Chef Anh Luu Taking Over As Owner of Vietnamese-Cajun Spot Tapalaya, Amid Tragedy

The Portland home of the phorrito will now be owned by its chef.

(Christopher Onstott)

Chef Anh Luu, who's cooked at Kerns Cajun-Creole spot Tapalaya as sous chef and then chef through most of its tenure—with a detour at creative Asian-influenced small plates spot Tanuki— will take over as owner of the restaurant.

"I've always dreamed of and hoped to one day own Tapalaya.  I've given so much of myself to Tapalaya, for almost a decade," Luu wrote WW, "and this is a really special moment for me in my professional life."

Tapalaya was founded in 2008 as a Cajun-Creole restaurant built on the model of a Spanish tapas bar—with lots of small plates and tastes. But it was under chef Anh Luu that the Kerns restaurant really came into its own as the flavor of modern New Orleans, with fun Asian-Cajun mash-ups that reflect how she grew up, including the ridiculously popular phorrito pop-ups that'll end Monday, March 27.

The large wave of Vietnamese immigration to Louisiana brought together two of the world's great riverside food cultures, and Luu grew up at the intersection of both. At Tapalaya in recent years, she began using tried-and-true Vietnamese techniques to deepen the flavors of Cajun favorites—the same way her own mother did, deepening crawfish boils with lemongrass and adding shrimp paste, lime and lemongrass to her étouffée.

Related: Tapalaya's Viet-Cajun mash-up brings the real flavor of modern New Orleans.

"I do plan to infuse even more of my Vietnamese style and cuisine into our menu. I try to introduce people to new flavors all the time by coupling it with familiar tastes that pair well but sound strange together," she writes. "I try to make dishes that bring you back to a food memory."

But just as Luu fulfills her dream of taking over as owner of Tapalaya, she has been dealt with a tragic and unexpected loss. Her mother was killed in car accident on Tuesday, March 14, as the sale of the restaurant was still closing.

Luu is forging ahead with the restaurant in honor of her mother, who inspired so many of the recipes she serves there. She now plans to infuse even more of her mother's Vietnamese influence into the menu as she takes over.

"My cooking is based on my food memories of my Vietnamese mother's cooking growing up in New Orleans. My food is not traditional Vietnamese food by any means, because I am not the traditional Vietnamese person," she writes. "And, now, with this life-shattering tragedy of the loss of my mother, it's even more important to me to honor her by creating dishes that are based on her cooking when I was growing up in New Orleans."

Luu plans to move ahead with the same staff she's worked with up to now.

Founding Tapalaya owner Chantal Angot writes that she's happy to pass the baton on to chef Luu.

"Owning Tapalaya for more than eight years in such a forward-thinking culinary city like Portland has been a professional highlight for me," Angot says.  "Supporting her energy and passion for creating dishes that are truly from the heart has been important to me all along the way.  I am thrilled to pass the baton to her, allowing her and Tapalaya to continue to thrive and feed the body, heart and soul of our customers and community with high-quality food."

"Owning the restaurant where I designed one-of-a-kind cuisine based on memories from my childhood means the world to me," Luu writes. "Chantal has been such an amazing and supportive owner all these years, giving me the platform to create dishes so personal to me and I'm so grateful for that.  It's an honor to carry this concept forward as both chef and owner."

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