Chef Series: Yia Vang Interview

(rhythmic music) – Hello everyone, my name is Kyle Cherek and I am here with Yia Vang and this is the Madison
College Chef Demo Series presented by Vollrath. Chef Yia, good to see you, buddy. – Thanks for having me. – Yeah, so you are Chef Yia Vang of currently Union Hmong Kitchen – Yup. – In Minneapolis. And I wanted you here in this series because you’re different
than all the other chefs in the sense that you don’t
actually have a restaurant. You have a concept, you
have a recurring popup, you got a hope and a dream and you’re cooking in a
style that’s different than a lot of other people at the moment. So, let me just, I’ll tee that up for you and you tell me. – Yeah, so for about a year now, we have a residency we’re doing. So there was Sociable Cider Werks which is a cider brewery
up in Minneapolis. They decided hey, we wanna
build out like a food trailer. And so we kinda had this really
great relationship with them so they’re like, “Hey, would you guys like “to kinda be our first…” And so we help them– – And then Hmong cooking and a really old sort of
Northern European cider style naturally mesh together beautifully. – Well, you know what’s
really interesting is Hmong food works really
well with, drinking wise, works well with ciders.
– Interesting. – It works well Pilsners,
lagers and light beer. It goes really well with Hmong food, which… I tell people a lot of
South East Asian food, beer goes really well. And such– – That I know. Sure, sure. – Yup, so a lot of the
concept is from Southeast Asia and so when they decide to build that out, they said, “Hey, here it is “and you guys can now just
run the food program.” So for about almost a year
now, we’ve been in the trailer. So that’s kind of where we kind of– we don’t call it a brick and mortar we call it our straw and mud place. (Kyle laughs) because if you fall down at any minute, if the wind blows hard enough, and sometimes the wind
does blow kinda hard. – If the big bad wolf comes by. – Sometimes the wind does blow kinda hard. We’re like, “Oh, is today the day, guys?” Two months ago we had squirrels
chew through our gas lines, so we were shut down for two days, trying to figure–
– Oh! – Yeah. And so it’s like now I’m like, they drew first blood. So now we’re finding all of them. – So is it a day to day operation? Or is it a monthly? – It is a six days a week operation. So in any way we just tell
people that it’s our restaurant, it’s not your typical ‘restaurant’ was everyone always thinks through. But it’s our restaurant, it’s ours. And what’s really interesting
is before that then, we would do pop-ups. Like once a week we find
a restaurant somewhere– – That’s how The National Press found you. – Yeah, we were very blessed for that. Our very first pop-up,
we were very blessed to have a food writer from town, from the Twin Cities who
actually wrote about us before we actually even
did our first pop-up. So it was like, I felt like
there was a lot of pressure. – Just could say, “No
pressure whatsoever!” – Yeah. And I think by that time, we didn’t even have a name yet. They just knew that, oh, you’re thinking about doing Hmong food? – And so yeah, – So you’re, so this is
like guerrilla warfare, it’s camping, it’s MASH unit. It’s like that sort of thing. And this is the equipment talk. So how… One, what do you need? Two, what do you use? And three, what do you wish you had? – So we jokingly always say, “Every time there’s a problem,
we have to figure it out.” We say, you know like
MacGyver, remember that? We always call it Hmong-Gyver. (Kyle laughs) So we’re like, we’re gonna
Hmong-Gyver the situation. So we have places, no joke Kyle, where we’re like, “Man,
if the Health Department “came in right now, I don’t know.” So we had all these like
little rinky-dink grill that we would sit in the alley and we’ll grill food
off of, stuff like that. I think one of the
things that we use a lot, is our induction burners. Because we can take it anywhere, and they pack easy. So when we had– We had a lot of like younger
college guys work for us, and they love moving stuff. Because as I got older,
I’m like, “I’m not moving “all this stuff anymore.” – Older, how old are you? – I’m 35, but still– – Yeah, I’m 49, you’re fine. – It’s a young man’s game now. Like just moving stuff, I was
just like, “I’m so tired.” So when we get these college kids workers, we were like, “Guys,” teaching them how to just, like, “Hey, if we can get
these induction burners, “and we put them and
we pack them up right, “it makes our whole
moving process easier.” – And the control and all that. – Yeah, definitely. We in the wintertime, we do
a lot of soups and curries. So just– Tell me about the, what’s
the name of the thing you’re about to launch. – Oh, yeah, yeah. So we’re launching this. There’s these mini Publix we want to throw all over the Twin Cities and we want, it’s called Slurp Shop.
