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Chef Thi Cao’s Top 10 Pantry Staples

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.

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
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