Billy Nguyen

Catching up with the Top Chef finalist
By Matthew Bradford
Starring in Top Chef Canada was prep work for Billy Nguyen (they/them). Since finishing a close second in the show’s ninth season, the Vancouver resident has been firing up their brand as one of the country’s mostwanted private chefs.
“It’s been incredibly busy,” Nguyen tells QBiz magazine during a rare moment of free time. “While the show was airing, I was the sous chef for PiDGiN in Vancouver, but for the past year I’ve been working for myself and doing catering, pop-up restaurants and collabs across the country. It’s been nice because I can basically write my own schedule and take time off when I want to.”
Not that there are many opportunities to catch a breath. When Nguyen isn’t designing and preparing custom menus for hungry clients, they are partnering with other notable chefs, joining pop-up restaurants and running all aspects of a private chef venture.
“Starting a new business is scary, especially when you don’t know if you’re going to have work for that month or if anyone is going to book you,” Nguyen says. “I just took two months off for recovery from surgery, which was a struggle. So now I’m just getting busy again and trying to make up for the lost time.”


Nguyen has always had a passion for food. When it came time to hone in on a career, however, they originally chose a more structured path.
“It was always between architecture and food, but I couldn’t do both because they’re both full-time courses,” Nguyen recalls. “Being from an Asian household, it was like everyone owns a Chinese restaurant or works in the industry, but my parents didn’t want me to have that lifestyle; they wanted me to go to school, get a good degree and then go work a job where I can make like a lot of money.”
And so, Nguyen picked an architecture school in London, England as their first post-secondary pursuit. They remained in the program for three years before opting to pursue a degree in graphic design instead. It was while supplementing their freelance income with a job at a London gastropub that Nguyen got a taste for the restaurant industry.
“The chef was looking for a cook, and I was like, ‘Can I have a try in the kitchen? If it doesn’t work, you can hire someone else.’ He agreed and we ended up getting along really well,” Nguyen recalls.
Working in the gastropub’s kitchen proved an easy and enjoyable fit for Nguyen. It wasn’t long before their passion and skill for the role earned them the respect of co-workers and a role as sous chef.
Sometime later, Nguyen had the opportunity to move to Victoria, B.C. with a partner. Here, they worked at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory before moving once again to Toronto, Ont. and finding work with Cafe Belong at Evergreen Brick Works.
“That was where I learned how to do everything from scratch,” Nguyen recalls.
“ Creating a safe space for trans and queer people in this industry is a big thing for me. And I feel like I have the platform that now I can try and do that.  
“I’d never butchered a fish before, but my first one was apparently perfect. Then I ended up butchering whole pigs by myself every week and breaking down animals.” “I loved that side of the craft, seeing how all the parts of the animal break down and how you can utilize everything,” they add.
Nguyen went on to work fine dining at Air Canada Centre (now called the Scotiabank Arena) before moving to Vancouver. After only a short time, their reputation caught the attention of Top Chef Canada producers, who reached out with a request to audition for the show’s next season.
“At first, I didn’t think it was real. But they kept sending me emails, so I said, ‘Okay,’” Nguyen recalls. “Then I just went through the same application everyone else goes through – the interviews, cooking demo – and eventually got on [the show].”


Winning Top Chef wasn’t a priority for Nguyen. For them, the invitation to join the reality show competition was a chance to delve deeper into their passion and meet others in the industry.
“Honestly, I just wanted to cook good food and put my name out for myself. I was going to be fine with whatever happened during the show. I didn’t want to overthink anything, just cook what feels right to me and have fun with it,” Nguyen says.
Going in, Nguyen knew they would also be in a position of representing the LGBTQ+ community – aresponsibility they were hesitant to assume.
“I’m not an activist. I’m not trying to speak for everyone. I just want to tell my story, and if people relate to it, then great,” they say.
And people did relate. While Nguyen was worried that being a non-binary person on TV would attract negativity, what they received was anything but.
“I’m glad I did [the show] because I’ve been getting so much feedback and support, and I’ve never had anything negative sent towards me ever since I was on it,” they reflect. “I’ve even had parents message me saying I’ve helped their kids understand what non-binary means, and so many people have reached out to me through social media to thank me for being myself and so open.”
Nguyen continues to use social media to share their personal and professional life with friends and fans. In return, they say, this community has provided support through several recent milestones, including Nguyen’s recent surgery and name change.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I changed my name to Billy. Up until then, I was successful because of the name I had created for myself, and I was worried that changing it would mean starting from scratch,” they recall. “I remember thinking, ‘Will people accept me? Will they start using my new name?’ It was a hard change for me, but it ended up being amazing.”


While Nguyen says competing on Top Chef Canada was one of the hardest things they’ve done to date, they are nonetheless thankful for the opportunity and the doors it has opened. Today, Nguyen is proud to leverage their success and notoriety to keep those doors opening up the same path for others.
“Creating a safe space for trans and queer people in this industry is a big thing for me. And I feel like I have the platform that now I can try and do that,” they reflect.
As for advice to anyone with an appetite to follow Nguyen’s lead, they add: “The best way to grow in this industry is to learn, listen, take in information and acknowledge what people are trying to teach you, even if you don’t like it or think it’s the right way to make something.”
“I’ve never thought of myself as the best, and I’m always willing to learn,” they continue. “You have to have that open mind and respect each other in the kitchen, because [that’s] the only way it will work out.”