For Andrews Commons Chef Hout Seng, “food is everything.”
Seng, who has worked at Brown Dining Services for nine years, is originally from Cambodia and immigrated to the United States in his twenties. As a lead cook for Andrews, he manages chefs, assigns shifts, designs weekly menus and helps with prep work. He said he also tastes “every dish to make sure that it is coming out right.”
Most recently, Seng was behind the Lunar New Year celebration hosted at Andrews Jan. 26.
The menu featured items that reminded Seng of home: spring rolls — with pork and taro root or just taro root for vegetarians — steamed duck buns, braised pork belly with hard boiled eggs, salmon with ginger soy sauce and braised tofu with mushrooms and daikon.
“Most of those dishes … (are) what I grew up with,” Seng said. “Braised pork belly, that’s home to me.”
‘The passion with food is always with me’
Seng said he first discovered his passion for cooking in high school when he worked with his father on catering jobs back in Cambodia.
“Growing up in that was great,” Seng said, recalling one catering job when he “saw a chef using knife skills” and then returned home and tried to replicate the skills himself.
His love of cooking and his desire to sharpen his skills inspired his career as a chef. When he immigrated to the United States in 2003, Seng immediately started working in restaurants — using the skills he picked up from his childhood to make a living doing what he enjoyed.
As Seng settled in America, he said he began “looking for better opportunities,” which led him to apply for a job with Brown Dining Services in 2014. During his nine years at Andrews, he has worked his way up the ranks — starting as a cook’s helper and now serving as a lead cook.
“The passion with food is always with me,” Seng said.
Seng, who has now been cooking for 25 years, keeps his passion alive by constantly preparing new dishes. “There are always new things, new recipes coming up,” Seng said. “You have to love something that you are willing to make. That’s what keeps me going.”
Seng added that he values having a sense of community in the kitchen. “It’s easy for the team when we work together,” he said.
Chef Corey Allen has worked with Seng on and off for six years, and he emphasized Seng’s leadership skills. “He’s great at passing the time,” Allen said. “We joke around a lot. He’s very easy going, and he makes it a fun atmosphere which, in this industry, is very hard to find.”
Seng still derives a lot of inspiration from home. Last summer, he visited his parents in Cambodia and spent the whole time cooking and eating. “That’s all I do,” Seng said. “I get up in the morning and eat. That’s all day long.”
Whether he is cooking for his family, coworkers or students, Seng finds joy in sharing food with others.
“I believe food brings people and family together, makes people happy and helps people stay connected,” Seng said.
Celebrating Lunar New Year
For the Lunar New Year celebration, Seng said he started preparing for the event two weeks in advance, gathering his team of chefs in the Andrews kitchen to teach them how to make spring rolls. Together, they made over 2,500 rolls for the event, he noted.
Lena Wu ’26 wrote in an email to The Herald that she loved attending the event and especially enjoyed the steamed duck buns.
“I love the concept of it,” Wu wrote. “I see it as a great way to boost cultural diversity.”
Allen manned the noodle station during the celebration and agreed that “everything was delicious.” He recounted how pleased Seng was to prepare the food.
“I know he’s been wanting to do different foods that he has from his hometown that he doesn’t get to do during the year,” Allen said. “When he got to do that for the Lunar New Year, he was very happy.”
Jesse Qin ’26, a Chinese international student, wrote in an email to The Herald that she appreciated that Andrews hosted a Lunar New Year celebration. They noted that Seng approached them while they were waiting in line and asked what they thought of the event.
The event was an opportunity “to talk about the differences between home dishes with my Chinese friends” and for “my non-Chinese friends to try these amazing treats,” Qin wrote.
According to Seng, students should stay tuned for more upcoming special events, including a Cinco de Mayo celebration and a barbecue event that is still in the planning stages.
“Hopefully, we can create something to wow the students,” Seng said.
Dana Richie is the 133rd Editorial Board's photo chief and a senior staff writer for the University News section. She enjoys using multiple forms of media to capture peoples’ passions, stories and quirks. In her free time, she loves collaging, learning about local history and playing ultimate frisbee.