Uyen Nguyen


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Pastry Chef Uyen Nguyen

Guy Savoy | Las Vegas


Uyen Nguyen always knew she wanted to pursue a career in food; it was just a matter of timing. Born in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, Nguyen’s family moved to the United States, setting up house in southern California. Despite her culinary inclinations, Nguyen attended the University of California, Irvine and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations. With the traditional college degree out of the way, she felt the time was right to embark on her culinary career. She packed her bags and moved to Paris to attend Ecole Lenotre. Nguyen excelled in pastry and after receiving her Grand Diplome, she stayed in France and worked at Patisserie Gaulupeau in Versailles.

Nguyen returned to the States and landed a job in the pastry kitchen of Le Cirque in Las Vegas. The heavily French-leaning kitchen was just the right stepping stone for fresh-from-France Nguyen. While at Le Cirque, Nguyen perfected her technique and learned the ins and outs of being a pastry chef in big-volume Vegas. Nguyen then moved down the strip to Fleur de Lys in Mandalay Bay.

But when the offer came, Nguyen couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work with legendary French chef Guy Savoy in his first American restaurant Restaurant Guy Savoy in Caesars Palace. Here, Nguyen puts her classic French training to task, explores modern techniques, and presents her sweet courses with a minimalist and serene beauty that is all her own.

Nguyen led a workshop on pastry plating and presentation at this year’s International Chefs Congress, held annually in September in New York City.

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Antoinette F. Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Uyen Nguyen: I think it’s just always been inherent. Despite going to University and traveling, I always wanted to come back and do culinary.

AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
UN: My first Vegas experience was at Le Cirque — it set the foundation for me. I learned a lot coming from France; it was a good stepping stone and transition. Also Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay and Pâtisserie Gaulupeau (France).

AB: Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs? 
UN: I think if you take it seriously. Some people treat it like college and just party because there are no exams and stuff. But if you go to the right school and take it seriously, you can get a lot out of it.

AB: Who are some of your mentors?
UN: Gaston Lenôtre and my mom.

AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
UN: Who is your favorite pastry chef and why?

AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
UN: To be really ready to work hard. It shows right away in a kitchen if you're not willing to put in the hours and work hard. You have to be ready to work hard and really pursue it.

AB: Is there an ingredient that you like to work with , that you feel is particularly underutilized or underappreciated in pastry?
UN: Right now we have a dessert on the menu with young coconut. [With young coconut’] you have the fresh water with hundreds of nutrients, and the flavor – the meat inside is very, very flavorful. Most people just drink the water inside.

AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
UN: I like everything salty. We like to add a subtle amount of salt to our pastry – it brings out the flavors. Also fruit and herbs — basil goes with everything, it's everyone's best friend. When it's used correctly, it can be great.

AB: What is your best pastry resource?
UN: I'm a big fan of Matfer [Bourgeat] tools — very, very expensive but they're good.

AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
UN: Robot Coupe.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
UN: Dessert Cuisine by Oriol Balaguer.

AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? 
UN: I want to go to Bologna, Italy because I want to learn gelato. It's totally different from French or American ice cream. It’s all about texture and consistency. I'd love to do that.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants, off the beaten path, in your city? 
UN: Settebello for the pizza; Harbor Palace for the dim sum.

AB: Where do you like to eat pastry?
UN: In town — Jean-Philippe [Patisserie] at the Bellagio.

AB: What is your pastry philosophy?
UN: To bring out the best of the product. Watermelon should taste like watermelon. Use other things to bring out that flavor, like salt on watermelon, but just to bring out the essence.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the industry now?
UN: I see in pastry more of a melding of flavors of savory and pastry, with savory techniques and ingredients. I think people are moving more to achieve that.

AB: What are your top three tips for pastry success?
UN: 1) Use weight, not volume
2) Don't over-whip anything!
3) Temperature is key

AB: Which person in history would you most like to cook for?
UN: Gaston Lenôtre, the founder of the school I went to in Paris. 

AB: Who would you most like to cook for you?
UN: Paco Torreblanca, an amazing Spanish pastry chef.

AB: If you weren’t a pastry chef what do you think you’d be doing?
UN: I don't know, some hippy traveling abroad, seeing 3rd world countries, and being grateful for what I have.

AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
UN: A salon-de-thé. My own thing — not a restaurant.


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   Published: October 2008