Chef Jamie Tran, Owner and Executive Chef of The Black Sheep
Chef Jamie Tran never planned on following her father’s footsteps by becoming a chef, but found herself unable to stay out of the kitchen growing up. After working as a chef on the Strip for several years, Chef Tran decided to break out on her own in order to go back to the basics and cook dishes from her childhood. Chef and Partner of The Black Sheep, of which the grand-opening was in May, Chef Tran discusses her love for creativity in the kitchen and passion for cooking.
Where are you from and how does it influence your cooking style?
I’m originally from California and it influenced my cooking style because of its diversity. I grew up eating a lot of different types of things. I grew up eating Vietnamese food from my mom, but also ate a lot of Mexican, Chinese and other different cuisines.
How did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
I didn’t want to be a chef at first. My dad was a chef and I didn’t want to be like him originally. I have six brothers, who my dad all pushed to become chefs, and I tried to fight it but I kept cooking and fell in love with it. The first thing I learned how to cook was fried rice when I was four. I was begging to cook and my mom pushed a milk crate up to the stove and showed me how to make fried rice. When I was 15 I worked in the kitchen with my dad and helped wash dishes and was a prep cook. After a while, my friends and family helped me realize that I’m just like my dad and was destined to be a chef. I had pursued a lot of different things such as biology and zoology before accepting that I wanted to be a chef. I went to school at San Francisco State and got my degree in business and also took a lot of hospitality and management classes. Then I moved out to Las Vegas, went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu and jumped right into being a chef. I learned a lot from working in different restaurants while I was at school.
What were some of your early work experiences in Las Vegas like?
I staged at Aureole at Mandalay Bay for a while before they offered me a part-time job as a line cook. I eventually became a full-time sous chef and worked my way up to Executive Sous Chef. I stayed there for about five and a half years. I then worked in the banquets department at The Venetian for a few months before I was recruited to work at DB Brasserie and was appointed Executive Chef there. I eventually left to open The Black Sheep because I felt I got capped off creatively and got tired of working in corporate because there are a lot of limitations. I really wanted to be creative. I met Andy Hooper at DB Brasserie, who was the Director of Operations, and he helped me open The Black Sheep.
Where did the name The Black Sheep come from?
We were throwing around different name ideas when I thought about how my sister always made fun of me by calling me the black sheep of the family for turning out like my dad. I suggested it and the name stuck.
What did you use for inspiration when creating the menu at The Black Sheep?
The menu is a mixture of a lot of the food I grew up eating. It’s a lot of things I learned to cook from my mom and dad. I took things I learned working on the Strip and mixed them with things that trigger memories for me.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
My favorite thing to cook at home is spaghetti and meatballs because my sisters love it. I make everything from scratch and it’s a big family favorite. My favorite dish to cook from The Black Sheep’s menu is probably the braised pork belly with rice. It’s the first thing I remember my mom making when I was three. I knew she cooked for us because she loved us, so that dish triggers a lot of family memories for me.
What are the most challenging and the most rewarding things about being a chef?
It’s a very demanding position and is a lot of hours and not much sleep. But the most rewarding thing is getting to be creative. It makes me calm. I also like mentoring and teaching my staff and giving them the opportunity to grow on their own. That’s the most important thing to me.
Do you have any advice for young chefs entering the industry?
Don’t be lazy and work hard! Keep at it and don’t let anybody tell you no. A lot of people had their doubts about me opening this restaurant, but I went for it. You have to listen to your heart and not give up.