Ten Minutes with Thuy Nguyen // Chef Celeb and Island Icon

By Valerie Reinke

Thuy Nguyen has been part of the Bainbridge restaurant scene since 2008. As she’s changed locations, her concept has evolved from Roosters Café with its menu of coffee, pastries and sandwiches; to Roosters Café and Thuy’s Pho House, which combined the café menu with Vietnamese and other Asian fare; to the latest, Thuy’s, which still serves pho, the aromatic noodle soup from Vietnam, as well as dim sum on the weekends.

Nguyen’s other favorite enterprise, her family, has seen some recent changes too. All five Nguyen children attended Bainbridge schools and now her youngest has graduated.

What has been the inspiration for your restaurants?

I grew up in the restaurant business. My parents had a restaurant and a fishing company in Vietnam. I started cooking when I was about 5 with the little things. I would mix, I would wash, I would make rice. I have this deep passion for food.

What’s the secret for delicious pho?

I get up at 5 a.m. to start the beef stock. When I cook small batches 8 gallons it simmers for at least 16 hours. I add a minimum of 10 ingredients.

Which restaurants are you drawn to?

I love to see what street vendors are doing. I also appreciate how hard the mom and pop restaurants work. I tell my kids, someone’s grandmother is back there making tortillas, soup, bread or dessert.

Which recipes have been handed down to you?

My pho recipe was handed down to me from my dad. Everyone cooks in my immediate family my parents, siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts. We have all kinds of specialty foods that we do at home. Once I get everything lined up here I would love to do some of those dishes like beef stew, banh xeo (Vietnamese crepes), and more.

On your day off what do you want to eat?

Something different besides Vietnamese food! I cook Italian or Mexican or Indian. I love trying different foods. I’ve learned so much from other styles.

What do you do when you have free time?

Gardening and cooking are my two favorites. The thing is, it’s fun when you’re cooking for your family. You get to socialize and connect. When I was growing up we were very poor but we always had food and we would eat together.

What makes you laugh?

Everything! Honestly, I’m just a happy person.When you come from a war-torn country you don’t take anything for granted.

Dream travel destination?

I would love to take my family back to Vietnam just to visit. I haven’t been back since I left in 1975. I would love to see where I was born, my hometown. I’m sure it’s very different now.

Where’s the rooster sculpture?

It’s in my front yard right now! I need to bring it over here.

Now that all of your kids have graduated, does the nest feel empty?

Actually it’s more like, “Thank God!” I saw (school superintendent) Peter Bang-Knudsen and he said, “Thuy, you’re done!” He was so happy for me. Having five kids in the schools, volunteering throughout the years, I’ve been able to support the community, and vice versa, the community has supported us. We have been blessed in so many ways.

Thuy Nguyen // Chef Celeb and Island Icon