Dao Le is no stranger to the food competition circuit. He’s competed professionally with the American Culinary Federation, the World Food Championship and several local Chattanooga cook-offs. But that doesn’t calm his nerves when he gets onstage and starts cooking. “You always want to do your best, and sometimes having so many people watching and asking questions about your dish can get nerve-wracking.”
Nonetheless, he has a competitive edge that keeps him going. Plus, he says it’s good exposure for the newly revamped Read House Hotel and its Bridgeman’s Chophouse (scheduled to open in late fall) where he is executive chef, “especially when you have locals watching you create dishes and watching techniques to see your style of cooking and your personality on a plate. It’s amazing to have events like this to showcase our local chefs and have the support of Chattanoogans to come watch and then come eat at our restaurants.”
Le, who was born in Vietnam and moved to America when he was an infant, credits his family heritage for instilling his love of food. Cooking, he says, is a huge part of Vietnamese culture. “My mom cooks daily. She stays true to traditional Vietnamese cuisine,” Le adds. “And my dad used to be a baker in the Navy.”
Though the foundation for his culinary interests began at home, he continued his education at Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts, Miami campus, then worked in restaurants in Florida, Pennsylvania, California and Ohio before returning to Chattanooga, a town in which he’s spent most of his life.