Chefs Grace Nguyen and Chad Newton may be the couple that seem to do everything together: work, live, cook, and create food-related businesses in the Bay Area. Chef Grace Nguyen has numerous years of experience working restaurants in Las Vegas and San Francisco including: Postrio, The Slanted Door and Out The Door, on Bush Street. She currently is a partner and Executive Chef of Asian Box, slated to open its first (of many) stores in Palo Alto next month. Grace likes to run, read, eat, drink wine and bake cupcakes for her friends’ kids, and is lovingly referred to as “snobby cupcake” by her business partners Frank Klein and new husband Chad Newton. The chef has adapted both Newton and Nguyen as her last name, explaining that: “I go by Grace Newton. But for Asian Box, I am known as Grace Nguyen.”
Chef Chad Newton was raised in Mountain View and recently moved with his wife Grace to Redwood City. He has worked at restaurants such as Postrio, Redd, Fish & Farm and Baraka. Chad is currently the Culinary Director and Partner of local restaurant group FK Restaurants & Hospitality and helps operate Café Discovery, American Box and Asian Box with CEO and founder, Frank Klein. Frank and Chad have diverse consulting clients like the JCCSF, District of Columbia Public Schools, Muir Woods Trading Company, and numerous independent restaurant owners. Chad likes to make cocktails, sleep, eat and follow local sports teams in his time away from the restaurants.
How did you meet?
Chad: We met in 2001 when we were working at Postrio.
Gracie: I left to cook in Vegas for 5 years and in 2008 we reconnected in SF at numerous chef events. Chad was the Chef at Baraka and I was at The Slanted Door.
Chad: And then we were pretty much inseparable. We moved in together and decided to get married. It all happened pretty fast and we knew that it was right.
Tell us about the wedding:
Chad: The wedding was great! It was very food/Chef driven. Scott Beattie on the cocktails, the amazing food photographer Eric Wolfinger there to capture it all; and Sandra and John from Estate cooking the food and hosting. Estate in Sonoma is so beautiful! Perfect for a wedding.
Gracie: Our honeymoon was pretty crazy. We went to New York City for a week to eat, and tried out about 10 restaurants a day and had amazing experiences at Eleven Madison Park, Robataya, Ippudo, Eataly, Lupa, and Roberta’s and Fette Sau in Brooklyn.
Chad: Gracie kept trying to find the Big Gay Ice Cream truck. We found it on the day before we left. That made the trip for her I think.
How are things going at Stow Lake?
Chad: Really well. Following our success at Muir Woods and Café Discovery we are helping our client, Ortega Family Enterprises, with providing healthy, sustainable, and affordable food at Stow Lake. It’s fun to be around the boats and lake, and feeds into what we do with the National Parks. My partner, Frank Klein, just spoke at the White House on providing sustainable foods to parks.
How are things going at Asian Box in Palo Alto?
Gracie: Moving right along. We will get through permitting this week, start construction right away and hopefully be up and running in the middle of December. In the meantime, we are just perfecting the recipes, cooking test dinners and making fun You Tube commercials. All I got to say is that our business partner Frank is a very creative and fun man, so watch out for these commercials. They will be very memorable to say the least.
Chad: I’m so excited for this project. There are so many times where we are driving around the Peninsula looking for good food, fast, that is actually fresh and executed well. It just makes me hungry thinking about it.
Any updates on Provision?
Chad: Provision has been a dream of mine as well as Frank’s for quite some time and now we are very close to making it happen. We have wanted to bring a Big City caliber restaurant to Palo Alto together to celebrate why we are both in this business — hospitality. Provision is all about hospitality. I can not talk yet about the actual details of the concept but we will hopefully get to share it soon. We do a monthly Provision pop-up in Palo Alto at Frank’s house. Word has gotten out about how fun they are — people are doing some interesting things to try and get invited. Frank and I also have plans for a few more restaurants in the Palo Alto area.
What is it like working together?
Gracie: At times it can be a bit of a challenge, but for the most part it is really fun. We share resources, bounce ideas off of each other and team up to tackle large projects and dinners. I have to give Chad beat downs sometimes.
Chad: I have learned so much from Gracie. It has been very rewarding. We feel like such freaks sometimes. We work all day together, then come home and watch food shows on television and read cookbooks — all together. But, this is our life together, and we love it.
What are your favorite spots to shop for food?
Gracie: New May Wah in the Richmond is always interesting and bustling. I can find anything I would ever need to cook traditional Vietnamese food.
Chad: Nijiya market, to buy different yuzu products, shishito peppers, tofus and shiso. We cook a lot of izakaya style dinners for friends and family at home and I can always find what I need from Nijiya.
Favorite date or off-night spots?
Chad: Tacolicious. Always fun — and Joe and Telmo are some of the best restaurant people in this city. The chupitos are fun and Chef Telmo’s food is always so fresh and vibrant. We always get the queso and Gracie loves the frozen margaritas. We also enjoy Commonwealth, Mission Chinese Food, and brunch at Absinthe.
Gracie: flour + water for me. Most people don’t know that we got engaged there. Chad arranged it with Thomas and David behind my back and we ended up having a long tasting menu in their Dough Room. Chad proposed at the end and I was so shocked. flour + water will always have a spot in our hearts because of this but also from the amazing food that they do. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
What is your favorite meal to have with your family?
Chad: Now that we have the two families combined which actually is then four families combined there are a lot of dinners we that have been memorable. The Leg of Beast Dinner at Incanto is a great way to eat as a family. Chris Cosentino and Mark Pastore are great hosts. The family style dinner experience there is a great time, and nothing brings a group together like a large tender beef leg with all of the fixings!
Gracie: To get approval for our marriage from my family in Houston, Chad had to cook for my extended family, which turned out to be around 30 people that day. He was so nervous but did a great job. Crispy skin chicken thighs, artichokes, seared broccoli, etc. In addition, my family brought 80 lbs of steamed crawfish and very large platters of BBQ from Goode Co. We will all always remember that dinner.
Any news we should know about?
Gracie: Frank always has something interesting working. Frank and Chad do a lot of traveling so I am sure they will be on the road a lot in the new year.
Chad: We have a lot of projects going on but they are not ready to be announced. It was a big year for FK Restaurants in 2011 and we are ramping up for an even bigger, busier year ahead. Launching Asian Box as a national brand with numerous locations, our return to fine dining, multiple consulting jobs. Should be fun.
Do you have plans for the holidays?
Chad: I think I want to make Posole this year. I don’t know why, I just do.
Gracie: I will probably end up making a croquembouche. Also, my brother is moving up here and staying with us for a bit. He loves to cook, so we will probably have some sort of collaboration. Like last year, we will probably do a lot of canning, pickling and other fun things as gifts — like Kimchi and Hot Box It, our incredibly super hot sauce from Asian Box.
Guiltiest food pleasure?
Gracie: Flaming Red Hot Cheetos!
Chad: Budweiser cans? I don’t know. Gracie eats everything with aioli though. We were at a nice restaurant in Palo Alto the other day and Gracie asked for ranch dressing with her onion rings. That’s the Houston in her I guess. It was pretty funny.