Thuan Tran, also recognized as chef Francis Thuan, is a respected name in Vietnam’s culinary scene. Known for his way of treating his ingredients on simply, fire, and his relentless exploration of lustful local ingredients, Francis Thuan has been named as the Runner Up for Chef of the Year 2020, alongside his restaurant - Restaurant Esta as one of the Finalists of the Grand Jury’s Choice, Restaurant of the Year (2020 and 2021) by Vietcetera.
Executive Chef & Co-founder of Restaurant Esta
Unlike most celebrity chefs in the world who grew their passion for gastronomy since youth, Francis found his in a quite unexpected place. Coming from a humble family in Buon Me Thuot, a province located at the central highland of Vietnam, he followed his father’s footsteps and graduated as an Civil Engineer. But he was not fond of this job. He soon quit and found himself driving around Saigon delivering food to doorsteps and helping out in the kitchen by washing dishes, where he first saw the spark of passion for cooking as being around the stoves and knives and occasionally peeking out to the dining hall, seeing customers enjoying their best time dining and laughing.
Francis first started chasing his dream on Jun 24th, 2010 and found himself in several kitchens learning from the Mediterranean to Western and Asian restaurants. Whilst he honed his skills, discipline, and knowledge of geography and agriculture like different terroirs and the weather, season, and plants. In 2016, Francis was honored to work alongside many famous and talented chefs from around the world at the second pop-up restaurant in Saigon by the One Star House
Party chefs group. That was a page-turning occasion for Francis as it changed his mind about everything he had known for 6 years working in the kitchen. “How is it possible that a group of foreigners who have just set foot in Vietnam for the first time can build a menu with 100% Vietnamese ingredients and even turn ordinary ingredients into such top-notch and artistic dishes?” – he wondered. He stayed up that night to reshape his culinary path thanks to the experiences and visions of his foreign colleagues who are, to him, teachers. Later on, Francis spent his continuous 3 months cooking with the One Star House Party chefs at their pop-ups in Saigon, Bangkok, and Mount Everest Basecamp which is at a 5,364 m altitude.
On his journey to flourish his knowledge of food, he came across a farm on the high hills of Dalat – a gem, nature giving birthplace of greenery of Vietnam -, Francis decided to stay and work with the farmers for a year. Dalat showed Francis to an “another world” where he deeply studied its local plants and ingredients. It was a whole new realization for Francis. He developed a personal relationship with his ingredients and vowed to keep traveling to many different parts of Vietnam to discover and learn to cherish every seed, plant, and unique flavor.
Fire is the first way of cooking humankind!
Among many styles of cooking, nothing has grown onto Francis much more than using just fire. He was first inspired by fire cooking and grilling by watching a Youtube episode of the Munchies about Ekstedt restaurant in Sweden. “Fire is the first way of cooking humankind!”- Francis once told everyone with excitement whenever he talked about it. Fire also fits to describe his passion for food and his way of respecting each and individual ingredient. From that day on, he has always found his twist and turns to bring the best out of selective and sometimes obscure ingredients and brought it all together as dishes which have the boldest, unexpected, and amazing flavors.
With all of his passion and hard work, Francis worked his way up to become the Head Chef of one of the most praised restaurants in Saigon – QUINCE Eatery – alongside chef Julien Perraundin. At the beginning of June 2019, Francis realized that he was finally ready for new challenges and opened Esta with his partner to begin his journey of re-imagine the taste of Asia with his fire.
Since then, Francis has tended his fire and continues his quest to bring out the best in Vietnam’s ingredients at Esta.
Recipes from Francis Thuan
Restaurant Esta is famous for its fire-cooking and unique dished inspired by Vietnam’s terroir, plants and seasons.