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Hai Hai's Christina Nguyen wins Best Chef in Midwest at 2024 James Beard awards

Hai Hai's Christina Nguyen wins James Beard award
Hai Hai's Christina Nguyen wins James Beard award 01:54

MINNEAPOLIS — After six years in business and five nominations, Hai Hai's Christina Nguyen was named "Best Chef: Midwest" on Monday night at the James Beard awards in Chicago.

Known as the Oscars of the culinary world, Nguyen was emotional while accepting one of the top honors for Hai Hai, a northeast Minneapolis staple renowned for its vibrant menu and adventurous cocktail.

"When we started our restaurants, the most that a Southeast Asian restaurant could ever hope for was 'best cheap eats.' And I feel like we've come a long way," Nguyen said. "So this is an honor. Thank you."

Angie Whitcomb with Hospitality Minnesota wasn't surprised to hear Nguyen won.  

Christina Nguyen

"Well, good luck getting a reservation at Hai Hai (laughs)! I think that's months out now," Whitcomb said. "Minneapolis has a great food scene, and the only reason we're able to have a great food scene is because our restaurant owners and operators like Christina pour their heart and soul into what they do."

That hard work is something Nguyen referenced in her acceptance speech.

"It's a big lift, and it's every day. It's a grind, and it's your own personal money, it's your own personal sweat and tears, and it's building a team around you that's going to believe in your dream as well, and then supporting them and taking care of them so they can help you build your dream," Whitcomb said. 

The daughter of immigrants who fled Saigon during the Vietnam War, Nguyen is a self-taught chef who went from starting a food truck to operating two restaurants in the last decade, including Venezuelan street food hot spot Hola Arepa in south Minneapolis. 

"Thank you to my parents who have always had my back. As refugees from Vietnam, they had to start their lives over from scratch when they moved here with no warning, and they've taught me that anything is possible, to not be afraid," Nguyen said.

WCCO's "Savor Asia" series profiled Nguyen and Hai Hai last year.

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