Written by: Summer Le (Executive Chef of Nén)

Something very special happened to me last week.

My restaurant was visited by Chef Dominique Crenn (World’s Best Female Chef 2016, Executive Chef of Atelier Crenn which owns 3 Michelin stars). She’s the first female chef in the USA to ever win 3 Michelin stars and was featured in one episode of Chef’s Table Season 2. Needless to say, she is one of the most influential chefs in the world, and somewhat a hero in this male dominant profession.

To say that I was excited to serve her is a severe understatement. And to think that I had almost accidentally rejected her reservation is something that I still freak out over.

It all came down when we had a full house reservation for a VIP group from Malaysia of 51 guests. With a group size like this, we normally like to keep them private without accepting reservation for any other table since it will not be a pleasant dining experience for all parties involved. But we had a small problem: another table for 2 had been reserved on the same night for one Ms Nicole.

Per our standard protocol, my manager emailed Ms Nicole and asked if she could be flexible with her schedule, which eventually turned out to be impossible since she just had a single night in Danang. Ms Nicole then asked my manager for a restaurant recommendation and mentioned that she is Sous-Chef at, and is travelling together with the Chef from a restaurant called Atelier Crenn in San Francisco and they really wanted to try our restaurant.

My manager was not aware of the magnitude of this information!

I learnt of that and totally freaked out as I should be, and immediately sent back an email asking Nicole if she could do lunch instead, or move to whenever convenient for them. My viewpoint on this was “Lunch, dinner, midnight, I don’t care. I have to serve this table”. Thank God, Ms Nicole accepted our offer to move her reservation to lunch time.

So then we opened for lunch for the first time ever with a smaller team than usual. I designed a longer menu than the standard one we were serving and basically changed the whole course’s structure, obviously to impress the two special guests. I pulled out all the dishes that I think best represent Nén’s philosophy from the old and new menus since the first day we opened one year ago. It came down to 8 main courses in total.

After the meal we sat down and discussed a few things related to culinary and cuisine. Chef Dominique shared that Vietnamese is one of her favourite cuisines in the world. She commended my efforts to keep our ingredients as local as possible and remarked that this should be the trend, using local ingredients instead of importing. She was very gracious, down to Earth and full of energy.

Nicole was also great! Turned out she is Vietnamese in heritage and she really did enjoy the food and the experience. To me, our strictest critics tend to be Vietnamese since they know the cuisine so well. If I can impress them, I’d say we have done a good job. Since it was her birthday, we prepared a surprise birthday cake and hope she had a memorable day.

I wish I had had more time to talk to Chef Dominique and Nicole and discuss more about all things food but we parted with an appointment to visit Atelier Crenn in San Francisco because I had 51 guests to take care that night. But it really was a very humbling yet so encouraging experience, one that gives me a lot of inspiration to go to my own kitchen and cook something good!

  

P.S About two hours after they left, Chef Dominique posted a review of Nén on her Instagram. Needless to say, I passed it to the whole team and we were all over the moon!