Images courtesy of Caodan Tran

MEET CAODAN TRAN, DALLAS-BASED FOODIE, CHEF, RETIRED HOOPER X CERTIFIED BURGER EXPERT.

By now, you're familiar with our Chick Chat series - right? For us, it's so important to highlight the women who are making moves in their respective fields because #Chickspiration transcends all. After a turn on the 1's and 2's with DJ Poizon Ivy, we opted to stay local and grab some grub with one of our favorite Chefs.

Caodan Tran aka The Burger Lady (nobody calls her that, only us...in our heads. Keep reading to see why), is a 29 year old certified foodie who happens to whip up some pretty amazing dishes. Originally from the Best Coast - West Hills, CA to be exact - this Dallas transplant is taking the D-Town food scene by storm and even landing on a TV set near you cough Food Network cough. But, being a professional chef wasn't always the plan for Cao even though she can trace her love affair with food back to the year she ate a McDonald's Big Mac every day for a year. She was 7. See? The Burger Lady. It all comes full circle, don't you know?

Lucky for us, Cao took some time to talk life, food, and how she's creating a brand filled to the brim with #Chickspiration and self-awareness. Take a bite out of her gem-filled interview below. Pun intended.

 

HER LIFE STORY IN CLIFFSNOTES

I am first generation Vietnamese American. Born in California, and raised in Texas. I spent 13 years of my life playing sports competitively around the clock. I feel like I got a late start on discovering other, more prominent interests. I grew up in a family that fostered A LOT of tough love and competition. I find myself having to pull myself out of that mentality and foster positivity and I have to constantly remind myself to just enjoy the process versus always obsessing over the end result. But at the same time, it made me one tough individual. Nothing has ever come easy for me. I have had to work very hard at every turn and every step I took always warranted a couple of steps backwards.

A lot of my early adulthood and up until 3 years ago was a culmination of pretty bad luck and really terrible personal decisions. I regret nothing and actually welcome all of the lessons I have learned. It taught me to live fearlessly, accept vulnerability, and to always get back up. I am an absolute dreamer and will stop at nothing to achieve all of my dreams. My goal is to break as many barriers as I can.

DO YOU SPEAK FOOD OR NAH?

To be honest, preparing food is still fairly new to me. I have been in the service industry for over 10 years now, but only started to really cook at the age of 25. I have never had a 9-5 or office job. [Food] is a necessity and a very important part of all of our lives. It literally keeps us alive, and I value that so of course I am going to love and respect it.

I get asked this a lot, and every single time I think about it, it becomes apparent that food is my actual love language. It was the one tangible and accessible thing that I was able to express myself with. It was my paintbrush and canvas (as corny as that sounds). I laugh everytime I say that, but it’s true. I have always loved food because that is how you show and share affection in my family. I never knew that I wanted to do it as a career. Life just takes you places sometimes, and you go with it. As long as I get to be who I am and can make a living off of it, then I’m set.

THE "I's" HAVE IT: IMMIGRATION, IMAGINATION, I WILL

I kind of hid behind a business and a moniker starting out. And as time went on, I realized that I want to be the “model” for my brand. That in the pursuit of a well rounded, enlightened lifestyle, I must be the embodiment of that concept. I will represent immigrant families and people of color who do not always feel like they fit in. I will represent females and underdogs. I will break molds and stereotypes. I will make a difference. I will create my own position in life. And cook great and great for you food while doing it.

CAREER ADVICE IS LIFE ADVICE, FTW

I honestly think the lack of career advice I have gotten has played a huge role in everything I have done. But I was told by a Buddhist monk, just a couple of days ago, after he offered to read my New Year’s fortune that I need to listen carefully. Not just to other people, but my surroundings. Trust the process. I will definitely be taking that with me in my next project and through life.

WTPho? Cao's Pho Kit is legen*wait for it*dary.  Check it out on IG here.

CAO'S FAVORITE DISHES IN 3...2...1...

Spring rolls, Pho, potato salad, tortilla pizzas, and vegan and gluten free Buddha bowl.

LADIES IS CHEFS TOO, AND DAMN GOOD AT IT

In this industry, women are the greatest. Attention to detail and finesse is unparalleled. There is nothing better than a woman’s touch in this business and all businesses in general. I recommend you just do the damn thing and do not compare yourself to anyone else in the game. Either you want it or you don’t. Anyone can learn how to cook. It’s a matter of trial and error and not giving up when it doesn’t go the way you want it to. It’s doing it over and over again and wanting to get better.

Caodan with Food Network's Cooks vs. Cons host, Geoffrey Zakarian.

Image courtesy of C. Tran and Food Network 

HOW DID SHE LAND THAT FOOD NETWORK SPOT? 

