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First Fountain Valley Pho Festival hopes contest will find the best pho in town

First Fountain Valley Pho Festival hopes contest will find the best pho in town
The Fountain Valley Pho Festival this weekend will celebrate the popular Vietnamese noodle soup in addition to offering carnival rides, live performances, cooking demonstrations and more. (Courtesy of Tony Vu / Noodles @ Boba Tea House)

Kenny Tran looked at a Fountain Valley Pho Festival postcard and asked his co-organizer Troy Hassett if he was the one who came up with the line “An un-pho-gettable experience.”

“No,” Hassett said. “I came up with ‘An event pho everybody.’ ”

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The three-day Fountain Valley Pho Festival, which celebrates the popular Vietnamese noodle soup, is having its debut this weekend at the city sports park. Tran and Hassett have been talking about the idea for years.

Tran, who owns the barbecue joint Smoking Ribs in Garden Grove, got his start in the culinary industry by competing in barbecue competitions at festivals run by Hassett and his event production company, O Entertainment.

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They met at 2 a.m. after a festival about seven years ago, when Hassett noticed that Tran was the only one of his team finishing cleanup duties, and he offered to help.

After winning several barbecue competitions, Tran was able to go from being a vendor at food festivals to starting a catering company and, two years ago, opening his own restaurant.

Now that Smoking Ribs is doing well, Tran wanted to create a pho festival to give other up-and-coming vendors the same opportunities he had.

“If your pho is good, people are going to ask, ‘Where’s your restaurant?’” Tran said. “And if you can generate more traffic, that’s more dollars, more business, more jobs.”

He chose pho because he’s been eating pho all his life. And though pho is becoming more mainstream, the only other pho festival he could find is one in Louisiana.

“There aren’t very many people who don’t know what pho is anymore,” Tran said. “We’re hoping we can turn this into an annual event.”

He sought guidance from Hassett, who has been producing festivals for 40 years.

In addition to pho, there will be chicken and waffles, Korean food, Laotian food, desserts and a beer, wine and spirits garden. There also will be live performances, carnival rides, cooking demonstrations and a Mr. and Miss Pho Festival pageant.

But the highlight might be the Best Pho contest.

Five competitors will submit three bowls each for judges who will be rating everything from the aroma to the clarity of the broth to the tenderness of the meats. The competition begins at 6 p.m. Saturday and the winner will be announced at 4 p.m. Sunday. There also will be a People’s Choice award.

The competitors will be selling their pho at the festival, and visitors will be given a ticket to vote for their favorite.

Though Tran won’t be a judge, he believes it’s all about the broth.

“Some people roast their herbs before they put it in their broth, some will grind it and turn it into a powder,” he said. “Everyone has a different technique to make pho, and there’s no wrong way to do it. But one’s going to taste more pungent than the other.”

IF YOU GO

What: Fountain Valley Pho Festival

When: 5-11 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Where: Fountain Valley Sports Park, 16400 Brookhurst St.

Cost: Free

Information: ocphofest.com, (562) 495-5959

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