Top to Bottom is quick-fire interview series where we show off our cutest friends in the world of food.
For the second installment of Top to Bottom we are traveling to Brooklyn to eat some homemade hotpot with the ever so charming dessert chef Vanarin Kuch. Van is currently the head of the dessert programs at Chef Jesse Schenker’s restaurant’s The Gander and Recette, where he is using his skills in the kitchen to create one of a kind desserts.
So you were born in Texas?
Yes, I was born in Houston. My parents are Cambodian and came here as refugees.
Did your parents cook?
All the time, my mom is the most amazing cook. One of my favorite things about living and visiting Houston is my family’s garden; my aunts are growing things that you cannot find anywhere. My family also owned a doughnut and fried chicken shop in Houston, the Cambodian dream at the time.
That’s amazing! Did you work there?
I did. I would work there during the summers when it was slow and fry doughnuts.
How did you get involved in food, the Doughnut Shop?
In middle school and high school I was a gymnast and a cheerleader, I had the Olympic dream and everything. During my freshman year at University of Houston though I realized I didn’t know what I wanted, so I took a 10-month hiatus to figure things out.
How did you maneuver into desserts?
I was opening a hotel, and I always hung around the pastry chef who would eventually hire me to work under her. I moved to the restaurant Tiny Box Woods for a year and half where I was the pastry chef up until I left Houston. This was also when I got involved with Top Chef Desserts.
When and why did you make the move to New York?
I am a self-taught pastry chef, everything I know about cooking is from trying to make it myself. That drive combined with dissatisfaction with where I was working pushed me to sell my stuff and head east to New York.
So we obviously have to talk about Top Chef, what was that like?
Of course! So when I was working in Houston I was profiled in Star Chef, which is an industry oriented online publication. I guess Star Chef sent my profile to Top Chef and they really liked my energy and asked me to be part of the show. It was a really amazing experience; I knew if I didn’t do it I would regret it forever.
So after Top Chef and the move to New York what kitchen did you end up in?
I actually didn’t have a job, I just moved in with my sister. I have a great relationship with Star Chef; they were really helpful and they steered me towards a job at Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill. Gotham has to be one of my top New York kitchen experiences; it was a really great first gig. After Gotham I moved to a few other places throughout the city, I was trying to find a kitchen that I really vibed with.
How did you end up at The Gander?
A friend introduced me to the team and I was brought on. I have completely revamped the program there as well as Recette, which Jesse Schenker also owns.
How do you approach desserts?
What I love to do with desserts is take two really familiar dishes and make a love child out of them. Right now we are doing this crazy mix between hot coco and a chocolate German cake, we call it “The Hot German”. I love it. For me when you make desserts you have to remember that it’s optional, you have to make them want it. I want it to be familiar enough that you can taste it in your head.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city right now?
Uncle Boons! It is the best restaurant in the city, hands down! I also really love eating in Korea-town.
If you weren’t a dessert chef, what would you be doing?
An interior designer! I am constantly redoing and rearranging my apartment.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I want to own my own place. I have a very strong view about what a dining experience should be, and I really want to show that to people.