Q+A: Vietnam-born Chef Thang Pham Talks Cooking in Barcelona
Chef Thang Pham—born in Vietnam, raised in America, running a kitchen in Barcelona— presents the world on a plate, the summation of his influences wrapped in a banana leaf: his mother; his childhood best friend who welcomed him into an African American southern home; Washington, D.C.’s Anne Cashion; his Catalan present. Pham’s restaurant “Me” (Vietnamese for Mother), is in Barcelona’s Eixample neighborhood. Here, this architect-turned-Cordon Bleu graduate presents nimble plates for a sophisticated audience.
Q: How did you end up in BCN?
A: Having studied architecture, I came here because of Antonio Gaudi and I stumbled upon Ferran Adria and all those fantastic chefs—it was a very creatively rich atmosphere. My plan was to stay here a year—13 years ago! Spain has an absolutely amazing the sense of passion for and quality of product that is unrivaled—the black pork, all the seafood, even the artichokes. The reverence for simple, quality food is unique.
Q: But unlike el Bulli, Me’s prices are approachable.
A: I hated elitist thinking in architecture. I didn’t want that for my food, either. “ME” it is for everyone. I wish my prices were even lower so that more people can experience it. You can take a nice piece of an ordinary cut of meat, then you make that into something extraordinary in the way you manipulate it. No matter how much time, how much technique, you pour into a piece of art or food, if it's not good, all of that effort is wasted. Ultimately the goal is to enjoy; to satiate.
Q: How has the economy had an impact?
A: The crisis has affected us quite a bit. It’s the first year that it has eased. Suddenly low-end hamburger joints are everywhere! It has been quite disheartening. It hurts—you don’t know if people are going to come in. A packed room gives you so much creative encouragement.
Q: What’s a favorite on the menu now?
A: One of my favorite true fusion dishes is a sous-vide octopus finished on the plancha (grill)—so it’s both crunchy and tender—paired with a poached artichoke, a lemon zest marmalade, and a lime citrus black bean sauce smoked oil accented with parsley and cilantro. We also have a Vietnamese tartar; I use a culata the rump, of argentine beef that has a roasted garlic oyster sauce. It’s a little spicy. I finish it with egg yoke, sweet pickle, shallots and lemongrass, green onions, cilantro, mint, fried shallots and Vietnamese bread. Yum. So tasty!
Me, Carrer de París, 162; +34-934-19-49-33
Sarah Wildman is a contributor at Travel + Leisure.