(Kyle laughs) Basically, it’s three
kinds of noodles will do and then like a rice ball. And it’s such a easy concept to do because the equipment
you need is not a lot. It’s big boiler pots and induction burners and then get you a little
cold miso plated out and throw everything in the bowl. – Yeah, yeah. So you grew up with Hmong cooking that your parents were
incredibly unapologetic about, as I understand your story. – Yeah, yeah they definitely were. – I mean like you did not have
Lunchables for your lunch. – No, but I wanted Lunchables like, So imagine this, you go to school, right? And all the kids pull out– – In small town Wisconsin. – Yeah, so we did my elementary year– – Like central Wisconsin. – Yeah, yeah. So that that was middle
school, high school was there but my elementary years were, I was out in East Coast, so
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. So it’s like–
– Like Amish cooking? – Yeah, so it was the
Amish, the Mennonites, and then the white kids and then us. So we knew we weren’t white. But we also knew we
weren’t Amish or Mennonite so the white kids always
like, “What are you guys?” And so, but imagine you
go to school, right? – I’m from Laos, dude. – Yeah, right? And it was hard to explain. Like, we’re not Laotian, we’re not Thai, we’re Hmong and they’ll be
like, “Oh, you’re what?” And you’re just like, “I’m just a person.” – Well, because the Hmong are the gypsies and I mean that in a good way. – Definitely. Yeah. – Of… – SouthEast Asia.
– SouthEast Asia. Yeah, there’s no question. – Yeah. So the Hmong people, we can trace them back to Western China. And our people are agricultural people, so we we move as a people group because we find land
that we can farm from. So our people have always,
go where the land is good. – The Song Dynasty took
notes off of the Hmong people and how to interface rice production. I mean, this is World Food history. You guys taught the Song Dynasty how to triple the rice production. – Yep. So in the hills of China. The history has been taken back to there. So with all of that, it
was hard to explain as, when you’re like a six,
seven year old kid, that’s hard to explain– – That’s a lot. (laughs)
– to your friends, right? – I just want to eat my lunch. – Yeah, I just want to eat
my lunch and left alone. So my mom would pack us this lunch. But then she put in
the hot sauce she makes or have fish sauce in
it and stuff like that. And when you open your
lunch, it’s smell different than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a ham and cheese sandwich, right? And then the kids would,
you know, kids are mean man, I still can’t hear their voices today. They’ll make fun of you,
they’ll kind of be like, “Oh, why does your food stink? “What are you eating? “Why are you eating that?” And so all I ever wanted was Lunchables, especially the pizza Lunchables, where you squirt the
little red sauce and oh! – That’s a product at the devil. – Yeah, I was a kid, that’s all I wanted. I wanted my mom to go to the store. When we go to store I’m
like, “Could you get bread “and Kraft cheese and
Bologna and like mayo” And I just want to make those sandwiches. But she would be like, “No, we have rice. “Why would you need that?” And so for me, when I was a kid, it was really hard for me to
wrap my head around Hmong food, or even like it or even be happy about it. And so my whole life or until my adulthood was running away from actual
Hmong food, Hmong culture. So it’s so funny as they get older, the more you run from something, you actually you loop back to it. So like the further I ran, actually, the harder it drew me back. And that for me that’s kind of been the culinary narrative that
I’ve been running with. And even when I got my first cooking job, I worked in an Italian restaurant. It was just like, “Great. “I’m going to learn how
to make Italian food. “I’m going to learn how to make sauces. “I’m going to learn how to do Bolognese. “I’m going to learn all this stuff.” And after that, I started
working at restaurants that were more, I worked at a place that was
like a Tex-Mex barbecue place and which I love. I love working with fire. And then got into some of the French place and learning French techniques and stuff. And so it was everything I did was like, “I don’t ever want to do Hmong food.” Because there was this part of
me that was so ashamed of it. But it was so funny that
after a few years in college, and when I come home– – I was going to say,
