Inspired by childhood memories of his mother’s steaming-hot egg rolls sizzling in a pan, Irvine resident Foo Nguyen has cooked his way into the finals of PBS’s Great American Recipe Cooking Show. 

Irvine Weekly had a chance to connect with the Great American Recipe finalist before the winner is officially revealed on Friday, Aug. 12. While Nguyen could not dish on the winner of the PBS competition, he shared some insight into what it’s like being an at-home-chef on such a big stage.

For context, the Great American Recipe Cooking Show is an eight-episode series, hosted by a panel of celebrated personalities – Alejandra Ramos, Tiffany Derry, Leah Cohen and Graham Elliot – in which contestants face off in two 30-minute cooking segments, and one 90-minute elimination challenge. 

The show focuses on aspects of culinary multiculturalism from various regions of the nation. Finalists are competing for a chance to be on the cover of a cookbook with other professional chefs and Great American Recipe contestants.

Foo Nguyen

The Great American Recipe/PBS

Nguyen, who is a stand-up comedian, describes an emotional bond with cooking, something he attributes to his mother. Growing up in Ohio, Nguyen’s story begins with humble beginnings. But thankfully, he says, his mother’s home-cooked meals became a trusted source of nurture and nature.

“I got involved in cooking because of my mom. I come from a very large family – my parents have eight kids; five sisters, and I have two brothers. My mother made all three meals, including snacks. It was rare that we went to restaurants,” he said. “My siblings and I grew an interest in it [cooking] – there was an emotional tie to it because we come from a large family we don’t get to sit down for meal very often.”

In searching for contestants, PBS reached out to Nguyen after finding his Facebook page. While he said he doesn’t post food often, he does take pride in his at-home chefism. On the show, Nguyen leaned heavily into his Vietnamese roots, adding in some Midwestern flare to pay respect to his youth. 

“I tried to incorporate my culinary life experiences. The types of dishes that I cooked were influenced by my Vietnamese background that was shared through my mother, and the Midwest,” he said. “My youthful years I was raised in Sandy, Ohio, then I moved to Chicago and spent about 12, 13 years in Chicago – that’s where I met my wife.”     

In terms of a standout dish, Nguyen said he was able to cook a rendition of his mother’s Vietnamese egg rolls during the competition. 

“The Vietnamese egg roll is emblematic of who I am as a cook, and who I am as a foodie, and why I love food – period,” he said. “That was her way of sharing love and appreciation for all the people that helped us assimilate into this beautiful country.” 

Locally, Nguyen and his wife will be starting a meal prep company that will be servicing Irvine and the surrounding areas, he tells Irvine Weekly. He also will be doing more to showcase cooking on social media.

Nguyen encouraged people to find him on social media via Facebook, TikTok and Instagram, each with the @FooNguyen user handle.      

“I’m posting live cooking shows on social media, where I’ll be hosting cooking classes,” he said. “I’m also writing a one-man show about food and my direct relationship with food, using my comedic and improv background from Chicago, and how food from a comical observation — how I see it perceived in our culture.”

The final episode of The Great American Recipe will air on PBS on Friday, Aug. 12, check local listing for showtimes.

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