Chef Kevin Tien on Spatulas, Cajun Food, and Letting His Dinner Guests Do the Cooking

Chef Kevin Tien
Chef Kevin TienScott Suchman

The son of Vietnamese immigrants in Cajun country, Kevin Tien grew up on pho and dirty rice. Those influences, along with a love of Japanese cuisine, are on display at Washington, D.C.’s Himitsu—and at home.

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Spring roll ingredients
Spring roll ingredients Illustration by Danilo Agutoli

Easy Entertaining

Spring Roll Party

My fiancée and I set up an electric griddle in the middle of the table with marinated beef, chicken, and other proteins, soaked rice paper wrappers, a bowl of rice noodles, a bowl of romaine or Bibb, cucumber batons, basil, and mint. I put two people in charge of the griddle, and everyone builds their own rolls. It’s fun seeing everyone interacting and building this experience together.

Rum old-fashioned
Rum old-fashioned Illustration by Danilo Agutoli

Go-To Cocktail

Rum Old-Fashioned

My favorite way to drink rum is in an old-fashioned, where you switch out the whiskey for aged rum. To the 2 ounces of rum you add a half-ounce of sweet vermouth, a half-ounce of honey, and 2 dashes Angostura bitters, stir them together over a large ice cube, and finish with an orange twist. It’s more warm and complex than the standard drink.

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Go-To Cookbook

Prejean’s Cookbook

I spent my formative years in Lafayette, Louisiana. At home, we ate Vietnamese food. Cajun food, I learned about from my friends. I’d watch them make dirty rice and gumbo and boiled crawfish. When I moved away from Louisiana, I got the Prejean’s Cookbook, a book from a Cajun restaurant in Lafayette. I love their crawfish étouffée.

Offset spatula
Offset spatula Illustration by Danilo Agutoli

Essential Cooking Tool

Offset Spatula

Everyone should have an offset spatula at home. At the restaurant I use it to do sauces and spread things, even for pastry, but at home it’s a really great tool to lift, press, carry, flip. Unlike a huge clunky diner spatula, the offset gives you more finesse.

Cinnamon sticks
Cinnamon sticks Illustration by Danilo Agutoli

Secret Spice


Growing up in a Vietnamese household, we’d use warm spices like cinnamon all the time. I like to get whole sticks and toast and grind them myself, which brings out all the aromatics. If it sounds weird to add cinnamon to your taco meat, for example, just think of the holidays, when warm spices and savory foods go together. It’s the same thing for me, just 365 days a year.

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Sambal Oelek
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Heat Source

Sambal Oelek

A staple of Vietnamese cooking, it’s a chili paste that comes from the same company that makes sriracha and has all the flavor profiles I love: spicy, acidic, garlicky. I use it as a condiment but also add it to marinades and stir-fries when I want a little heat.

As told to Adam Erace

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