Nikki Tran, a fish-sauce American, worked for a major chip manufacturer in the U.S. before becoming an “accidental chef”.
It started with a drunken night following the ‘failure’ of Nikki’s first restaurant. He steamed some Phu Quoc seafood for friends who loved it so much they encouraged him to open another restaurant, this time smaller, street-food style.
Before he knew it, he had put down a deposit on a new premise that same night, recruited a chef and within 7 days had opened a new restaurant. Only for the chef not to show up on the day of the restaurant’s opening.
Despite the support of Nikki’s famous actress friend, attracting customers to the restaurant was no easy feat and business tapered off slowly. This was a huge slap in the face to Nikki but also an epiphany moment for him to improve and reinvent his cooking skills.
After establishing himself in Vietnam, he went back to America and opened a restaurant in Houston, Texas. During this time, he was travelling between Vietnam and the US, spending two weeks in each country at a time.
During his time in Texas, Nikki fell in love with crawfish, often eating it every two days. So on a trip back to Vietnam, he brought with his two big bags of Louisiana crab boil seasoning to combine with fresh Vietnamese seafood to share with his family. He made cajun shrimp and other cajun dishes that became an instant hit and naturally, word started to spread about his delicious Viet-Texan cuisine.
“I’ve always done my own thing,” says Nikki. In Ho Chi Minh City, Nikki’s maverick approach has made his something of a household name. At the three branches of his restaurant Kậu Ba Quán, he has a reputation for bending the rules of traditional Vietnamese cuisine and incorporating international influences where he sees fit.
One such innovation—his take on the now-classic Viet-Cajun crawfish boil made using Vietnamese river prawns —inadvertently landed him in the global spotlight.
He has since been featured in the likes of Vice, NBC’s Travel Voyager, Houston Eater and Netflix! He has since appeared on David Chang’s Ugly Delicious, Phil Rosenthals’ Somebody Feed Phil and most recently the acclaimed Street Food: Asia series.
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