“And yet here we are.” – So my mom would always talk
about, “Hey, you should make “this food or learn how to
make this kind of food.” And I’ve told her I said,
“Mom, I will never cook–” I said, “I will never cook Asian food.” I even said, “I’ll never cook Hmong food.” – So I’m going to read
something from your website, – Oh no! – from Union Kitchen. And this cannot be paraphrased, which is why I’m pulling off my phone. – Yeah. – Starting Union Hmong Kitchen,
serves as a passionate, tireless, funny and forgiving
advocate of Hmong food as an expression of Hmong culture. Funny, I get, because I know you. Forgiving? – Yeah, so… So here’s what, So this is the part where I sometimes get a little emotional,
but when you’re a kid, you’re kind of dumb and
you just say dumb things. And I remember as a kid, I would be so embarrassed of the food that my mom would make for me, right? And so when I go to school, I would actually throw it away. But keep the Tupperware
and come back and be like, “Oh, yeah, I ate it.” But I was just so done with that. And I remember as an, now as I reflect on that, and as an adult, the way that we’re doing the food now, which all comes from
my mom and dad’s table, which is something that they’ve taught me, things that I’ve watched, I guess in a way, when
we’re doing the food that we’re doing for a restaurant, it’s my way of saying sorry. – It’s an amend. – Yeah, it’s my way of saying sorry. Like I’m so sorry. I was sorry that my parents
didn’t speak English, so I was always embarrassed
to bring a friend. So we never had friends over. Because my friends would always be like, “Well, why can’t your
parents speak English?” And you’re a kid, you don’t
know how to explain that. So I was always so embarrassed of them. But now, no matter what happened, as I look back in my own life, no matter what happened in my childhood, we never knew hunger because my parents always
made sure that we were fed. And that was their love language. Like my dad wasn’t a big physicist or wasn’t a mathematician or whatever. He was a carpenter. He worked with his hand. He made sure that we were always fed. And I take that over the education and the diplomas that he
could ever have received. And so I see the kind of man my dad is, I see the kind of mother my mom is today, and I wouldn’t trade that. And everything we do, I want to make sure that I reflect them. And so it’s no longer Yia’s food or Union Kitchen’s food or whatever, I don’t care. I don’t give a turd
about any of that stuff. What really matters to
me is they hear the story of my mom and dad. At the end of the day, I
want my parents’ legacy to keep going from their
table, to our table, to the people’s table. So when you come and you eat with us, and you’re in that whole
spirit of hospitality, their legacy, I want
that to be inside of you. So then when you go back to your house, you’re influenced to knock
on your neighbor’s door and say, “Hey, we just had
this great experience here, “we want to share a little
bit of that with you.” – You should come with us. – Yeah, and not even
come to the restaurant but like just come to your house. That whole thing of hospitality. And so the forgiving part
is me, in a way, saying, “Mom, Dad, I’m so sorry.” Like, I was sorry, I was a silly kid who always was ashamed and who always didn’t
talk about them much. – Have you said as much to them? Or have you just cooked for them? – No, you know, in Asian culture,
especially Hmong cultures, you don’t really talk your emotions, you show your emotions. More like you just do it, you know? But I hope that they– – Truth for action is
pretty admirable anyway. – And that’s the way my father raised me. He was always one of those that’s like, “You can say a lot of things but you just gotta get it done.” – Yeah, I like it. So you’re in the weeds,
you’re in your brick and no, mud and, what it– – Mud and straw. – Mud and straw, it’s
not a brick and mortar, mud and straw, doing your thing, six days a week. Minneapolis, and its food writers and PBS and Eater and
the world are flocking to have your kind of Samin Nosrat’s salt, fat, acid heat are rice… What are they rice, lime,
what are those four– – Yeah so we always say
that when it comes to, and we will show it today, But if you come to my mom’s house and she’s making dinner for you, there’s gonna be four
elements on the table. It’s going to be a rice, a
protein, a veggie or a broth, sometimes that’s mixed together. and then the hot sauce.