Haha. Well I auditioned for Next Food Network Star Season 12, and was not selected. But my file was still on hand, so I was contacted to be on Cooks Vs Cons, which is not actually what you think. It would be about ten times cooler if it were literally cooks versus convicts because reformed convicts is a conversation we should be having as a society, but I will not get into that now.

I was interviewed, selected, filmed and it just aired last Wednesday, unbeknownst to me until someone texted me. It was an incredible experience and I hope this is just the beginning.

SNEAKHER STYLE: KUNG FU CAO IN JORDANS

My dream style is to always look like a kung fu master in tight shoes, but right now it’s that and pretty cozy most of the time. I button all the way to the top button always and wear a lot of black. I want to create a look that dictates uniformity. Strange because my personal and social beliefs do not align with that sentiment, but I like it aesthetically apparel wise.

ABOUT THAT SNEAKER ROTATION THOUGH...

I am completely loyal to Nike plus a couple of Vans here and there. I only veered off path when I rocked Adidas Copa Mundial cleats for soccer. I will forever be in love with Jordans, because #ballislife. And right now, I am all about the basketball shoes because the idea of cooking in Jordans and Kobes is a natural progression for me. I no longer have use for them on the court really, so the kitchen is my new arena. The slides, well, that is just every single day for me forever. Also, a pair of knit Gyakusous I can just slip on for cozy days, which is fairly often.

Top: Nike Benassi Solarsoft Slide in Metallic Gold, Air Jordan 11 Retro "Space Jam"

Bottom: Air Jordan 1 Retro "Bred", Nike Kobe 10, Air Jordan 4 Retro "Cookies and Cream."

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THE STORY BEHIND HER BURGER LOVE

Well, it all started with the fact that I ate a Big Mac every day for a year when I was 7 years old, and got to a point where I was throwing down two Big Macs in one sitting. I have always been able to eat a lot. That is still true to this day. On my 24th birthday, a friend who heard that story brought a Big Mac to my party and I decided to eat one on my birthday every year after that. Oh, and they are effin delicious of course. Then I told my now husband that I refuse to accept a diamond ring, and I would more likely accept a cheeseburger proposal. So I kind of got just that. He proposed with a Moonstone ring and Kobes in a cheeseburger airbrushed tshirt. Then we met up with my family at In N Out, because we are part Californian after all.

Following that, we ate a cheeseburger on our proposal anniversary date for a whole year before our wedding which culminated in a cheeseburger tower. It’s just something that stuck. It has gotten out of hand over the years, but now it’s just a part of who I am. Like another appendage. Best burger I have had recently is the burger at The Spotted Pig in NYC. One of my favorite local burgers is at Pints and Quarts currently.

ON BALANCING THE DEMANDS OF GROWING A BUSINESS WITH BEING A NEWLYWED

The biggest and best lesson I have learned is that finding a balance is easy when it’s something you truly give a sh*t about. That it’s not actually hard at all once you can be honest with yourself. At this point, growing a business is now cultivating my own identity, and my passion is really my voice and having one. To one day be an authority on things I love.

And then there’s my husband who is my ultimate teammate in life. He doesn’t complete me, he makes me better. He supports me wholeheartedly and everyone needs an unconditional support system like that. It makes it so much easier and fun. We make each other better and push each other to always try and get further and further out of our comfort zones and closer to our ultimate goals. I may not have taken his last name, but I love him to death.

Outside looking in, it seems like I am all over the place, but that is because I refuse to settle. I will not settle for mediocrity, and in that sense, that is my version of finding a balance.

PASSION MEETING PURPOSE, SQUARED.

The part of my work that I am most passionate about is being able to express myself. Whether it be in general or through my craft, but it’s probably best represented in my cooking. There is a very obvious contrast between just cooking and cooking from the soul. The things I love to cook taste better. This has taught me that you really cannot do anything you don’t care about. And you know when you know.

Cooking is really just one small part of it. It was my outlet and gateway to discovering that I want to have a platform. I want to represent the misrepresented. My life’s purpose is really to make a difference in this lifetime. I don’t honestly know what that is yet, and I’m not going to obsess over that just yet. I just know as long as I am kind to others, make mindful decisions, and stay true to myself, that I will get there.

WHAT'S NEXT? THAT'S KIND OF ON THE LOW LOW...

I actually can’t answer this one at the moment but I promise I will give a follow up as soon as I can ;). But just be prepared for me to be a social and cultural advocate, and have a strong opinion about a lot of things.

ON #CHICKSPIRATION AND WHAT IT MEANS TO HER

#Chickspiration to me is knowing that there is a whole tribe rooting for you because they know and understand that we are constantly told that the sky’s the limit when it is never that. It is taking paths not set by others, and creating our own opportunities, and encouraging each other to do so. Plus, women are just better.
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If you're looking to catch more of what Cao is cooking, be sure to hit her up on Instagram for more delicious goodies AND to keep up with her new journey!


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