Hey Blog Fans,

As you know, Mr Foodie and I (especially Mr Foodie) have been working with the awesome team at Bayer on the Pizitz Food Hall. We’ve interviewed several of the Food Hall’s chefs, and will be posting their inspiring stories here. These stories will also be cross-posted on BMetro, which has also done some Pizitz interviews that we will link to along the way.
Some of these chefs are people we’ve known for awhile through the blog, and others we’ve gotten to know over the past year. All are amazingly driven, talented, and brave food entrepreneurs who we are proud to call friends. The opportunity to tell their stories is a humbling one. We hope that we can convey their spirit through our writing.
For the first installment of this series, we bring you Vinh Tran of Ono Poke. Enjoy.

vinh_standing

Photo credit: Yellowhammer Creative. Vinh’s brother owns Pho 280, hence the backdrop.

Vinh‘s drive, passion and positivity are infectious. After spending some time chatting with him you may find yourself wanting to start a few more businesses. He is that kind of guy. At 25, when most of his contemporaries are considering moving on to their second job, Vihn is founding his first company, Ono Poke. 

Poke refers to a marinated raw fish dish served in Hawaii. In its most basic form it consists of chunks of raw fish marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, and onions. It is a traditional Hawaiian food dating back at least a few centuries that picked up a few Japanese influences along the way. The first Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii in 1806 and the way Poke is served today shows a clear influence of Japanese cuisine both in the marinades commonly used as well as the use of seaweed and other ingredients.  

ono-poke_1

ono-poke_2

Photo credit: Yellowhammer Creative.

Vinh immigrated to the United States to live with his Aunt and Uncle along with some of his other siblings. He lived for a year in California, moving to live in Hawaii for two and a half years starting in the 5th grade. He has very fond memories of his time living in Hawaii. He found his classmates to be very welcoming and he made many friends. He told us the story of his Uncle’s secret Poke stash that he kept on hand at all times and how that created interest in a young Vinh to seek this “adult” delicacy out for himself. He was hooked.

An older Vinh gained experience behind the knife preparing sushi at his brother’s sushi restaurant in Ocean Spring, Mississippi. He had always enjoyed cooking various cuisines but doing prep and cooking tasks in a popular restaurant was great preparation for him to one day open his own restaurant.

When asked why his Poke was so delicious, Vinh was happy to explain his approach  to us. In addition to growing up with Poke in Hawaii, he has traveled across the country trying the best contemporary takes on Poke that he can find to continually improve his recipes. He starts with the freshest, best tasting cuts of sushi grade fish. Vinhis very particular about the taste of each cut. Fresh and healthy is a given in his business but if the taste of the fish is not an A+ for a particular piece it goes straight in the trash. Next comes the Marinade. His marinade is a bit of a secret but I can tell you that he manages to create a marinade that is a slightly sweet, complex well balanced flavor that is not overly salty so as to let the flavors of the fish come through. His rice has a slight tartness due to a small amount of vinegar added in addition to some light spices. He uses special seaweed varieties imported from Hawaii that are ideal for Poke and taste incredibly fresh and tops it with sea salt also imported from Hawaii. His poke bowls will include a more traditional version over rice and a modern take over organic greens. Those that eat gluten free can opt to forgo the marinade. When available he plans to include fresh Taro chips as an option whose crispness pairs nicely with the lightly sweet Poke and the slight vinegar taste of the sushi style rice. Tuna, Salmon, Tofu, and Spicy Tuna will be available as Poke options. Ono means “delicious” and Poke means “chunk” in Hawaiian. So Ono Poke translates directly to “Delicious Chunks”. Having tasted his product we are happy to say he delivers on this promise.

Here’s an awesome photo of Vinh and his food:

vinh_sitting-1

Photo credit: Yellowhammer Creative.

This story is also featured on BMetro at: http://b-metro.com/pizitz-food-hall-ono-poke/31001/