Interview with Los Angeles Rising Star Chef Bryant Ng of The Spice Table

by Antoinette Bruno
May 2014

Antoinette Bruno: How did you get your start? 
Bryant Ng: I was a biotech consultant and studied molecular biology and business administration. It made sense back then to go into biotech, and pharmaceuticals particularly, in San Francisco. But I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My parents and grandparents owned restaurants here in L.A. I was the little kid, peeling the shrimp and washing the dishes. I love that environment, but I didn't know I wanted to cook for a living. I thought maybe I wanted to be in the food business.

So, I went to Le Cordon Bleu looking for the shortest course—three months. I went balls out. I had the time of my life figuring it all out. Things made more sense to me than anything else in my life at that moment. That was 10 or 12 years ago. Back then, all of the high-end restaurants and everyone serious about cooking was going to French restaurants because it was all codified. I went French then, back in L.A., I went to Campanile where it was about the produce itself. 

AB: Who's your mentor?
BN: Nancy Silverton. Most recently, I helped open Pizzeria Mozza because Nancy and I had met years prior at Campanile. The most important thing you learn from Nancy is dedication. When we opened the restaurant, she was there every day with us. Noon to midnight, seven days a week. There were three or four of us who went two months straight and she was right there with us. When I think about it, she really influenced the way I like to operate and lead, to be there and show them, “"Look, I’m here doing it, and you guys can too.” She’s not just dedicated to her employees, when you look at her food, she's constantly tasting and tasting. It's all of these lessons I learned from her that when I move forward I try to achieve. Lead by example and dedication.   

AB: How do you see yourself fitting into the restaurant scene here?
BN: It's important that I have this voice in the community that’s very different from everybody else’s. I have a unique point of view because of my heritage: both Southeast Asian and my roots here in L.A. With the new restaurant, I want people within the organization to grow and become good chefs and stay in the industry, develop their own voice. That’s what I aim to do here—all the way to the front of house, foster an educational environment. 

AB: What’s the hardest thing had to do in your career?
BN: Leaving Pizzeria Mozza, I was very secure and had a lot of future potential. There’s one in Singapore, Newport, San Diego and I was going to be part of all of that. It was difficult to leave that and have the opportunity to open my own place. It's also a lot more rewarding because you're creating something yourself. My life would have been very different right now.

AB: What are you most proud of?
BN: The anticipated impact we’ll have in introducing Southeast Asian food to as many palates as we can. I don't have a partner, but I have investors. 

AB: What's your five-year plan? 
BN: Opening a restaurant with Zoe [Nathan] and Josh [Loeb] from Huckleberry down in Santa Monica. The aesthetics that we have here are very personal. There are things we have here that we want to make sure we have there. Everyone talks about salumi and French charcuterie, but I’ll have enough room to do Asian charcuterie, like Chinese Jin Hua ham, Vietnamese pâtés, sausages etc. Zoe will be doing Asian desserts and working on a naan dough and putting in a tandoor oven.

AB: Define success.
BN: My definition of success … I hope to be continuing the dialogue of Southeast Asian food in the U.S. Most people don't understand Singaporean or Vietnamese. My goal is to introduce as many people as I can to Southeast Asian flavors. In five years, I hope we have that successful restaurant. We’ve also been working internationally on different projects: Singapore, Taiwan. We're focusing on Santa Monica because The Spice Table is going to be gone. I actually live on the East Side and I’m looking to open something else up Downtown.

AB: How do you describe your cuisine?
BN: Southeast Asian cuisine inspired by Singapore and Vietnam, ultimately being an expression of the many influences throughout my life, whether it be the foods I’ve eaten in Southeast Asia growing up, or the refined French cuisine of Restaurant Daniel. The produce driven menu of Campanile, Pizzeria Mozza, or Langer's #19 pastrami sandwich, they all play a role.  

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
BN: Food and dining is more than mere sustenance. Food is meant to hit your soul, make you feel, and to ultimately be delicious. Dining out should provide you with an experience that fulfills the entirety of Maslow's hierarchy, all in one place. 

The reason I cook is because I want to share with as many people as possible the flavors of Southeast Asia. With respect to Asian cuisines, China, Japan, and Korea have made the most significant inroads in American culture, taking decades and centuries to become part of the daily dialogue. Southeast Asian cuisine is in its infancy and my goal is to be a part of its growth and awareness; to help introduce the flavors into the consciousness of the Western world.

I want my food to be thoughtful and soulful. The dish that ends up in front of you should be as delicious and appetizing to look at as it is to eat. It should evoke the familiar and surprise you at the same time.  

I also strive for consistency. A major facet and challenge regarding food and dining is consistency. The lack of it in a restaurant is why you may love and recommend a restaurant, but your friend thinks it sucks. Consistency lies in the proper training and management of a new generation of back-of-house and front-of-house staff. Proper education is key to the growth of the industry as a whole. It's also the difference between a good and a great restaurant experience.