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Collective Countdown Part 7: Cafe de l'Asie

I Ate Oklahoma is brought to you in part by:

Welcome to #CollectiveCountdown. We’ve partnered with the developers of The Collective Kitchens + Cocktails to bring you interviews and info about the 11 chefs and concepts chosen for the soon-to-open Midtown food hall. Major thanks to Okie Pokie and Chick-n-Beer for sponsoring these posts.

Guess who’s back? Back again? Chef Vuong’s back. Tell your friends (to make brunch reservations).

The second big name joining The Collective Kitchens + Cocktails is none other than Chef Vuong Nguyen. Trained at The Coach House. Original executive chef at Guernsey Park. Owner-chef-complete breakfast ninja at Bonjour. He worked as a gun-for-hire (tongue-for-hire?) designing menu revamps for Dekora, Gigglez, Ur/Bun and Chae before moving to Tulsa to be a part of The Gathering Place.

I seriously cannot explain to you how excited I am that Nguyen is back in Oklahoma City. Pound-for-pound, I’ll put him up against any other chef in the metro for pure culinary prowess...and I know plenty of chefs who agree.

His new concept at The Collective will be called Cafe de l’Asie — Cafe of Asia — which will pair his pan-Asian palate with finely honed French cooking techniques for a powerhouse menu.

“Vietnamese, Korean, Thai; I’m doing what I do best,” Nguyen said. “I’m taking great dishes and modernizing them, making them comforting and more affordable.”

Anyone who dined at Guernsey Park in the early days will recognize a few of the flavors he’s bringing back to the metro, including Vietnamese chicken wings in caramel and garlic chili and his version of the Vietnamese classic thịt kho tàu — one of my all-time favorites.

Chef Nguyen at U.S. Foods explaining his concept to The Collective owners

I mean, how can you beat caramelized pork and tender-crisp vegetables in a rich, savory sauce, sticky rice and his “perfect fried egg”?

By the way, you REALLY need to see this egg. When I say perfect, I mean it’s perfect. He soft-boils the eggs, then dips them in a super light batter and fries them to a glorious pale gold. Cut through the set white and you’re rewarded with lovely runny yolk that sticks to the rice and the pork and your ribs, haunting your dreams.

There’ll be chicken karaage (aka Japanese fried chicken) rolled in Vietnamese crepes. Salt and pepper pork. Spicy beef noodles.

Chef Nguyen’s magic is he can take dishes you’ve never heard of, foods that aren’t in any local restaurants, and make them instantly recognizable and familiar to diners.

Vuong is aiming for a $7-10 price point on most of his dishes, which will make it a very easy choice for many lunch guests.

Once he’s got it dialed in, though, look for him to introduce as many as four different menus which will change throughout the day. If that means a return of his Bonjour-era biscuits with deli gravy or his bonkers version of chicken and waffles, then I cannot and will not wait.

[Editor’s note: I have no choice but to wait.]

Cafe de L’Asie joins the previously announced restaurant The Black Cat in The Collective and it’ll be a reunion for Chef Beth Lyon and Nguyen, who worked together at The Coach House.

Join us again next week for another #CollectiveCountdown, brought to you by Okie Pokie and Chick-n-Beer. And keep an eye on thecollectiveokc.com for more info on the impending opening of this unique concept.

About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.

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