Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain on elk, Aspen, and Eric Ripert.

on Sep 27, 2007

Hung did almost everything right. But it wasn't enough. His elk was cooked perfectly. His dish was wisely restrained in concept. The judges recognized his professionalism and his superior technique. But there was no competing this week with Dale's combination of inspiration, good judgment, good execution, and good fortune.

As a close observer of the Hung Phenomenon, I was interested by the close questioning of Hung's motives and attitudes this week. There was a little bit of tape where Hung explains that "if this was a restaurant, I'd help out" -- which goes a long way, I hope to shutting up the whiners who seem to view this competition as a civics exam. This is a competition -- and Hung is a competitive guy. I thought the long overdue history lesson was illustrative of what makes the man tick. His family, it appears, escaped from post-war Vietnam -- as so many who preferred taking their chances in open boats to reeducation camp did. They managed to make a living in a new and unfamiliar land in the restaurant business -- a very hard business, to say the least. Hung, was "born under a broiler" as we used to say about cooks from restaurant families. It is, indeed, in his blood. No one, in my experience, loves food as much as the Vietnamese. The enjoyment of the clean, fresh, sophisticated flavors of Vietnam are central to family life and working life. But so is work. And struggle. This is a country that has been at war for the better part of 600 years. One can only imagine the challenges Hung's family faced in getting here, setting up a new life, starting up a busines,s and raising a son who would go on to be a sous-chef at Guy Savoy.