– That’s it. – And the hot sauce is the
thing that ties together. – Those are the salt, fat, acid, heat of your cooking? So you’re in there and what are you using day
to day to cook with? What could you, if we dropped you in the middle of South
Beach Food and Wine. You said, “I just need
these five things, people.” – Like ingredients wise or? – No, like stuff, like
equipment, like pots pans. Or you can go down the ingredient path. Because most chefs, like the Italian chefs
that you cooked with, or the French chefs that I know, if you really locked them in a box, you’d be like, “If I
just had these things, “I could still cook my spirit.” You know what I mean? So what are those things for you? – So ours really is simple. So Hmong food in a
nutshell is pretty simple. You know, I say it’s
simplicity in ingredients, but it’s complex in flavors, like there’s a reason
why we do what we do. So a lot of time, it’s a heat source. So we have a heat source,
like I said before, even something like an induction burner or just a fire. – A little brazier in the street. – Yeah, that and then
some kind of pot or pan where if we can bray something,
we can stew something. And, and a cutting board
and that’s basically it. Yeah, and obviously your
knives and junk like that, and that’s basically it. So here’s the deal, when I
cook at home with my mom, my mom cooks, like a home
cook, it’s just like, boom, everything kind of goes together. Like I’ve been trained in
these French restaurants where you got to have your mise en place, everything’s white. We’re clean, you work better work clean. You know, it’s just so regimented. And then when I cook with my mom, it’s like, “I can’t handle this.” You gotta throw these scraps away. We have to clean this area. – You’re not working
the brigade system, mom. But I watch my mom and dad
do it where they literally it’s like a little corner
with a cutting board and they do the whole meal there. And they just know the process of like, “Hey, this is when we put this in,” “the waters ready at this,” I learned how to grill from my father. My dad– – Which is primal. I mean that’s such a human skill. And it’s so core to what we do. And it’s like, I tell
people, it’s his legacy man. He would take every house
that we were part of, that we moved to. If there was a fire pit in the back, he’d take that and turn it in, like he Hmong-Gyvered it
(Kyle laughs) and turned it into some kind
of grill or some smoke thing. I remember I was 12 or
13 you go out there, all your uncle’s would be out
there and we’re grilling pork. So they would get a whole
pig from the Amish farmers and we break it down and then
they would start grilling. And I remember I was 13 or 12 or 13, I was out there and my dad
was walking in to the house and he gives me this tong
you know those scrawny tongs with the wirery tongs– – Yeah, yeah. – He handed it to me and I remember I saw this light coming down and it was like you trained
your whole life for this kind of moment? And I remember I grabbed it and I went over there
and I stood by my uncles and I felt like I was one of the guys. – Sure. – I was like 12 years old and I remember I flipped the first, the pork that was over the grill, I flipped it and my uncle was showing me and my dad was showing me
like what the hotspots were, how you want the embers
to be, the distance and all that stuff and that’s what we do on a day to day basis at
our little food trailer and what I tell people too is like, and then the guys work with us I’m like, some of the guys who work there, worked at big fancy kitchens and I’m like, “Look this
is gonna really teach you to your core, how to cook.” When there’s nothing. – This is like ballet first
position, second position. Like you get those– – I remember when my
ballet years definitely– (both laugh) – Just go with the analogy chef. Just go with the analogy. (laughs) Why? And I know the reason why, but why does everybody love your food? (Yia laughs) I mean, you sort of an
unprecedented wave of enthusiasm for a cuisine that’s been
around for a long time. You’re certainly not the lone chef. You’re not the only Hmong chef that’s cooking within an Asian
tradition, a Hmong tradition. – I totally agree. – Yeah, so what’s up, dude? – Yeah. You know, I ask
