Billy Ngo is widely considered one of the best chefs in Sacramento. At any given time, his restaurant, Kru, is apt to be filled with chefs and restaurant insiders enjoying his take on modern Japanese cuisine, especially sushi. Ngo recently traveled to Vietnam for culinary inspiration before launching into what promises to be a very busy 2015. He is moving Kru to a larger location, and he will be opening a new place, Fish Face, at the Warehouse Artist Lofts on Sacramento’s R Street.
Q: What prompted your trip to Vietnam?
A: I haven’t been anywhere. My last real vacation was January 2009 when I went to China. The only other countries I’ve been to are Canada and Mexico. Now I want to do more traveling.
Q: Why is traveling important to a chef?
A: You can get inspiration seeing the food. I spent all of my earlier years just working. It’s important for me to see the food in Japan. That will be my next trip. Going to Vietnam was awesome. I love street food.
Q: Are you of Vietnamese descent?
A: Actually, Chinese from Vietnam. It’s complicated.
Q: Vietnamese food is very hot right now. Did your trip make you think about opening that kind of restaurant?
A: It didn’t, but I would love a really good pho place in Sacramento. I still love sushi and Japanese food.
Q: What were the flavors like over there compared to here?
A: Pretty much everything tasted better. The only thing that shocked me was the pho was not as good. The only thing I can say is we just have better-quality beef and better ingredients to make stock. But everything else was way better there.
Q: Have you added anything to your repertoire since returning?
A: It has changed the way I look at cooking. One of the biggest things I complained about with Kru, and one of the reasons we are moving, was the kitchen was too small. But after this trip I can’t complain. It’s not about the equipment. You can make amazing food with next to nothing.
Q: You’ve got a lot on your plate for 2015. Kru is moving, though the location has not been made public. Fish Face is opening. And you’re going to have a new concept at your current location.
A: It’s going to be crazy.
Q: What is Fish Face?
A: That’s going to be a poke bar and fast, casual, grab-and-go place. There will be five different types of poke. And we’re working on the packaging for to-go items.
Q: What excites you about the R Street area?
A: R Street is one of the cool places now. A lot of our friends are already there. There’s good energy, and I live real close to there.
Q: As you expand and have multiple restaurants, what are your concerns?
A: We have an amazing team right now at the restaurant. The scariest thing is hiring new people. Every time you open a new restaurant, about 80 percent of the people you hire you have to let go. It takes awhile to get the right chemistry.
Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.
Chef/owner, Kru Restaurant
Long considered a chef’s chef for his skill, dedication and creativity, Ngo recently made a food-exploration trip to Vietnam. Always busy, his 2015 promises to be his most hectic yet with a new place opening, and a change of locations for his current restaurant, Kru.