Jamie Hoang gets a fresh start with food truck venture

Hoang has no interest in opening a restaurant
Jamie Hoang gets a fresh start with food truck venture
Nikki Hansen
Jamie Hoang and Chuckie Brown are celebrating the opening of Ahan this Saturday.

Jamie Hoang, former sous-chef at the recently closed Sujeo, shares many similarities with our other “chefs to watch.” Like Itaru Nagano and Evan Dannells, she has experience at L’Etoile, one of the city’s best kitchens. Like Shaina Robbins Papach and Joe Papach, she’s a big fan of Madison and is at a turning point in her career. Despite her quiet, reserved demeanor, she has been a rising star in Madison’s food scene and a great example of female leadership in the kitchen.

What she doesn’t have in common with our other featured chefs is a new restaurant of her own.

In fact, she has no interest in opening a restaurant at this time.

“I’ve enjoyed working at restaurants and it’s always been great, but … I see how much work goes into it and there’s a labor shortage, and it’s also really hard on a few people,” Hoang says. “I just don’t want to jump into that right away.”

But not opening a restaurant doesn’t mean Hoang isn’t pursuing her own venture. Hoang, who is filling in as a sous-chef at L’Etoile until the end of the year, plans to start her own food cart by spring.

It’s a move that allows Hoang to continue her passion, but lets her shed some of the difficulties of running a restaurant kitchen. “The hours are way more limited,” Hoang says. “A restaurant – it’s always going.” As sous-chef at Sujeo, Hoang started her days at 10 or 11 a.m. and would work until 10 or 11 p.m. — sometimes later. “Everyone who knows Jamie and has worked with her is like, ‘Yeah, she just gets it done.’ I’ve always admired that about her,” says Tory Miller, who first hired Hoang at L’Etoile. “She’ll work as long as she needs to work and she’s incredibly fast at things and can produce tons of stuff.”

Her workday is not an uncommon one for a chef. “A chef’s schedule doesn’t really fit into all these molds that are expected of you,” Hoang says. “There’s a lot of different pressure on women. For me, I don’t have any kids, but imagine being a female chef and having kids.”

That’s why a food cart business appeals to Hoang. She also says she’s seeing more shared-space types of restaurants, which interest her. “I don’t think I’m going to ever want to open up a traditional restaurant. I could see myself doing a really cool shared space or something kind of different.”

Hoang, who grew up in Beaver Dam and moved to Madison at 18, attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a scholarship before she decided to try culinary school. It made sense – Hoang’s aunt is Jean Tran, owner of Ha Long Bay, and Hoang’s mother is a chef there, too, so Hoang grew up cooking with her family.

She went through Madison College’s culinary program and landed her first internship with L’Etoile, where she stayed on as a line cook after the internship ended. After stints at Forequarter, Gib’s Bar and Estrellón, Hoang was asked by Tory Miller if she wanted to move to Sujeo’s kitchen. After her three and a half years there, the announcement came that Miller was closing Sujeo.

“It was sad,” Hoang says. “I know chef Tory really loved Sujeo, and I loved Sujeo, and we put a lot of work into it.”

But the closing opened the door to a fresh start for Hoang, who had bought a fixer-upper food cart with her boyfriend, Chuckie Brown, about a year before the announcement. Once January comes, Hoang hopes to devote time to getting her business off the ground and onto the streets. She says they’ll focus on late-night vending at first, very likely outside of Robin Room, which is where Brown bartends. Hoang plans to host pop-ups at Robin Room before the cart is up and running.

As for what she’ll offer out of her food cart, Hoang is leaving the door wide open. That’s an approach she learned from working for Miller, Hoang says. She was always encouraged to be creative and break the rules in the kitchen. An example of that was Sujeo’s crispy Brussels sprouts dish. At a routine produce drop-off, Brussels sprouts were accidentally delivered to Sujeo. Hoang made use of the mistake by creating a fried Brussels sprouts dish that never came off the menu after it was introduced.

She thinks her food cart menu will be a lot like that – good food that might not fall under one type of cuisine. “It’s going to be a lot of things I grew up eating or have learned to cook throughout the years,” she says.

Hoang, who has been cooking professionally for 10 years now, is looking forward to her venture outside of a brick-and-mortar kitchen, which bucks the traditional path for a chef working her way up the culinary ladder.

“I’ve always been independent and rebellious,” she says. “I just kind of like to do things on my own.”