myself that question too. Like, sometimes when we see our sales, they’re part of, my
people pay money for this? Sometimes I do that. I don’t know. There’s the cheesy answer of
like, “It’s made with love, “whatever.” I think there’s a soul element to it. I think a lot of it comes from
learning from my mom and dad and seeing what they do and then riff it. So my mom and I, we talk
a lot of recipes a lot. Like she’ll be like, “Oh,
I had this great idea.” – Oh really? – Yeah, and she’ll be like, she’ll tell me and like, “Oh, cool.” And so my mom, she’s a
home cook like she always, she will admit to this and she says on camera all the time, she’s like, “I’m not a good
cook, but I just love to cook.” So, I think that if my dad wasn’t around, my mom wouldn’t have that
purpose to cook anymore. Because, what would I do literally is I would just introduce new ingredients, like for example, I
brought home a bunch of, So my mom and dad are at home and the way that I win favor a lot of times, it was just bringing them fun ingredients. And so I literally brought
home like 10 pounds of Littleneck Clams. They’ve never, my mom’s
never cooked with Littleneck. Like she knows Manila Clams but she’s never cooked with Littleneck clams and
I came and brought her and she’s like, “Well, how do I do this?” and I’m like, “Well,
mom it’s kind of like, “it’s kind of like mussels, you know?” And my dad loves clams and mussels. So I brought it home and he’s like, “Okay, I’ll make this for your dad” or I introduced bronzini to them. They love it. My mom keeps calling it the Greece fish or the fish from Greece. And I’m always like, “Yeah the bronzini.” So that’s one of my dad’s favorite dishes when she does that, or like king crab or I’ll bring that– – So does she Hmongify it or does she try to, like does your mom then
grab Lidia Bastianich’s book – And say, “I’m gonna
do this Lidia style.” – Nope, it’s whatever, like
during the summer and fall, it’s whatever she has in her garden, she’ll just pull it out
or then or we’ll go to an Asian market and she’ll
just get some stuff there. But I love that though because it’s not in this
really narrow way of thinking. So this is what I tell people, people always ask me,
“What is Hmong food?” – Right. And I always say, “Hmong
food isn’t a type of food, “it’s a philosophy of food, “it’s a way of thinking about food.” And what’s really cool about that, Kyle, is that in Hmong food there’s freedom. Because our people, I would say if you want to know the
story of our people, look at our food because our food actually
tells the story of our people. Our cultural DNA is intricately woven into the foods that we eat. So if you want to know where
the Hmong people have been, or what cultures they have settled by, watch the way we eat, look
at the food that we eat. – So you’re continuing that, because when the elders,
when the Hmong elders, when you cook something for, I think it was The Hmong
Farmers Association, right? And the elders are like, “Naah,
that’s not how you do that.” – Yeah, yeah. – But you’re continuing
that because you’re like, “Dude, we’re in Minnesota now. “Here’s what we have. We’re no longer in Laos,
Thailand, refugee camp, what have you.” – So one of the things that started out as a joke
between a chef friend of mine about probably a couple years ago, was we did the Minnesota Hmong hot dish. It started out as
(Kyle laughs) a funny haha joke but then– – Like the casserole? – Yeah, so we did the
Minnesota Hmong hot dish, we called it that. And it became our biggest seller to the point where we can’t run anymore because we just don’t have
enough space in the trailer to keep up with it. – So do people relate? Or is it a novelty and curiosity? – I think there’s a curiosity first, like, “Haha, like this
is going to be those “stunt burgers type thing.” – Right. – But then when they get it,
they’re like, “Oh my gosh. ” This is really good.” Yeah, so we do like a Northern
Thai style coconut curry, which we reduce it down to like the gravy. We do Hmong sausage,
which is my dad’s recipe, and then we just take a
bunch of root vegetables and char them. Like rutabaga, turnips, whatever we have. – Instead of green beans. – Yep, and then we make that. That’s basically a ‘curry’.
