April 28, 2017

Tim Kuang Van Loan on taking risks in life and in the kitchen

Post by Felicia

Tomas and I have both known Tim for years, a decade each in fact. He’s a quirky guy in the best possible way. Tim’s passionate about life. Friends, cocktails, costumes, and dancing have always been a big part of who he is and how he we both know him. But, one may wonder, how did this energetic guy end up working in a multi-Michelin star kitchen?

Tim staged at Quince here in SF, which recently received their third Michelin star. The man had no prior professional cooking experience so, how the heck did THAT happen…

The short answer is he asked. While at an event at The Commonwealth Club, Tim got up during a Q&A wanting to know how someone in tech could transition to the culinary world. Michael Tusk‘s response, ‘Come work with me.’

Charles Pham from the Slanted Door, and Michael Tusk, who’s the co-owner and head chef of Quince, were the James Beard winners that year. They were in conversation with someone from the Chronicle. When they opened for questions, I was the first in line.

I had rehearsed and was like, San Francisco is this incredible place, where food and technology intersect like no where else in the world. What advice would you give to someone who comes from a technical background, but would like to make their way in the industry?

Michael Tusk looks at me and was like, why don’t you work for me. No idea who I was, no idea of my background, no idea if I could f*cking cook. So I said alright. That was the end of my question.

Tim followed up at the cocktail reception. Tusk tells him to come by Saturday with knives and sturdy shoes and they would make it work.

The crazy thing, according to Tim, is that a buddy of his was working at Zuni and Tim already asked for help breaking into food. His friend said he couldn’t and that without experience there was no way in. After the Commonwealth event, Michael Tusk went to Zuni for dinner. That same friend congratulated Tusk for winning the James Beard. They chatted quickly about the event and Tim ‘the computer guy’ came up in conversation. Then Tusk tells the friend that Tim ‘starts on Saturday.’

What ended up happening? Tusk treated Tim like any other chef. He worked every station. Tusk called him chef so everyone called him chef, assuming he had a background.

After his stage ended, Quince offered him a job paying $32,000 a year, which was a decent salary in the world of food. Needless to say, Tim chose to stick to his tech job and keep cooking as his passion.