MICHELIN Guide Ceremony 3 minutes 17 April 2024

Tam Pham, MICHELIN Guide Florida 2024 Young Chef Award Winner

The chef and co-owner of Tam Tam on his culinary inspiration and motivation.

Congratulations to Tam Pham of Tam Tam, and the 2024 MICHELIN Guide Florida Young Chef Award Winner!

For Chef Pham, becoming a chef came out of necessity. At the time (2011 to be exact), Pham had little access to Vietnamese food and ingredients in his Miami dorm room. As a result, Pham decided to learn how to cook on his own. 

Since then, Pham has gone from documenting his culinary journey on Tumblr to starting his own supper club between friends.

Now, the award winner is all about spreading awareness on the diversity of Vietnamese ingredients and techniques.

Below, the Saigon native takes us on a deep dive on Miami's food scene, seasonal ingredients, and everything in between. Bon Appétit!

What inspired you to become a chef?

I was inspired to become a chef out of necessity really. Though I had always enjoyed cooking as a hobby, taking it on as a profession was never an intention of mine. It all started to change when I moved to Miami for school in 2011. At the time, while staying in the dorms, I had very little access to Vietnamese food and ingredients. As a result, I started to learn how to cook. I even went as far as documenting my culinary journey on Tumblr (I know right?!).

Fast forward to 2019, when I became somewhat comfortable with my Vietnamese food knowledge and cooking, Harry and I started a little project called the Phamily Kitchen Supper Club, where we would host a small group of friends over for Vietnamese food dinners. The ideas were simple—we wanted an occasion for friends gathering and also to share our mutual love of Vietnamese food and culture. Throughout these dinners and our pop ups later on, I slowly but surely became more serious about the prospect of becoming a chef.

How has your relationship with cooking changed as you progressed with your career?

My relationship with cooking has certainly changed tremendously as my career progresses. I look at ingredients differently now as seasonal things inspire me deeply. That's coupled with the fact that down here in South Florida, I can access Vietnamese ingredients and other cultures' foods (such as South Americans and the Caribbeans) pretty easily, which further fuels my passion to create good food.

As I cook more, I feel more comfortable with inserting my personality and creativity into my food. I feel proud to call it my food and not just me cooking Vietnamese food. 

What motivates you in the kitchen?

My biggest motivation in the kitchen is spreading awareness about Vietnamese food. Ever since I moved to the states in 2008, I had always felt as though the American Vietnamese food scene was stuck in the past. Don't get me wrong, I still love Pho, banh mi, and all the rice platters. But actual Vietnamese food in the country has and continues to evolve over the years. I learn new and exciting dishes in Vietnam all the time.

The Vietnamese food in America also does not reflect Vietnam's diversity in terms of techniques and ingredients, as well as the many different regional cuisines. Most Vietnamese food sold here is Southern Vietnamese food, even the Pho here is Southern style as compared to Northern style. Food in Central Vietnam such as Bun Bo Hue or Banh beo is incredibly delicious and spicy, and people should know about them just as much as Pho and Banh mi. 

What do you have for breakfast?

My ideal breakfast, which does not happen as often as it should, usually consists of an everything bagel with chive cream cheese, lox, red onions and capers, served with 2 sunny side up eggs. This is something I was introduced to by my partner, Harrison, as it is his favorite breakfast as well.

Tam Pham / Tam Tam
Tam Pham / Tam Tam

How would you describe Miami's food scene?

The food scene here is so diverse and vibrant. All the cultures (such as Peruvian, Jamaican, Agrentinian, Cuban, Colombian, etc) that come together to create the fabric that is the Miami food scene all have incredibly rich culinary history. In addition, we have such a talented pool of chefs that work so tirelessly to represent their respective restaurant and the fast growing scene here that I feel so humbled and proud to be a part of it. 

How do you utilize seasonal ingredients?

Like I mentioned earlier, being in South Florida is such a perk from an access to seasonal ingredients standpoint. Even if one wouldn't normally consider South Florida to be a seasonal region, it is very much so. During the summer months when mangoes and lychees are abundant, we would try to put a dessert on the menu utilizing a variety of these fruits. Or our very popular dish lamb wrap situation, which is basically lamb patties wrapped around by large betel leaves. Betel leaf plant is not seasonal in Vietnam, where the weather is more consistent, but in South Florida it is since during the colder drier winter months the plant grows very slowly, which results in much smaller leaves, making it impossible to wrap the lamb in. Another seasonal ingredient that I absolutely love is soft shell crabs, which the season runs from April to September. Last summer when I sourced them live from Maryland, everyone absolutely loved it. We would beer battered fry them, then served with kaffir lime aioli, dill oil, and a spicy herb salad on top. Seasonal ingredients are just so exciting.

Do you cook at home, or do you leave work at work?

To be honest, I do not cook at home as much anymore. Since we are an owner operating business, I still handle many big cooking projects in the kitchen such as sauces, curry, and sourcing ingredients in person (Harry and I go to the market 3 times a week for herbs and hard to find dry goods). I cook at home with my sister every now and then, often time for dishes that we miss from our mom's cooking.

Favorite food-related show, book, program, etc?

I love watching all the behind the scenes shows about the day to day life of chefs like "On the Line" by Bon Appetit and Mise En Place by Eater. Some of the trusted food blogs/programs that I credit some of my cooking knowledge to are America's Test Kitchen, Hot Thai Kitchen, and Serious Eats by Kenji Lopez. Honorable mention is Chefs Night Out, which used to be on Vice. Harry and I would have loved to be on the show but it ended not too long ago

Tam Pham / Tam Tam
Tam Pham / Tam Tam

Hero image: Tam Pham / Tam Tam

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