Student chef building culinary empire at 19
March 7, 2023
The kitchen is a warzone. Onions and poblanos are chopped to bits in the machine gun-like chatter of a silver knife as thick steam rises from a bubbling, crimson stew. Preston Nguyen pivots to a stove, breaking an egg into a pan over a steady flame.
In a fast-paced kitchen, the 19-year-old chef can’t stay in one place too long. He plates the egg once it crisps into a sunny-side up, placing it next to an assortment of colorful spices. I like the challenge.” — Preston Nguyen
I like the challenge.”
— Preston Nguyen
“You build muscle memory,” Nguyen said, pinching cilantro and salt without measurement, then seasoning the egg in precise sprinkles. “That’s what it’s supposed to look like … and then also you develop what it’s supposed to taste like.”
Nguyen is making chilaquiles, the same dish he served Gordon Ramsay on the second episode of “Next Level Chef,” but this time he’s serving the dish in his Arlington home.
Nguyen’s cooking is taking him to new levels in a cutthroat industry. Although he hasn’t yet graduated from Dallas College, he’s traveling the world seeking career opportunities. He looks forward to making his first cooking demo this summer in London.
“I like the challenge,” Nguyen said. “It adds this level of excitement, not knowing what the outcome is going to be.”
The El Centro student started pursuing his culinary journey at Dallas College in Fall 2021. He’s currently taking a gap year to focus on competition, followed by relaxation away from the kitchen.
After that, he wants to become the youngest recipient of the James Beard Award, a medal presented for outstanding culinary achievement.
Nguyen got his big break in the 2021 World Food Championships. Competing in the World Chef category, he battled 1,500 veteran chefs, many of whom had been in the craft longer than he’d been alive.
“Going into it, I was intimidated because I’ve seen these people on TV before and I grew up watching them,” Nguyen said.
With his parents as sous chefs, they served numerous dishes while steamrolling through the tournament brackets, culminating with fried quail lollipops in a hot honey glaze. It made Nguyen the youngest winner in the category’s history – earning him a $100,000 prize.
Now the Nguyens are creating a family business. And hopefully, opening a restaurant in the coming years.
“This is something we can achieve together as a family,” Nguyen said. “[We can] take culinary competitions to the next level and change the food scene.”