On the Line: Mashi Nguyen of The Cure Kitchen + Bar

I step outside of the kitchen this week to meet with Owner Mashi Nguyen. A professional who also graduated with a degree focused in the hospitality industry, I’m always interested in learning how others applied their education in ways beyond the chef’s knife. The Cure Kitchen + Bar’s Huntington Beach address means this coastal city continues to grow their culinary backbone.

Where does the restaurant name come from?
My husband and I both come from Vietnam, where life is so chill and people hang out at coffee shops and bars after work after a long day. We have always wanted to have a place like that for us to relax and to forget about all the stress and the craziness out there. So we hope The Cure is that place for our guests.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it’s true.
The stereotype is that anybody can open and run a restaurant, and it’s definitely not true. I made the same assumption entering this business. It helps that I came in with no bad habits; however, there’s so much going on that I wasn’t prepared for.

I am fortunate enough to have such a good core team on this ride with me since the beginning, so I’ve had a chance to work and learn at the same time. Definitely, though, this is a tough business to be in.

What is a signature dish at The Cure?
One of our signatures that we’ve kept on our menu through a few seasonal updates is our Spicy Seafood Curry. Many people order our Whole Crispy Fish, a 2.5 pound striped bass. But the Spicy Seafood Curry is definitely our hidden gem. Its base is coconut curry, and it comes with seasonal veggies, shrimp, salmon, yellowtail, herbs, lime and a bowl of jasmine rice.

Most undervalued ingredient:
Rice. I grew up with it and have eaten enough to know the difference between great rice and not so good rice.

As a former corporate event planner, what have been the best things you’ve learned to execute a successful party/event?
To execute a successful event, or really, to be successful at anything, you need to have a realistic plan and follow through with it every step of the way. Most importantly, for events, you never work by yourself. It’s always the team effort that makes or breaks a project, so it’s important that your team be recognized for the work that they put in.

Let’s talk about your kitchen team. Is there an executive chef?
Yes, we do have an executive chef. But he would love to credit the whole team in the kitchen rather than single himself out. Cheers to the crew from The Cure!

What local farmers’ market does your kitchen source from?
Santa Monica Farmers’ Market.

Tell me about the restaurant space you’re in. What restaurant did it almost become?
This place was under construction for almost two years under the name Toro, and the previous owners never opened. I saw the potential in it. It already had a great build, so I inherited a lot of good stuff from the previous owners.

Where was your most recent meal?
My most recent meal was at The Cure, since I’m here all the time. I had the Roti Chicken Plate for lunch.

How did you decide to pursue a degree in the service industry? Was there a specific experience that changed your mind?
I came to the U.S. wanting to be a chemist working for the government. Yes, I’m a nerd and I’m proud. I was under 18 then, so I had to live with a host family for my first year here. And long story short, they had their wedding during that year, and I got to help them out with their planning stage.

I fell in love with how creative you can get with planning a wedding (Their wedding was Hawaiian-themed), how much work got put in and how stressful it was. But also how rewarding it felt when you see the look on everybody’s faces on the day of the wedding. Everything was worth it. So that changed my mind and I started my journey ever since.

What do you wish the Entertainment and Tourism program at CSUF taught that you didn’t learn until you were interning/running a restaurant, if anything?

For me, I wouldn’t change anything. The things you learn in school will never be the same as the things you learn in life. I could be more prepared, but at the same time, again, I came in with almost no bad habits to begin with, so I learned so much quicker. More than that, it’s the personality and the work ethic that can never be trained. You can either be excellent at it or it’s just not your cup of tea. That is what I look for in people wanting to be a part of The Cure team. Skills can be trained, but personality cannot.

Your best recent food find
I love sushi, and Sushi Ten in Chino Hills has become one of my go-to places when I crave good sushi.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
Kopan Ramen in Fullerton. Mine and my husband’s favorite.

Where did you grow up? If you’re not from Orange County, what brought you here?
I grew up in Vietnam. I came to the U.S. only to study, since my whole family is still in Vietnam. But I met my husband, and now he’s my family, so I guess love brought me here.

Could you elaborate more on your move to the U.S.? How were you able to overcome any cultural differences?
My first few months were tough. I was a very shy person, and my English speaking skills weren’t very good. It wasn’t very easy for me to make friends and such. But I’ve met many wonderful people that helped me with my pronunciation (while making fun of my accent, of course). After that, I was able to open up more, and more wonderful people took the chance to enter my life.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?
Eating my grandma’s home cooked braised fish in clay pot on a winter day will always be my favorite childhood memory.

Hardest lesson you’ve learned:
To balance between work and family. I’m here at The Cure almost all the time now, so it has been a little difficult for me to have some time with my family. But I’m working on balancing it.

Last thing you looked up online:
How to say “ca kho to” in English (braised fish in clay pot).

Tell me something most people don’t know about you.
I’m very indecisive. I might seem firm and strict, but really I always have the hardest time making any decisions. Once I do it, I don’t regret it, but it will take me a while.

You’re making breakfast; what are you having?

What other profession would you like to try if you weren’t in this business?
I’d be a fashion designer, for sure!

The Cure Kitchen + Bar is located at 7862 Warner Ave, Ste 101; Huntington Beach, (714) 375-8980; www.thecurehb.com.

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