• Image about Dee Nguyen
Dee Nguyen in Break of Dawn’s kitchen.
Misha Gravenor

“When he passed away, [Dee] was my rock,” Linh says. They soon became more than friends and eventually began planning to spend their lives together. Linh shifted gears from medical school to pharmacy school and was accepted to the University of San Francisco.

Dee had been studying biology and psychology in preparation for dental school, but “I wasn’t feeling it. It wasn’t for me.”

And he had been cooking at home throughout high school and college. So, with Linh headed to the Bay Area, he applied and was accepted to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. “I was a kid in a candy store,” he says. “It was like a calling, right away.”

He and Linh knew they wanted to be close to their parents as they began their own family. While Linh lined up a pharmacy job, Dee identified the one restaurant in Orange County where he wanted to work: The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, under executive chef Christian Rassinoux. “He was the king,” Dee says. “I remember seeing him, and it was like, ‘I wanna work for that boy.’ ”

Dee also made a strong impression on Rassinoux. “He’s just an excellent chef, very talented,” recalls Rassinoux, who now serves as executive chef of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “His fusion cooking between his Asian roots and Western techniques was very innovative.”

After starting there in 1999, Dee rose quickly through the ranks at the Ritz. In 2004, he reached the rank of executive sous chef — Rassinoux’s right-hand man. The next logical step would have been for him to run his own hotel.

But by then, Dee and Linh, who had married in 2000, knew that their family situation was pointing them down a different path.

When Linh became pregnant and the couple found out they were going to have a boy, they agreed to name him Berlin, after Linh’s late brother.

Halfway through the pregnancy, in 2001, their doctor diagnosed Berlin with Eagle-Barrett syndrome. “They told us our baby’s chances of living were very slim,” Dee says.

Berlin was born in December of that year with almost no abdominal muscles, a bladder that didn’t function, and without an anus. The latter issues were corrected with surgery, but Berlin would need to be manually cathetered every two hours for the rest of his life.