Sunday, December 15, 2013

Chef Series: An Interview with Pho Horn's Executive Chef Teven Tran

As seen in the December 2013 issue of Providence Monthly magazine

Teven Tran is the Executive Chef and co-owner of Pho Horn’s – a little hole in the wall who’s big flavors shine bright especially in the cold winter months. The pho, or beef noodle soup, and other traditional Vietnamese dishes are family recipes that have been handed down through the generations.

Photo by Mike Braca.
Teven Tran is serving me some delicious Vietnamese dishes that I'm trying for the first time.

How did your family come to be in Providence?
My father came here from Vietnam in 1987 with my brother and sister. Then my mom and I came over in 1992, to Woonsocket, my first hometown. We had planned to open the restaurant for a few years before we actually purchased it. It was my mom’s idea. We bought it in 2006 and has been family owned and operated ever since.
So your mom had a huge hand in opening this place?
My mom would say, “Why should we go all the way to Boston to have pho?” The original recipe of our pho was from my mom and we’ve since made improvements. I’ve also hired two chefs– one from New York and one locally.
How do you get so much flavor into your pho beef broth?
We cook it with a beef bone. To start the broth out we put beef bone, beef brisket and beef flank into boiling water. After a few hours we take out the brisket and flank so that they don’t overcook. After the bone has cooked for 24 hours, we throw away the bone and strain the broth. We take the strained liquid, transfer it to a pot where we add sugar, salt, white onions, cinnamon, star anise, ground black pepper, whole ginger, shallot and the white part of scallions. We grill the shallot and ginger and mash it before adding them. We cook that for another two hours and then strain that mixture. That is the base of our pho.
Is the pho you serve here much different than what you ate growing up in Vietnam?
We eat it pretty much the same way. The cut of meat is different based on where you eat it (restaurant versus street food). If you are at a more high-end restaurant you might get filet mignon. But the cuts Executive Chef and co-owner Teven Tran prepares a bowl of pho of meat you get here are the same that you would get in Vietnam. The bigger difference is the use of beef bones. In Vietnam everyone uses beef bones because we use the entire cow. In America, no one really uses it. It is actually pretty cheap. I use about 50-60 pounds in each 100-quart pot.
What type of pho do you recommend to someone who has never tried it before?
Have the pho with either chicken or just the steak.
What is your background?
I went to URI and majored in Electrical Engineering. I didn’t learn to cook pho until after I graduated. I started cook- ing here because my family bought this place. I learned how to cook pho from my mother and learned all the other recipes from my uncle. All the other recipes are from his restaurant in Vietnam from before the war.
Aside from the pho, what are some other must-try items on the menu?
The Clay Pot is very traditional in Vietnam. It has salmon, catfish or pork cut into small pieces and simmered in fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, salt, garlic – it looks like a caramel but instead is a little salty. Back in my country we would eat this with the Hot Sweet and Sour Soup. Traditionally we would eat these together. The soup has salmon, catfish or shrimp with bean sprouts, pineapple chunks, celery, fresh tomatoes and thai basil in an aromatic spicy broth. The soup is sweet and sour and the Clay Pot is salty. When you eat these two together they balance each other out.
Do you adjust any dishes according to the season?
In the winter I slightly increase the pepper and the ginger in the pho. In the winter when you eat my soup, I want you to feel good. I want to build up your immune system and other systems. My mom cooked this way. She would say, “In the winter, the human body catches cold easily.” So, we increase the pepper and the ginger to keep the body warm. We decrease it in the summer.

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