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Interview with The Duc Ngo

“I will have some dishes from my childhood. I will take these feast dishes. That my aunts and uncles did. And do it better.”

“The only thing left was Chinese,” Duc explains over small plates at Kuchi, the first restaurant he ever opened in 1999. Kuchi, which serves modern Japanese Izakaya, came onto the scene when there were no cool Asian restaurants in Berlin. Since Kuchi, he has gone on to lead Cantina, the ultra-hidden eatery inside Bar Tausend, as well as Moriki, a highly-acclaimed restaurant in Frankfurt. More recently, he opened a cozy and beautiful Vietnamese Brasserie called Madame Ngo, as an homage to his mother. Not long after came 893, a swanky, gangster-style Japanese restaurant off of Kantstrasse. So for Duc, the only thing left to explore at his new endeavor inside the Golden Phoenix was Chinese—the father, so-to-speak, of all East Asian cuisine. He smiles, “Chinese food is like French food.
Very specific. Very complicated. A very long tradition. And it’s a challenge for me. But Chinese food is in my blood.”

Duc was born in Hanoi. His mother is Vietnamese and his father was Chinese. “I started my career early, in my mother’s kitchen. I watched my aunts and uncles cook and was always interested in food.” Early in his childhood, his family was forced to leave Hanoi and ended up in Hong Kong. There, they were then given two options for emigration—West Berlin or Chile. In the winter of 1979, Duc’s family arrived in West Berlin as part of a group of 200 refugees. He was just six years old.

For his restaurant at the Golden Phoenix, he tells us, “I will have some dishes from my childhood. I will take these feast dishes. That my aunts and uncles did. And do it better.” Duc explains that these feasts are celebrations for the ancestors. The whole family comes together on the day their relative died and everyone cooks, eats, and drinks. But before the family sits down, a portion of each dish, as well as tea and alcohol, are set out as offerings. Then one is allowed to ask their ancestor for luck in life. “And you burn some paper money,” he explains, “Things the ancestors can use in their other lives.
There’s a whole street in Hanoi where you can buy stuff to burn—suits, hats, cars. Whole houses to burn!”

At the Golden Phoenix, Duc will bring together traditional French techniques with the complex, ancient flavor combinations of Chinese cooking. “Always a balance, salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. This is very refined in Chinese cuisine. They have deep spices. Star Anise. Cinnamon. Dried mushrooms. Deep dark flavors. Black vinegars. Fermented vinegars. Soy sauce, of course.”

“The Golden Phoenix looks very French. Paris meets Shanghai. So we have created some very sexy things to serve here.” What might that be?

He jokes, “A lot of Schweinerei.”