(Kyle laughs) We put that in there and then
we fry off some tater tots. Throw it on top– – There’s the American–
– Yep. We throw the tater tots on top. And then, you get your wedge
of lime and your cilantro and green onions. And you squeeze a lime– – I mean that sounds freaking delicious. – Yeah, it was. It’s one of those things where we start, it was a joke for pop-up and it caught on. But then people started asking, “Well that’s kind of a funny joke.” but I’m like, “No.” The reason why I was
really excited about it, because you dig into the story, What is the story of the hot dish? The hot dish, you you trace it back to, it was in 1918 right
there like right before, right during the Great Depression. It was a way of grandmas
taking a pound of meat and saying, “How do we
feed our family of 10? – Stretch this, yeah. – Yeah. And it wasn’t until the early 40s when the whole Campbell’s
Cream of Potato soup came into play. And then it wasn’t until
about 10 years later– – Cream of Mushroom–
– Cream of Mushroom soup. And then 10 years later,
the tater tot was created out of the scraps from the potatoes when they were going through
the processing of it. – Because we’re eating
a lot of french fries. – Yeah. So when you think
about that, it’s like, this is actually a dish
where moms and grandmothers wanted to be able to provide. And I’m like, that’s the Hmong story. Wherever we’ve gone we’ve always
said this is what we have. But this is what we’ll have together. And my father taught me this
especially when my little, When my brothers and I
would get in fights about, “This is mine. This is mine.” You know, just stupid kid stuff. He would always say to us,
“When you say this is mine, “you actually have less. “But when you say this
is ours, you have more.” So it’s just that concept of this is ours. – That’s beautiful. – We have more when it’s ours. And that has become this
epicenter of what we do. It’s part of our mantra,
it’s part of our motto. With the food we do, is instead of, even when you go to some restaurants, everything’s plated up for you. And you you get there and you’re eating and you kind of, it’s
like, “This is mine.” And if somebody wants a taste,
you cut them a little piece. But the way that we do our
food at our pop-ups is, people call it family style,
we just call it dinner. – Right. (laughs) And you order large proteins. There’s large proteins on there, and you order the sides
and you order the rice and you will get the hot sauce. – And then you just eat
– And you just eat. So some people freak out
because they’re like, “Well, how? What do I–?” And I’m like– – What’s my flow chart? – Yeah, yeah. And it’s like, “Well, it’s
not plated all pretty.” And I’m like, “No.” Because when you do that,
you’re thinking about yourself. But when you do this, it’s about the table,
it’s about the community. And so we’re really trying to switch then. So the way that we’re looking at our food, it’s like, this is ours together. – So Hmong cooking really is a philosophy. – It is, because doesn’t
matter what you change. So like when the Hmong people
were living in Western China, they were influenced by the Chinese. As the Hmong people who lived in Laos, were influenced by the Laotian. When we were refugees in Thailand, we were influenced by the Thai. So wouldn’t it make sense
that as we become refugees and immigrants here in America, if you look at all the Hmong people all spread out in the U.S., so you got some down in Arkansas, some down in Sol Caloria some up in, the Pacific Northwest, and the Midwest, we all kind of cook the
same but differently. Because it’s whatever
the land provides for us. – Yeah, yeah. – And so that really, like, I tell people, if our people, if my grandfather
was here in the Midwest, here up in the Twin
Cities, here in Wisconsin, 100 years ago, they’ll probably be doing some of the same things we’re doing now. Like using the same ingredients, we use a lot of root vegetables. And so we have a lot of critics who are like the Hmong
I call them hardliners, where they’re like, “You
have to do it this way “and this way.” – Well, that’s preservationist. – Yeah, and I get it. But I’m like, but if we’re not
