It's a glorious book -- filled with recipes, tips, detailed photographs and stories about Charles Phan's childhood in Vietnam, his family and his famous San Francisco restaurant, The Slanted Door. But let's ease your anxiety right off the bat:
You'll find the recipe for Phan's iconic Bo Luc Lac -- Shaking Beef -- on page 140 of his first-ever cookbook, "Vietnamese Home Cooking" (Ten Speed Press, $35, 226 pages). And you'll find considerably more, too, including the back story on the dish that has graced that menu since Slanted Door opened in 1995 and the lowdown on the cooking techniques that make those dishes so special.
Naturally, we had questions.
Q So what's the back story with this cookbook?
A It's how to cook Vietnamese food at home -- the whole notion of understanding the Vietnamese aesthetic, how one would enjoy the food, the stories. It's essentially the same thing we're doing at Slanted Door, Vietnamese food with local ingredients.
Q You came to the United States very young. When did you start cooking?
A I left Vietnam when I was 13. My mother was working two jobs, and I was putting family meals together. I started working in a restaurant when I was in high school. I'd work three nights a week until 2 a.m. By the time I went to Cal, I was working three nights a week in San Francisco, and cooking six-course dinners for five guys in my dorm room. People thought I was nuts.
Q You were studying architecture at UC Berkeley. How on earth did you get from there to Slanted Door?
A My third year, I was involved with protests over tuition. It was my little Occupy thing, the biggest protest since Mario Savio. But back then, you don't pass your class, you drop out. So I went to New York and worked for a firm to try out architecture -- and I got called back to work for my mom. My parents were pretty much always self-reliant, always starting businesses they hadn't done before. I got stuck in the garment industry, and I was not successful. So, I traveled a bit. Got a job selling software for two years at a company that went belly up. But always in the back of my head: a restaurant.
Q What was the tipping point?
A It was 1994, I was going to goof around, move to Asia and at the last minute ... In my heart I knew I wanted to work for myself. I decided, OK, I'm going to do this. I saw this idea in my head, this "Why can't we be like Zuni? Have that kind of setting with Vietnamese food?"
Q You've opened several restaurants recently -- including Heaven's Dog and the Wo Hing General Store in the original Slanted Door site. Any thoughts of opening a place in the East or South bays?
A (Laughs) It's just a matter of time.
Q Let's talk about the new book. Instead of organizing it by, say, entrees and desserts, you've grouped the recipes by technique. Why?
A People don't think of technique. People want a recipe because they're buying a book, but if you don't understand the principles, you can't mix and match -- you can't cope with no broccoli for your beef. People have a wok, they toss it like it's a salad and think it's going to cook. It doesn't have to be that way. If you learn how to stir-fry, to braise, to grill, how to control the fire, you can do anything.