Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Psst! Bravo Judges! If You Really Want Personal Drama for Hung Huynh, We've Got Some Right Here

Picture it, possums. Sicily, 1923. Wait, wrong opening.

Instead, picture this. We call it "Bleak Housatonic."

A Vietnamese family comes to this country after much struggle, tragedy, and war-related travail, and ends up settling not in Orange County or in San Jose, where there are large Vietnamese communities, but in rural Massachusetts, in the Berkshires. The family opens a restaurant in order to have a livelihood, and parents and children spend all their time there, trying to make a go of the restaurant, which becomes respected and popular. One of the family's sons becomes a cook, eventually attends culinary school, and ends up working for none other than Guy Savoy.

And then, as The Berkshire Eagle reports, tragedy strikes again:

"On Oct. 20, 2004, a dump truck and an oil tanker collided near the intersection of Clarkson Road and West Housatonic Street, causing 7,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil to spill into the parking lot of the Dragon Restaurant. The accident and subsequent cleanup caused the Huynhs to close the Vietnamese eatery — which the family had operated since 1983 — for an entire year."

The mother, who was the restaurant's sole chef, "developed pneumonia that resulted in multiple bouts of headaches, coughing, fever and shortness of breath, as well as anxiety and emotional distress from inhaling the oil fumes." She never returned to work at the restaurant. In financial straits, the family was forced to sell their house, and move into an apartment near the restaurant.

The family filed suit against the trucking company, and now, two days before the world finds out whether the culinary-school graduate will win arguably the most prestigious cooking competition in the country, the brother who was forced to give up his own dreams and take over the restaurant since their elderly, infirm mother couldn't, took the stand to testify against the company that nearly ruined their lives.

And there you have the story of Hung Huynh, his brother Huy van Huynh, and his mother Thoung van Huynh.

Is that sad and soulful enough for you, Bravo? Is it feel-good and Dickensian enough to give him the title of Top Chef?

You're welcome.


Ana said...

Here is a quote from Anthony Bourdain's blog on Bravo about top chef...

And for those commentators here who wonder what "heart" or "soul" means -- in relation to food (The judges frequently reward Casey with the remark that her food is somehow more "soulful" than others. That she has "heart") -- let me make it simple for you. They mean her food has a pleasing FLAVOR. Chefs usually mean -- when talking about "soul" ( or "heart") -- that the food has a depth of flavor that is both exciting and somehow, strangely, comfortingly familiar. As if the ingredients belong together the way macaroni and cheese -- or peanut butter and jelly -- or other, similarly beloved childhood combinations feel "just right."

Anonymous said...

They kind of hold the contestants at a different standard. Hungs constantly making dishes that get nothing but positive remarks, except for the "well this just isnt blowing me away". Everyone else just has to make some really good food. He not only has to make really good food, but he has to knock their socks off in order to make in impression. Its like because his talent is a given they dont even bother to try and hold him at the same level as the other chefs.

and I understand what Bourdains saying, but after the coffee molasses mole and the hot sauce ice cream it seems more like luck than actual natural instincts. And am i the only one who noticed that Caseys palette only became a topic of discussion after the cooking bee. Id watch the blind taste off on the bravo website if you want to proof of Hungs equally as impressive palette.

charmingdinnerguest said...

Hung deserves to win. He is fierce.
His skills are so far above the others, they have to look for other qualities to judge him on.

Why don't they just lose the political correctness (needing a woman to win) and just let Hung win as he deserves to.

charmingdinnerguest said...

Don't know why my whole comment became a link...

Anonymous said...

Good post.

Anonymous said...

I have family throughout Pittsfield and I have eaten at Kim's Dragon. You wouldn't expect quality Asian food in the type of town that usually features greasy all you can eat Chinese buffets but believe me its there (their spring rolls are godly). If Hung is half the cook his mom and brother are, he deserves to win.

Anonymous said...

Chef Bourdain's definition of "heart and soul" with respect to food -- certainly that aspect of it dealing with the "comfortingly familiar"-- is a thoroughly non-objective standard on the basis of which my mother, who will certainly not be remembered as a particularly good cook, could just as easily claim the title "Top Chef": those dishes she did know how to cook and cooked often were always filled with flavor and comfortingly familiar.

I think the best assessment of Hung's way with flavors was provided by Dorothy Cann Hamilton at the French Culinary Institute who, upon eating all of Hung's chicken dish, practically licked her plate clean. I might also point out that it was Mr. Bourdain, himself, who awarded Hung the Elimination Challenge prize for his fantastic geoduck and black chicken dish earlier in this competition.

That fact of the matter is that French Haute Cuisine -- the type of cooking Hung loves and at which he excels -- is all about the subtle and delicate balance of flavors and textures and the technical finesse required to achieve it. It is not, necessarily, about Big, Bold, In-Your-Face flavor profiles, those which both Dale and Casey put forth with such applomb and that every good home cook depends upon.

The result is a decided built-in imbalance among these three finalists, an imbalance reflecting perfectly the imbalance between the the Judge's own apparent personal preferences with respect to the kinds of flavors they want (big and bold) and the quite obvious and undeniable fact of Hung's technical polish and sophistication.

Lastely, I found Chef Ripert's remark to the effect that Hung's flavors were "almost too controlled" to be positively risible: it is precisely this extraordinary control (and finesse!) that has contributed to the well-deserved success of his own stellar restaurant, Le Bernardin, an establishment I have frequented many times over the years.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Tom Colicchio criticize Hung for not looking to his roots for cooking inspiration?

It seems to me that since VietNam and the whole area (French Indo-China) was controlled by the French from the 1880s to the 1950s we can
be sure French and Vietnamese cuisine had intermingled.

I'm sure Hung is calling on his heritage when he cooks.

Tom, you'll have to try a little harder to discredit Hung. I'm sure you'll come up with something.

Marius said...

Charming, the fat lady has yet to sing. :) Casey is quite capable of winning this competition. Although the judges have praised her food, they've also pointed out her flaws. May the best man or woman win. That's what I say.

Anonymous said...

What was driving me nuts when reading that article is that "van" wasn't capitalized. It's a vietnamese *middle* name, not part of the last name, like 'van Winkle" or anything like that. gah.

Honey Bunny said...

blah. it still doesn't make me like him any more. he's arrogant and has no soul, and doesn't seem like a well rounded individual. but that's my opinion. i was rooting for dale.

b3tti3 said...

I really don't care how great of a chef Hung is, he's also a huge jerk, and not even a particularly interesting one. He kisses the judges' asses before the tasting, and then when he receives criticism, brushes it off with a "Well, they just don't get it. What i made was perfect, and if you don't like it, you're too dumb to eat it." Or something along those lines. So okay, maybe he deserves to win, but i still don't have to like him. And i love, LOVE how he's Mr. Technically Perfect the whole season, and then when Tom says something about soul to him before the finale, suddenly he's cooking "with a touch of love." What a d-bag.