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Chef Spotlight: Seven questions and a recipe with Chong Vang

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 14, 2017, 4:01 p.m.

Chong Vang is the sous chef at Inland Pacific Kitchen.

He’s been cooking professionally for just more than three years, but has never made – or tried – Duck á l’orange. Find out more about the 31-year-old chef here.

What’s your favorite dish to cook at home? When I cook at home I cook simple meals; I could eat chicken and rice every meal and be perfectly happy. I’ve been eating boiled chicken soup and rice since as long as I remember. I love making food that I ate when I was younger including congee, chicken and rice, and papaya salad. These are my comfort foods.

Where do you eat when you eat out? I really don’t eat out too often but when I do it’s usually pho at Vina.

Who or what inspired you to become a chef, and how? I’ve always been interested in food but decided to go to business school. It wasn’t long until I realized I was miserable. I started working as a busser and moved into serving and bartending. This is when I seriously started considering a career in the industry. I enrolled in the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy and landed my first kitchen job at Santé, halfway through culinary school, and the rest is history.

What are your go-to ingredients? Being Hmong-American I grew up in two different cultures, eating two different types of food. My go-to ingredients range quite a bit depending on what I’m planning on doing, but I would have to say ginger root. It’s pretty versatile, and I use it in many different dishes. I love the simple combination of ginger and soy sauce or fish sauce, but also love it in sweet applications like gingerbread or a raspberry and ginger sorbet. My other go-to ingredients include lavender, chilies and honey.

What was the first dish a customer ever sent back to you, and how did you handle it? Someone ordered a vegan salad, and I put cheese in it. I felt really stupid for making such a dumb and simple mistake. I remade it and sent it back out. It’s never easy making mistakes, but it happens and the only thing you can do is fix it, learn from it, and then move on – quickly, too, because by that point you’re probably in the weeds.

What’s a dish you’ve never made but would like to, and why? Definitely the classics. Duck á l’orange is probably on the top of that list alongside bouillabaisse and others. I’ve never had duck á l’orange before, so it would be great to make it and try it.

What dish or ingredient best represents you? Bánh mì for sure; this one of the examples of two food cultures coming together to create something awesome. This is a Vietnamese sandwich that uses a French-style baguette and pâté along with cilantro and daikon. I don’t like the term “fusion” cuisine. All food has had influences from other cultures and has developed into what they are now; think of where we would be without the spice trade. That being said, I love experimenting; I draw inspiration from ingredients from all different cuisines.

Tomato Lemongrass Soup

When it comes to cooking, I definitely cook to the beat of my own drum. I play around in the kitchen a lot, this is my take on a classic; the lemongrass and kafir transforms this tomato soup into something special.

1 yellow onion

3 shallots

1 carrot

2 stalks celery

1 1/2 stalks lemongrass

2 teaspoon fennel seed

1 tablespoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 bay leaves

5 pounds heirloom tomatoes

2 cups coconut cream or milk

5 cloves garlic

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 pinches cinnamon

Kafir lime leaves

Chili oil (optional)

Dice yellow onion, shallot, carrot, celery and lemongrass. Add fennel seed, coriander, black pepper and bay leaves, and sweat on medium-low heat till onions are translucent.

Quarter tomatoes and add to pot along with the coconut milk and garlic. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer ingredients for 25-30 minutes.

Working in batches, blend all ingredients until smooth. Pass the soup through a chinois or a super fine strainer and discard leftover solids (there should be very little solids left over if blended thoroughly).

Return soup to the stove and add salt, sugar and cinnamon. Check soup for seasoning.

To serve, ladle soup into bowl, garnish with a super-fine chiffonade of kafir lime leaves and drizzle of chili oil.

Yield: about 8 cups