How Viet Pham's Relationship With Vietnamese Cuisine Evolved - Exclusive

If chef Viet Pham is known for anything, it's his Nashville hot chicken chops. While he was formally trained and has a background in fine dining, whipping up some seriously savory hot chicken is really his claim to fame (it even helped him beat Bobby Flay). Now, he's running his own hot chicken joint, Pretty Bird Chicken, out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Pham, who grew up in California, is known for his global approach to cuisine, but he'd be the first to admit that his Vietnamese heritage had little influence on him at the start. "I don't cook any Vietnamese food. And I only started using Asian ingredients, specifically Vietnamese ingredients, in the last decade," he told Tasting Table.

However, Pham understands food is an important cultural bridge, whether you're looking to discover new parts of the world, or even learn more about your own background. For him, that means turning to Vietnamese foods and cooking styles to connect with the culture. "I try to incorporate as much of that into what I do, whether it's the story, the delivery, or the ingredients." In an exclusive interview, Pham opened up about how his relationship with his Vietnamese heritage has evolved, and how that plays out in his culinary career.

Viet Pham says he's learned to appreciate his Asian heritage

For Pham, growing up in the U.S. created a distance between the future chef and his heritage. "I wanted to be more American than I wanted to be Vietnamese," he told Tasting Table, adding, "We were the only Asian kids, so I wanted to do whatever I [could] to be more American." That impacted many aspects of his life, including the food he ate. "I wanted to eat more McDonald's because the more I ate of that, the more American I felt."

As an adult, Pham's perspective has changed. "Now that I'm older, my background, my heritage is my sense of identity, it's who I am." He says that definitely manifests in his culinary approach. "As you get older as a chef, I feel like you start to find more meaningful inspirations behind your dishes ... focusing on things that are relevant to your upbringing." For Pham, one of the biggest instances of that is his use of fish sauce in his cooking. "Fish sauce is really the one ingredient that has become my identity and my upbringing that has been put into our dishes," he says. "It can make bland dishes taste amazing." At Pretty Bird Chicken, you'll find it incorporated into their specialty sauce that is served with every piece of hot chicken. And when he's craving some authentic Vietnamese cooking, Pham says his favorite dish to enjoy is bánh xèo, a delectable Vietnamese crepe.