MPULSE: You’re the proprietor of multiple restaurants, you’ve been honoured as an innovator and ‘Restaurateur of the Year’, you get requests for film and television appearances. In a play on the French word ‘duc’, you’ve even been dubbed the ‘Duke of Kantstraße’. What does success mean to you?
The Duc Ngo: To me, success means taking what I have in my mind and making it a reality – and in a way that people like. If that brings in money, too, so much the better. The two usually go hand in hand, but only if the focus is on the idea.
You recently said you cooked ‘under the radar’ for 18 years. Now you’ve even got a fan shop with caps and gym bags with your face on them. Does a restaurateur have to do more than ‘just’ cook to make it big these days?
If you don’t establish yourself as a brand, your path to success will be harder for sure. It was definitely through the media that I gained recognition, after people saw me on TV on ‘Kitchen Impossible’. I wasn’t dependent on it, but that made my restaurants known to a broad public. And my social media presence further builds the fan base.
More than 90 thousand followers on Instagram alone – do you create all of your content yourself?
Yeah, and that really annoys the people around me. (grins) It consumes a lot of time, about 30% of my day. But it also helps a lot, for example in acquiring personnel. We don’t have any problem at all finding cooks or waitstaff. We don’t even have to post job ads any more. Social media is extremely important in achieving reach – especially when it comes to young people. For instance, we get quite a few inquiries from school students looking for an internship. They see our content on Instagram and say: Hey, maybe cooking isn’t a bad career to pursue.
But in your case, you didn’t have any formal training as a chef, did you? Is that even necessary?
Well, that kind of traditional training has its advantages and disadvantages. In my opinion, it makes it harder to think outside the box, because you’re influenced by the person you learned under. If you haven’t got any formal training, you have to figure everything out in your own way – you see and do a lot of things more unconventionally. In my experience, that’s a more likely recipe for success.
We’ve talked a lot about success here. But not everything can go perfectly, can it?
Of course not – there’s no success without failure along the way. For example, my vegan restaurant didn’t work. But we didn’t approach it right, either. For a breakfast place, this area was simply the wrong location. We’ll definitely try it again, somewhere else, and as a dinner restaurant. That’s how I deal with failure – learn from it and go in a new direction. I don’t see failure in terms of hitting a wall. I’m convinced that courage reaps rewards.
About ... The Duc Ngo
Born in 1974 in Hanoi, Vietnam, he fled with his mother and brother to Berlin in 1979. In 1999, he opened his first restaurant there. Today, The Duc Ngo operates 17 gastronomic establishments – a half-dozen around Kantstraße in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district and others in Frankfurt and Saint-Tropez. The food they serve draws on all elements of Asian cuisine. Each restaurant sets its own accent – and demonstrates a sure sense of presentation.