ICE LA's Instructor of Restaurant & Culinary Management Trinh Dang

Meet ICE LA Instructor Trinh Dang

Trinh Dang's love for the hospitality industry was unexpected.

"When I told my mom that I was in the food industry, she actually laughed," Trinh says. "She said, 'You were such a picky eater when you were little.' I would chipmunk my food because I didn't want to finish it."

Now, Trinh brings her years of management experience at multiple acclaimed Los Angeles restaurants to her new role as an Instructor of Restaurant & Culinary Management at ICE LA.

We caught up with her to learn about her journey through the industry.

What brought you to ICE?
I've always loved teaching. I think it was something that I wanted to do. And then I kind of got roped into doing so many other things. But I've always found a way to teach, like in the restaurants. I loved to do training. And I'd love to make sure that everybody knew what they were doing. I created matrixes for recipes. It started because I wanted to know what I was doing, and then I taught it to my staff. I’ve always come back to teaching. I've tutored a lot, too — that's what got me through college. It’s always kind of been a part of me.

What are some of your previous jobs?
When I was working in finance, I went all the way to Operations Manager for a Fortune 500 company, then decided to quit right before the 2008 recession crash. I got out just in time. In the restaurant industry, I’ve done everything that you could think of under the sun. I started as a host, then I went into cocktailing. Then, serving. When I did events, I literally had to wear every single hat, including back-of-house. Most notably, I was a general manager at Phenakite, which opened during the pandemic. At my last place of work, I was a manager at Girl & the Goat. I also have my own events company where we do all kinds of events — weddings, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, charity events, private dinners, birthday parties, bridal showers. Anything you need an event person for, I will do.

Do you like planning events?
It can be painful, but it's also so cool when you see the event come to life. So that's the part where I have to remind myself: “You get to be a part of so many people's special day.” And yes, you do that in a restaurant too. But that's usually for birthdays or anniversaries — that kind of thing. It's a smaller kind of celebration versus doing a whole event. For an event, when everybody who they love is there celebrating these people, there’s a moment of, “Wow, I helped do that.”

Are you from Los Angeles?
I’m originally from the Bay Area, in San Jose. I’m a California native. I moved to LA over 10 years ago now. 

Do you have any mentors?
I would say yes — I don't think you can do this without having mentors. Learning on your own is one thing, but having people guide you is so important. I think in every restaurant that I've worked at, I've always found somebody to help guide me, even when I was the general manager or even in my own company. I still learn from other people. I tell my staff all the time, “I will learn from you just as much as you learn from me, because you're the ones on the ground, you're the ones telling me how I can be better.”

What inspired you to work in the culinary industry?
I kind of fell into this industry. I'm not sure if I had like a motivating factor at first, but after a while, it was about the community. It also helped that they fed me. I was learning more about food and I found out that I was one of those people — foodies. So yeah, it just grew on me. I discovered how much I really truly did love food and learning about food.

Do you travel often?
We try to travel often. My husband and I alternate who gets to pick where we're going. But even if he's the one picking where we're going, I'll still pick where I want to eat and he picks all of our activities. We're great travel buddies.

Where are some of the places you’ve traveled? Do you have a favorite?
I took my husband to Chile last year for his birthday. We went to Vietnam right before the pandemic hit. We just went to Korea. We've been to Belize, we've been to France. New Zealand is on my list for the future for sure. We do a lot of international travel more than we do domestic, which is kind of sad. I love New York, though — I’d go to New York in a heartbeat. My favorite place to visit so far though is Japan. I’ve visited twice and I lived there for a month.

What do you like to eat? What do you cook at home?
I love Vietnamese food. I just think it's so diverse and there are so many flavors. It borrows a lot from different cultures, too. I like to say I'm a “home chef.” I cook a lot of Vietnamese at home, but I also cook a lot of different genres. Like, if my husband comes to me and says, “I want to try this,” I look up recipes and I figure it out. And then I'll cook it. It's a welcome challenge.

What do you hope your students learn from their time with you?
My personal goals for the students would be for them to understand how important establishing a good culture will be as they become leaders. I want them to understand that they have a hand in making somewhere a good place to be. 

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