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Around the world in one menu

This What’s Up Wednesday features Billy Nguyen chef and co-owner of Chao Bistro

Chef and business owner Billy Nguyen has done a lot of traveling in his life and his recipes are flavourful reflections of his adventures.

“The more I move the more I learn from different chefs,” said Nguyen. “I’ve worked with a Japanese chef, a German chef, a French chef, an Indian Chef and I learned how the food is born with the culture.”

He opened his Vietnamese restaurant Chao Bistro in May of last year with his wife Khan Ha and his cousin An Nguyen.

“Local Vietnamese come here for authentic flavours from South Vietnam but I can cook anything,” he said. “Why limit yourself? One piece of chicken can be cooked so many ways. Whatever the customers wants. I can’t say no to the customer. We can talk about food for hours.”

Nguyen came to Guelph from Saigon, Vietnam in the mid 1990s.

“My parents were Boat People in the 80s,” he said. “That was after the war ended in 1975. They came here first then they sponsored me and my brother and sister to come here in 1995.”

There were few opportunities for entrepreneurs like him in Vietnam.

“There is no freedom of speech, right – no freedom of nothing,” he said. “You’re not allowed to do anything. It’s communist. It’s better there now but still it’s a one-party system so, everybody has to join the party or you’re against it.”

He met his wife online in 2007 and they were married in 2009.

“She was living in Vietnam in Saigon.,” he said. “We both love to travel and try food from all over the world.”

They have two young children Tanya, 6 and Tony, 3.

Nguyen graduated from high school at John F. Ross CVI then worked for several years in manufacturing.

“I worked for Linamar and Polycon and then I felt I wanted to do something creative.,” he said. “Drinking, eating, laughing, that’s the environment I like instead of spending eight hours every day behind a machine. I am not a machine guy.”

He wanted a career that would allow him to indulge his passions.

“I love talking to people,” he said. “I am not the guy who stays home and plays video games. I have to go out and socialize and meet people.”

He went back to school to learn about the restaurant business then worked at a number of hotels and restaurants picking up new skills and recipes along the way. When he isn’t cooking or catering at Chao Bistro he is working in the kitchen at the Ariss Valley Golf Course or helping one of his many friends with their catering businesses.

“Last year we had to do lunch for Bill Clinton in Muskoka,” he said. “I enjoy doing fine dining and private parties. That is what I have been training for – cooking for the rich and powerful people who say money is no object.”

Nguyen prides himself on having an evolving menu as diverse as the multicultural community he lives in and tries to create an atmosphere at Chao Bistro where families and friends feel welcome.

“We want people to come out and relax,” he said. “When you are in my restaurant you will never feel rushed. People can relax, enjoy the food and conversation.”

Whether it’s a Philly Cheesesteak, butter chicken, Pad Thai, a hamburger or a Banh Mi sandwich everything is made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.

“I love working with simple ingredients,” said Nguyen. “Flavour is the key. When they try something it creates a memory. They say, wow and they keep coming back.”