Chef Thi Cao's Top 10 Pantry Staples

September 01, 2014
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Thi Cao

A Vietnamese-American kid grows up on PBS, Reading Rainbow, and wok-fried bananas, makes the transition from IT cube life to chefdom. The result? Transnational plates reflecting a culmination of his experiences—fundamentally sound, the occasional molecular gastronomic technique. Classically Italian and French, spiced up with Asian and American flair.

thi cao

We hung out with Chef Thi Cao from Buckley’s Restaurant and Bar, along with Chef Nell Benton of The National, at their home in Walker’s Point and asked Thi his favorite pantry staples to help home cooks elevate their cooking.

Thi Cao’s Top Ten

  1. Fundamentals. “As you hone your craft, dishes go from complicated to simple. You start to find the essence of foods.”
  2. Maggi (liquid seasoning). “A couple drops on everything. It gives a dish an extra umami boost.”
  3. Kimchi. “Cabbage.” (This time, from Asian International Grocery in Silver City.)
  4. Noodles. “Rice, wheat, pasta. If you have these in your pantry, you can make dishes from any number of different cuisines.”
  5. Fish sauce. “You can tell the quality by the color—a rich, reddish amber is what you’re looking for. Try the Red Boat brand. It’s more expensive, but worth it.”
  6. Sambal. “Or Sriracha. I put it everywhere.”
  7. Good salt. “Fleur de Sel, sea salt. A good salt can really finish a dish.”
  8. Ketchup. (We laughed.) “What? You can make barbecue sauce, cocktail sauce, Russian dressing…”
  9. Eggs. “Cheap, quality protein, and you can make things like carbonara with them! Refer to #4—if you have eggs and noodles, you have a really good dinner.”
  10. Good cookbooks for inspiration. “Right now I’m reading Sandy (D’Amato)’s book, Good Stock, and Coi by Daniel Patterson.”
Article from Edible Milwaukee at
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