On ‘Cooks vs. Wild,’ Utah’s Fairly Chook proprietor fought rain and fireplace to make a 5-star meal

They dropped Viet Pham off within the wilderness.

Particularly, Pham discovered himself on the Sunshine Coast, a distant space of British Columbia, Canada, that may solely be reached by ferry or floatplane. Right here, he would spend the subsequent a number of days both fortifying his shelter to resist a powerful and historic storm, or foraging for spruce leaves, cedar leaves, mushrooms and berries — something that would come collectively to create a good meal. 

The meals wasn’t for him, although. Or not less than most of it wasn’t. 

Pham, who’s the proprietor of Pretty Bird Hot Chicken in Utah, was competing on the brand new Hulu sequence “Chefs vs. Wild.” Within the wilderness, his major mission was to forage sufficient components to place collectively a restaurant worthy meal. He was competing in opposition to one other outstanding chef, and every of their dishes would finally be judged by superstar chef Kiran Jethwa and vitamin educator Valerie Segrest. 

So anytime Pham got here throughout a possible ingredient, he requested himself: Ought to I eat it now as a result of I’m hungry, or reserve it for the competitors? 

The reply to that query was most of the time the latter; Pham believes he ate lower than 500 energy over the course of a number of days. 

Viewers can now see Pham’s struggles and triumphs on “Cooks vs. Wild,” which just lately premiered on Hulu. In his episode, which launched Sept. 26, Pham went head-to-head with North Carolina-based chef Sammy Monsour. 

The precise filming for the present passed off almost a yr in the past, in late October 2021. However it’s all nonetheless remarkably vivid in Pham’s thoughts.

Surviving and exploring the wild

In common life, Pham’s tenting normally consists of an inflatable backpacking mattress.

Filming for “Cooks vs. Wild,” assets had been restricted. He couldn’t have a sleeping bag or pillow. And his primitive shelter, fortified with assist from survivalist David Noel, struggled to resist a torrential storm that worn out a lot of the facility from Seattle to Vancouver. 

At one level throughout filming, Pham and Noel ended up sleeping outdoors of the shelter subsequent to a fireplace due to wind that was coming by way of a spot on the base of the shelter. They hadn’t deliberate to maintain a fireplace going all evening, so the 2 took turns getting up each half hour to cut wooden. They spent their transient moments of sleep rotating their our bodies subsequent to the fireplace to remain heat (close to the top of filming, a fireplace would burn down a big portion of the shelter). 

“I’ve by no means felt a chill up my backbone the best way that I felt that chill up my backbone once I was up there,” Pham just lately instructed the Deseret Information. “I’ve by no means, ever slept actually simply on the chilly moist floor — ever. With zero safety between me and the bottom. I’ve by no means felt a chilly so chilly as being on that present. It was actually as uncooked because it will get.” 

However Pham tried to not let the tough circumstances get the most effective of him. Every morning, he obtained up and made tea utilizing pine needles, or cedar or spruce leaves — no matter he might discover. If he was fortunate, he ate one thing. After which he foraged. 

He was capable of finding plantain seeds and huckleberries pretty shortly. Ultimately, he got here throughout a tide pool and managed to get oysters. He bottled up some seawater so he might use it for cooking. 

Pham was particularly intent on discovering pine mushrooms. He’s an avid mushroom forager in Utah, typically looking within the Uintas and alongside the Wasatch Entrance, and he stated that pine mushrooms had been in “abundance” this time of yr within the Pacific Northwest. 

He didn’t even discover one. Monsour, his fellow competitor, discovered a bunch. 

Wanting again, Pham believes he was so centered on discovering pine mushrooms that he most likely blinded himself to different components that had been available. However a serious foraging spotlight got here when he stumbled upon one other mushroom: Rooster of the woods, which has a texture and taste just like rooster.

With this surprising discover, Pham was in a position to apply a few of his Fairly Chook styling to the wilderness. When it got here time to face Monsour within the wilderness kitchen — the place they’d 4 hours to organize their meal for the judges — Pham cooked his Rooster of the Woods mushroom appetizer similarly to the Nashville sizzling rooster that impressed Fairly Chook. 

“Fairly Chook remains to be a really younger firm, and I’m rising it, and each alternative that I can promote the model is invaluable,” Pham stated, recalling how within the years main as much as Fairly Chook’s 2018 opening he would drive round in his Prius with turkey fryers, “actually frying rooster for whoever would strive it.” 

“To this present day, I’m nonetheless engaged on our recipe,” continued Pham, who just lately opened up Utah’s fourth Fairly Chook location in Midvale. “So being on TV and having the ability to speak about Fairly Chook and sharing all of the issues that I like about cooking and giving folks the chance to see me … I believe that’s superior.”

An awakening

Pham is not any stranger to actuality competitors exhibits. 

He’s competed on various Meals Community exhibits, beating Iron Chef Bobby Flay … twice. Later this month he’ll be on an episode of the brand new Meals Community competitors “Bobby’s Triple Risk,” the place he’ll face off in opposition to three top-tier cooks chosen by Flay. 

However “Cooks vs. Wild” was a unique beast. 

When the crew dropped him off alongside the Sunshine Coast, Pham anticipated to have robust days. He anticipated the chilly and the rain — though perhaps to not the extreme diploma he skilled. And, like all the different cooking exhibits he’s executed, he anticipated to drag by way of the challenges and succeed. 

What he didn’t anticipate was to be so emotional. However as he confronted the “Cooks vs. Wild” judges (no spoilers right here), he thought concerning the struggles along with his shelter, the highs and lows in his seek for meals and the way the land offered for him when he let go of his personal expectations. It’s a “profound non secular facet” that he’s nonetheless making an attempt to unpack a yr later. 

“I believe simply being on the market being chilly, lack of sleep, hungry, it created this expertise that I’m nonetheless making an attempt to choose aside and perceive,” he stated. “However it was a really highly effective expertise. I’ve by no means felt so linked to the land, the issues round me — ever. Simply being within the open air and being round bushes and animals, it actually humbles you.

“It was sufficient to awaken me.” 

Amid the chilly and moist and starvation, Pham stated he gleaned energy from his mother and father, who had been Vietnam Warfare refugees. The 43-year-old chef, who was born at a refugee camp in Malaysia, stated he’s heard his mother and father discuss concerning the trials they confronted “1000’s of instances.” 

In a single story Pham recounted, his dad’s brother, who was finding out overseas within the U.S., despatched his mother and father a care package deal that included a bottle of soy sauce, towels, letters and photographs. On the best way to Malaysia, the bottle broke and the soy sauce ended up leaking onto the towels, finally drying out. Every time Pham’s household was in a position to safe rice for dinner, they might go the towels round and odor them so they may have the aroma as they ate. 

Through the years, Pham has listened to tales like these and tried to develop a greater understanding. However it wasn’t till “Cooks vs. Wild” that he actually felt he might start to empathize with these struggles. 

And he hopes to proceed getting higher at doing so. He doesn’t need to overlook what he’s realized, and he’s even thought of going again into the wilderness with fewer assets to assist preserve these classes alive.

“To this present day, I’m nonetheless making an attempt to know it and making an attempt to determine what it means,” he stated. “However I do really feel like a greater individual inside and outside.”

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