On a mission to find some of Madison’s young chefs eager to make their mark on the city, the Young & Hungry series spotlights three chefs ready for the challenge.
By Elizabeth Geboy
Sujeo is a Pan-American restaurant with a late-night noodle bar, where I interviewed 27 year old Jamie Hoang. The delicious smells of soup and their noodle dishes wafted around the room. She has been the chef as Sujeo since last May, but she has worked a number of restaurants around Madison, exploring cuisines and options.
Hoang started her career at L’Etoile, the high end French restaurant on Madison’s capitol square. She then worked at Forequarter for a number of years, before becoming the sous chef for Estrellon when it opened in 2015. After eight months as the sous chef at Estrellon, Hoang moved to Sujeo. Her cooking skills allowed her to flexibly move between restaurants, especially with the interconnected nature of L’Etoile, Graze, Estrellon and Sujeo: they’re all owned by Madison chef Tory Miller.
Hoang attended culinary school at MATC. Part of her schooling was taught by Joe Gaglio, who also owns Gotham Bagels. She is well connected in the Madison food scene, having studied under many chefs and working at fantastic restaurants.
“I always liked making fresh pasta. I remember making ramp gnocchi, a huge batch of it,” Hoang said of her time at MATC.
Her pasta making knowledge paid off at L’Etoile, where they often made fresh pappardelle. When making pasta at home, she likes to keep sauces simple: butter, salt and pepper. Listening to the the list of restaurants she’s worked at, I asked about how this network has helped her become a better chef.
“I definitely see myself staying [at Sujeo] for a little while, I love it here. All four restaurants, it’s like one big family. And I love working for Chef Tory, he was like my first mentor.” Hoang said. “He teaches us all so much… I don’t know if I’ll work for anyone else in Madison.”
She described how “it’s a pretty small community in Madison, [and] it’s nice to get to know all the chefs. I’ve [had the opportunity] to work with a lot of the major chefs in town.”
The people are wonderful, but the severe Wisconsin winter can be a challenge. Hoang and the chefs at Sujeo are good at adapting to the lack of summer produce in the cold months, learning to maximize and plan in advance.
“Working with Tory has really shaped me to be thinking ahead of time. In the summer, we’ll freeze fruit for ice cream for the winter. I have blueberries from April, and we made blueberry ice cream last month,” she said.
Sujeo has ever changing soft-serve style ice cream. Ice creams range from seasonal ingredients and others are funky flavors like ube (purple sweet potato) and Thai Iced tea (I highly recommend when you need a late night snack!). Hoang says she has some ube frozen right now, ready for the next time they decide to make the sweet purple ice cream.
“That’s one of the things about staying here in Madison, you have to learn what you have to do, in order to cook really good food in the winter,” Hoang said, thinking towards the future months of cold weather.
In regards to her home cooking, Hoang enjoys creating hotpots.
“It’s one of my favorite things to make with my friends. It’s not necessarily cooking, but [it’s about] making a really good broth. I’ll cut up all the vegetables and add it all to the broth,” she shared with me.
Development of a good broth is essential, and the basis of many great dishes. The stocks are Hoang’s favorite thing to make at work, too.
“I really like making the pho broth, pho is one of my favorite foods,” she laughs.
Hoang’s soup broth is made with charred ginger and onions, galangal (a flavorful rhizome, like ginger) and many other spices like star anise, cardamom, cinnamon and whole peppercorns. The beef bones they use when making the stock give it body and depth of flavor. Hoang finds it rewarding to make a stock, knowing it requires a day or two to develop its true flavors. It’s a process that requires patience.
Although there’s no singular cookbook Hoang goes to, her roommate has many cookbooks she can page through and gather ideas from.
“I have a lot of books that I like to look through and read, but some are kind of extravagant!” Hoang said. “We reference the Koreatown cookbook a lot, its really awesome for [Sujeo].”
The Sujeo team even did a dinner with the authors of the Koreatown book, Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard. She said Sujeo also has the Fat Rice cookbook, from a restaurant by the same name in Chicago. I asked Hoang if she wanted to keep working at restaurants, or start her own.
“If I do something [else], it’ll probably be on my own. I want to be very chill. Little takes on asian-american food, like take-out style chinese food,” Hoang said. She also had some advice to share.
“Don’t always take yourself so seriously, have fun while you’re cooking. Sometimes you’re so busy and serious about everything. [Chefs] don’t necessarily do it for money or things like that, we do it because we love it.”