tied down to an ingredient, nobody can stop us. – Then we better go back to Western China. And only cook that way. – So that’s when that word
authenticity comes in play, and I think that’s a very
open, closed hand kind of word. – So okay, so you were born in
a refugee camp, in Thailand. – Yep. – You are literally a child
of American foreign policy, and American charitable groups. – Yep. – That’s what brought you here. Now you’ve got this kitchen that chefs in the culinary community, it’s very big and very small, right? You cooked for one of the
best chefs in America, Gavin Kaysen and you cooked at
some other great restaurants. Now you have this kitchen that other chefs are gravitating to. Are you finding yourself
having to defend your style, your ethos, your philosophy, or explain this is more
than just a novelty and a stepping stone
along your culinary path? Like what is that like
because now you’re a leader, whether you like it or not. – Yeah. – I’m going to talk to a lot
of chefs about this progression with like, I have one hand on the ladder and one hand on the ground. And I’m really not, like
I’m kind of okay with this, I like being a leader sometimes. – Yeah. I think for me, to answer your question, for me is I welcome. I welcome that collaboration. Like some of the best collaboration was, I love learning from these
different chefs who I, I say, food is the universal language. – Oh, no question. – And as these– – So second most most powerful
force in the universe, after love. – Yeah, definitely. – It is the second most powerful. – And you would even, I
wouldn’t even say sometimes, because I’m one on the food side. – You communicate love with– – Yeah, it’s right there.
– Yeah, I agree. – And so I actually find myself loving to learn a lot about
food I don’t know about. So, one of, become good
friends, Jose Alarcon, who runs Popol Vuh and
Centro up in Twin Cities. Popol Vuh this year was named one of the 50 best new
restaurants by Bon Appetit. And he’s just a Mexican dude,
came here when he is 15, worked his butt off, knocked
on the door and just said of a restaurant and said,
“Can I be a dishwasher?” Making money to send back to his family. And now he owns his own restaurant. And it’s now one of the best– – You’re both American stories. You’re both the American dream. But I just don’t cook that style, right? – Right. – But man, when we hang out, and he talks to me about the
way that they do their Moles, the way that they do cutting the stuff and I’m like, that clicks inside of me. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, “that’s not exactly how we do it, “but the principles are there.” – And so I’m learning these things or him, They get this blue corn, like
heirloom corn from Mexico, they get up and then they mash it and they make their tortillas out of. I’m like chomping that stuff down. And it’s like, so good to me. And as I think about that, I think about, “Oh my gosh, this is, “I’m so connected with this.” I don’t speak Spanish, I know
kitchen Spanish. (laughs) That’s what we call it. He speaks fluent Spanish. And so but we can still communicate. well, just understanding, different there’s so many of
these chefs that work with, they’re so different, I love that. My whole goal is just it’s
that idea that this is ours, like looking at the chef
community up in Twin Cities. Nationally, just saying this is ours, man. And there’s none of
this is mine or this is, it’s this is ours. And so I welcome that. I mean, there are some chefs who, you could tell right away, there are some chefs who, they’re in it for themselves. And it’s like, “Yeah, that’s cool, bro.” But at the end of the day, if that’s what runs you and that’s what makes
you happy, that’s cool. But for me, I just love collaborating. Like it’s, you know, I– – So what’s it like to be
a focus as a leader though, when there’s new, there’s
new chefs coming to you and saying, “Yeah, I want to learn this, “but I’m not gonna stay here forever,” You know what I mean? “I’m gonna move on.” – Yeah, I say, “Come learn.” Come learn. My thing is, I want people to come learn. And then if they want
to go on, we want to, sometimes I’ll sometime, maybe the word is empowerment, but I want to be like, “Hey, if you go, “and we give you a little seed
