Top of her class: Kings County culinary instructor dominating Bravo’s ‘Top Chef’

Brooklyn Paper
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She’s making the cuts!

A Kings County culinary instructor is cooking up a storm on the popular reality competition show “Top Chef,” beating out more acclaimed food professionals to win two out of the three full episodes that have aired so far.

Homegirl Nini Nguyen, who operates a cooking school in Prospect Heights, explained the key to her success using one simple tenet — always be freaking out.

“I learned that if I’m not nervous and don’t feel like throwing up, I’m probably doing something wrong,” said Nini Nguyen, “The two times I second-guessed myself I ended up winning the elimination challenge, so I just stuck with that.”

A Southern belle turned city slicker, Nguyen got her start at a New Orleans chocolate shop after graduating from Louisiana State University with a business degree, before going on to earn her pork chops laboring in the kitchens of various Big Easy purveyors of fine dinning.

The chef moved to Brooklyn in 2012, and soon scored a gig at pop-up restaurant Dinner Lab, where she traveled to big cities across the country procuring equipment, hiring staff, and cooking feasts for up to 120 guests, in a high-pressure routine she discovered was not that different from the challenges posed by Bravo’s Emmy-award-winning reality show.

“We had to cook things on the fly with god-knows-what equipment and had to feed 120 people with whatever we had,” Nguyen explained.

She became a founding member of Bergen Street culinary school Cook Space in 2017, where she helped develop classes including Pasta Making 101, Brunch Breakdown, and Vegan Cuisine for the Carnivore, which is designed for health-conscious meat eaters who still want a full-flavored meal.

“The idea was to make something that meat eaters would eat, and not miss the meat or dairy,” she explained.

Filming for the show took approximately six weeks in the early summer, and Nguyen’s new challenge is keeping the lid on how she fared in the televised competition, which offers a prize of nearly $200,000 for the winner, she said.

Regardless of whether or not she emerges as the show’s top chef, Nguyen’s fame as a contestant has already paid dividends for her Brooklyn business.

“There’s a lot of ‘Top Chef’ fans out there wanting to learn something from me,” she said. “It’s been pretty good.”

Watch Nguyen compete on “Top Chef,” Thursday nights at 8 pm on Bravo. Free.

Learn from her at “Vegan Cuisine for the Carnivore” at Cook Space [603 Bergen St. between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues in Prospect Heights, Suite 202, (718) 230–8400,]. Jan. 10 at 7 pm. $115.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Posted 12:00 am, January 2, 2019
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