difficulties in other cities. These incidents create a diverse and interesting trip, but it also requires courage to step outside the boundaries of each city to immerse yourself in a challenge.

The tasting menu is just like that, diners need to have an open mind to cuisine because it is highly personal and creative.

 

Scallop and apple sauce with eryngium oil is one of Tùng’s favourite dishes. A simple combination of four ingredients: scallop, green apple, eryngium and pea. Photo courtesy of T.U.N.G Dining

Inner Sanctum: Were you worried that your idea would be unsuccessful? Are the results up to your expectations?

Very few people believed that I could succeed with this style in Việt Nam. They said I was too risky and needed to have backup plans for failure. Of course, worrying is necessary when we start something new, but we should turn those worries into hard work and dedication.

Almost every diner had to book weeks in advance in the first days. I was very surprised and delighted with those wonderful results. There had been a lot of reactions from customers: from very happy and excited to derisive, as this style was too new for them. Regardless, these are the reasons why T.U.N.G dining is here. People need time to adapt to a new eating style and a true high-class dining experience.

 

Elegant in design and decoration, T.U.N.G Dining attracts diners right at first sight. Photo courtesy of T.U.N.G Dining

Inner sanctum: What is your advice to the younger generation in your profession?

My advice is wrapped up in only three words: patience, humility and discipline.

Without being humble, a cook’s career will be much more difficult. Discipline is also very important. Discipline is the power of every restaurant. I learned that whatever happens during working hours, right or wrong, regardless of whether you like the head chef’s decision, “yes, chef” should be your only reply as everything will be solved afterwards.

The kitchen is like an army, and military orders are to be followed. Discipline can help you be a better version of who you were yesterday despite the feeling of not being satisfied with what you have achieved.

For Tùng (right), recent successes are not only his achievement but recognition for the whole team's efforts. Photo courtesy of T.U.N.G Dining

Inner Sanctum: Some might say T.U.N.G Dining is not a Vietnamese restaurant when looking at the menu, what’s your feeling about this?

For me, a Vietnamese restaurant is a place where food is made by Vietnamese with Vietnamese knowledge and spirit. Not all Vietnamese restaurants need to serve Vietnamese food. The younger generation needs to think outside the box to understand modern Vietnamese cuisine fully.

Although I’m not specialised in cooking Vietnamese food as I was trained in Europe, I've always researched Vietnamese cuisine and tried to combine Vietnamese cuisine with high-class cuisine through modern cooking techniques, bringing an international language to Vietnamese cuisine. VNS

 

T.U.N.G Dining

2C Quang Trung Street, Hà Nội

+84 85 9933970

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