money to go, that’s awesome.” Because it’s like, that’s the point. The point is to have people
come in, learn and then go and watch that growth. And I think that we live in a society of instant gratification. It’s like, “Hey, in three months I want “to be a YouTube star, I want to do this, “I want to have all these followings.” And it’s just like, Man. I get some of these
young cooks who come in and they’re all like, “Yeah, so I got my YouTube channel ready.” I had a kid who was like, “I’ve got my YouTube channel ready, “so I’m excited to start that.” I’m like, “Bro, you’re like a
month out of culinary school.” Like let’s just simmer down and part of me just wants to go, “Go peel like 1000 pounds of potatoes “before we can talk through this.” And so right away you filter
the guys who really love it. And then the guys who’s here because it’s, “Hey, I want to be famous or whatever.” And so, I tell them– – They want to take more
than they want to give. – Yeah, yeah. And I tell the young guys, I’m like, “If you can commit six
months to a year with us, “and you really want to learn, “and you really want to understand “what it means to be a leader,” which I call it servant leaders, “if you’re not in your
arms and washing dishes, “wiping things down as
the leader in the kitchen, “then I don’t think that
you’re ever good enough “to be not doing dishes or something.” So I tell people that’s what you’re doing. It’s a servant leadership
kind of mentality. – My favorite restaurant tour or one of my favorite
restaurant tours of all time. And I remember going in and he was, this is back when people smoked. And I went back into the kitchen, he was cleaning an ashtray
out with his hands. And then because it
was particularly dirty, running it under water, and I said like, “Don’t you have people to do that?” I was so naive. And he said, “I’ve never
asked my people to do anything they haven’t seen me do.” And I was like, “Well,
now I’m good for a year.” That’s the life lesson this year. That’s all I need to hear. – I loved working with chefs when it wasn’t about an Instagram post or it was about any of that stuff. And they’re doing all that stuff. And behind when no cameras on and those were the ones who
were all like, respecting. I’m like, “Hey, Chef,
I’ll stay an extra hour “to do floors with you.” “I’ll stay another extra 45 minutes “to run all these dishes with you.” And I think that like running a kitchen, you have so many things to do that sometimes I just love washing dishes. I’m not–
(Kyle laughs) You don’t have to make a decision. It’s pretty simple, like
dirty stuff, in soapy water, clean water, disinfect and
put it and watch it dry. And there are some times where
I literally love watching, watching dishes dry because
it’s so therapeutic. It’s like, “Oh my gosh,
it’s the ending to this.” – I mean my career. I remember once saying to my dad, he’s like, “How’s it going?” I’m like, “I just want to be a UPS driver. – Yeah. That’s my thing! – I just want to put on
the same uniform everyday and drive around and then clock out. And I’m good for the day.
– Because everyone is happy to see you.
(Kyle laughs) – Exactly.
– Nobody’s angry. Nobody’s calling you to say, “Hey, you got some
invoices you need to pay.” Nobody cares.
– Right. – It’s like you’re bringing them joy. – And I’m not saying it’s
easy to be a UPS driver. – Not at all, not at all.
– I’m just saying. And then my day would end and I’m wearing brown again tomorrow, it’s going to be great. – This is just my thing, man.
(Kyle laughs) I’m just like, “Boys, I got it.” And I love just like when you scrub pans are dirty and then
but you put them in and you take that and you scrubbing that whole, the grease thing comes
off and you’re just like, “Oh that feels so good, that’s the stuff.” – As a series sponsored by one of the greatest pan
makers, in American history. Who literally made the
canteen for the Army and Navy in World War II, this is
American legacy stuff. I think this is a great place
to conclude the interview. – Yeah, I know. – That we both really like doing dishes. – Yeah, I really like doing dishes. (Kyle laughs) (rhythmic music)

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