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New Restaurant: Mai House

186 Franklin Street, New York NY

photography by Diana DeLucia

Tribeca Restaurateur Drew Nieporent of Myriad Restaurant Group recently teamed up with talented chef Michael Bao Huynh from Bao 111 and Bao Noodles to create Mai House. Serving upscale Vietnamese cuisine, the 120-seat 4,500 square-foot space that had formerly housed Nieporent’s Tribakery was a design collaboration between Mr. Huynh and Glen Jones. The restaurant is located at 186 Franklin Street, literally between Neiporent’s Nobu and Tribeca Grill.

We caught up with Chef Huynh on a recent afternoon to discuss this new venture with the one of Manhattan’s most successful and dynamic restaurateurs.

Q. How did you get involved with being a chef, what was your motivation? Did you have any formal training?

A. My motivation is very simple, when I cook something good, it makes me and others happy. I have been making people happy and cooking since the age of twelve. My mom was my first formal training. Working along my mom in her restaurant in Saigon is where I learned a lot.

Q. How was the experience of opening Mai House different from Bao 111 or Bao noodle?

A. Mai House is my house and I am cooking in my kitchen. Mai House is the next level of Vietnamese cooking, and it’s a more ambitious restaurant, backed by Drew Nieporent and Myriad Group.

Q. Your mother was a chef and a restaurant owner and your father was an architect, did you learn a lot from them?

A. Cooking is a culinary art and architecture is also art. I got flavor from my mom and art from my father. For me, culinary art and architecture begin to merge.

Q. You’ve been called the architect chef, and you designed this restaurant, tell us what materials you used around the dining room and what kind of feeling you were looking to achieve?

A. Ancient. Fascinating. Beautiful. The culture of modern Vietnam is filled with complexities. When I was traveling in Vietnam, one is struck not only by the hospitality of the people and the physical beauty of the country, but also by the continuity of traditional craftsmanship. Today, many time-honored materials are being utilized in unexpected, contemporary ways. Blending a respect for Vietnamese tradition with new uses for conventionally crafted materials, we created an elegant modern space that is warm and inviting, but mindful of its cultural inspiration. From the antique stone sculptures to the mother-of-pearl tiles, an aesthetic balance, wedding old and new, has created this truly Vietnamese space.

Q. How did your partnership with Drew and Myriad Restaurant Group begin?

A. I have been very active in promoting Vietnamese cuisine in the USA and the world. Since 2004 I have brought many American chefs and culinary students to Vietnam on a culinary tour of Vietnam. I invited Drew on the trip hoping he would love Vietnamese food, and would maybe become a business partner later! That has now begun.

Q. What do you think the most popular dishes will be at Mai house, and why?

A. A lot of dishes are popular at Mai House, but for me, I like Black Cod with Shark Fin Consommé, House’s Lacxa - King Prawn, rock shrimp and shrimp noodles in spicy curry broth and the whole crispy red snapper.

Q. What would you like your customers to learn about Vietnamese cuisine that they may have overlooked?

A. Vietnamese cuisine is less spicy and more refreshing than Thai cuisine. We use much less oil and corn starch as Chinese cuisine. Overall, Vietnamese cuisine is very healthy, refreshing, but with lots of flavor and very spicy.

Q. What special talents do you think chefs who make Vietnamese cuisine need to have to do well in the United States?

A. Fortunately, I was born, bred and began cooking in Saigon, Vietnam. I do understand the sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavor of our Vietnamese cuisine. I think any chefs in the USA who understand the flavor of our cuisine would do well.



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