Quickly becoming the power player in the Vietnamese food category, we recently had the privilege of having Phorage cater two events at The Pancake Epidemic. After the event, it was only natural to sit down with Jesse Duron and Perry Cheung of Phorage to talk about their modern take on traditional Vietnamese cuisine.
TPE: Where did your love for cooking come from and what influenced you to make a career out of food?
J: I was lucky to have parents that were foodies and we would go out and eat at least once or twice a week. We ate anywhere from ethnic hole in the wall restaurants to fine dining restaurants like Spago and Matsuhisa. My favorite food is sushi but it’s so expensive, I thought if I work at a sushi restaurant I could get sushi cheaper. So I went and found my first restaurant job ata sushi restaurant when I was 17 and I’m still working as the GM at Hamasaku aside from being a partner in Phorage.
P: It’s just something I grew up with. My mom influenced me to cook, growing up I would always peek into the grocery bags and look at the kitchen counter to see what was going on.
TPE: Please explain the concept, inception and evolution of Phorage?
J: We were tired of eating bad quality Vietnamese food that was overloaded with MSG. We wanted to make modern Vietnamese food that was locally sourced with quality meat and produce, and skip the MSG. We took over the old Chego space, and wanted to make a place that was hip and we didn’t want it to feel like your typical Vietnamese restaurant. My partner Perry, Eric, and I with the help of my dad and family gutted out the restaurant, designed, and built out the space our selves. We poured our blood, sweat, and tears with a shoe string budget to make this into a reality. We want to evolve into more than just a restaurant, we want to make an impact, and help people.
P: Conceptualizing Phorage was not hard since I spent 5 years working at slanted door. It’s one of the busiest restaurants in California serving Vietnamese food in the Ferry Building in San Francisco, where i worked my way up the ladder to executive sous chef position. With that experience Vietnamese food pretty much flowed in my blood aside from immersing myself with the culture growing up in New York and living in California. Aside from that we all love vietnamese food, but man the amount of MSG our favorite spots use are just unbearable.
TPE: Why Jesse/Perry as your business partner?
J: Eric and Perry are my family. I trust these guys with my life and wouldn’t have anyone else as my partners.
P: Everything just seemed right and fell into place. Its all about seeing the opportunity and executing in conjunction with time. We literally built this restaurant with the guidance of Jesse’s dad. If we were to walk around the space we’d be able to tell a story about each decorative item you see at the restaurant from the screw to each precise rivet.
TPE: What is your favorite item on Phorage’s menu?
J: This is a hard question because everything is good but if I had to chose it would be the Washugyu Beef Pho. I eat it at least a few times a week.
P: I have to say Beef Pho. Everyone sees pho as this simple dish. But to me its one of the most complex things to serve. So many aspects of this dish have to align to have the best final product. From cooking the soup to roasting the vegetables, cooking the noodles, to how much noodles you put into the customer’s bowl, how hot the broth is, and the time between when the bowl gets delivered to the customer, everything counts.
TPE: Most ordered dish at Phorage?
J: By far the Washugyu Beef Pho.
P: Beef Pho thats basically the dish for customers to order and gauge our establishment.
TPE: What was your inspiration behind the menu you put together for both TPE events you recently catered?
J: We already do a weekend brunch menu and when I heard about TPE, I knew we would be a perfect fit. People love our Chicken with Coconut Waffle so we knew we had to make it for TPE. For the Clot event we wanted to bring our signature dishes for everyone to try.
P: Chicken and waffles just happens to be one of those things people go bat crazy for. For us we reinterpret this southern classic with coconut waffles and jidori free range chicken marinated in a coconut buttermilk paired with condensed milk syrup. How can you say no to that. For our second event at TPE we wanted to showcase our staple items so we decided to offer crispy imperial rolls, fresh spring rolls, and our Washugyu Beef Pho.
TPE: In your opinion, what makes pancakes such an important element to breakfast?
J: Throw some bananas and nutella on it and you pretty much have all your basic food groups in one delicious vessel. Who doesn’t love pancakes!
P: Eating pancakes is a nostalgic element to breakfast. It’s just one of those comfort foods people grow up eating.
TPE: Any exciting projects coming up for Phorage?
J: We’re looking for a second location right now and we have another concept in the works.
P: There are a handful a projects we are entertaining, but in the mean time we take pride in participating in charity events. Most recently we did an event for Junior League of Los Angeles supporting women’s leadership in improving local communities.