I was first introduced to Kiong Banh by Marc Vetri about 12 years ago and that introduction changed my life. I have to thank Marc for that. At the time, I was looking for a chef for Twenty Manning (now Twenty Manning Grill) and Marc said he knew “just the perfect guy”. Kiong and I met for coffee one morning and though he said very little, I knew he was my guy from the way Marc spoke about him and by the respect he showed him. In an industry that has so many stresses, I was so lucky over that cup of coffee to have found such a good man to become my partner over these years. He has taught me so much.
Kiong has such a kind soul and is an incredibly patient man. He has taught me so much over the years on how to be calmer and not sweat the small stuff. His kitchen alley door is always visited by former employees (usually around 4:30 when he whips up a huge staff meal – whether it be Vietnamese hoagies or bok choy and chicken) and he never looses his smile. He was the first person to turn me on to Sriracha and he has me believing that the way a door is hung in relation to the street traffic will bring good luck. So far, he’s been right about it.
Last Saturday night, Kiong whipped up a menu of Vietnamese classics and let our guests do some of the “work” themselves. His loyal followers were there to hear about his Chinese-Vietnamese background and smell the herbs from his garden. And those who he’d never met were all smiles as they learned to – among other things – roll their own spring rolls and summer rolls.
His menu included:
- Crostini with Pork and Chicken Liver Mousse
- Vegetarian Spring Roll with Pickled Carrot and Daikon Salad
- Lemongrass Bison Meatballs with Cabbage Slaw
- Ahi Tuna Summer Roll
- Vietnamese Grilled Chicken Tenders with Rice Noodles
Everyday, Kiong starts his day at the market (at 7am – after his 45 min jog) followed by a trip to the restaurant depot. He shows up at Twenty Manning Grill by 1pm- his clothes still freshly ironed after a morning that was filled with lifting. He changes into his immaculate chef coat 6 nights a week and greets the neighborhood like he’s the village mascot.
Kiong is the hardest working man I know, as well as a true friend and wonderful partner. He will be back on a cold night this winter to teach a Pho class so keep any eye out for that.