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By Minh San
Located in Saigon at 49-51 Nguyen Du Street, district 1, Acacia restaurant is where many expat Vietnamese families go when visiting their hometown. The owner is a Vietnamese master chef, Jack Lee, who is famous in the United States. He has cooked many meals for Hollywood stars and received high praise. Culture Magazin recently caught up with Lee and talked about food.
Why have you decided to go to Vietnam to help develop the food industry?
Vietnam is a beautiful country with great culture, people and Vietnamese cuisine. The ingredients in Vietnam really interest me. The fresh fruits, herbs, vegetables and seafood is abundant. You cannot find all these great ingredients in other countries. I want to use all these beautiful fruits and fresh herbs to create many new delicious and healthy dishes. I also want to inspire many young cooks in Vietnam to become successful chefs.
What in the culinary culture of Vietnam attracts you?
Vietnam has many interesting elements and fresh ingredients that you cannot find in foreign countries, such as fresh green peppers that have a beautiful fragrance. You can consume them fresh without them being too spicy or hot. Also, there is fish sauce from Phu Quoc. Fish sauce is what makes Vietnamese cuisine so good.
Cuisine in Vietnam is divided into three regions (North-Central-South). What dish do you like best from each region?
Vietnamese cuisine comes in many varieties of flavour, texture and style. For example, breakfast in Vietnam comes in different dishes including pho, hu tieu, bun, banh, and chao. We are so fortunate to be able to eat these foods every day. In the Western world, even if you have money, you cannot eat foods like these. Family values are very important in Vietnam, and at dinner time the family gathers around to eat. Most Vietnamese cuisine is served family style. Unlike western dishes, decoration on the plate is an important aspect. I filmed in different countries in Asia with Vietnamese cuisine, plating it beautifully to promote the dishes. I really want to show the world beautiful and delicious Vietnamese cuisine. I am so proud of Vietnamese cuisine and the country of my birth.
From the North I pick bun cha Hanoi. My favorite dish is the same one that President Obama had when he was in Hanoi. The meat is so moist and tender. We eat that with fresh herbs, vermicelli noodles and nuoc cham. Yummy!
From the Middle I pick bun bo Hue. I love spicy food. It’s my favorite region for cuisine because most dishes are spicy and have a depth of flavour.
From the South I love banh xeo. I picked this dish because my mom always made it for me when I was a kid. This dish brings me fond memories of my early childhood.
It filled my heart with love and filled my stomach. There’s a saying, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
Do you like introducing Vietnamese food to your customers? What are some of your favourite signature dishes?
I have always introduced Vietnamese dishes to my friends around the world. Now I have the opportunity to film for the Asian Food Channel in Indonesia to promote Vietnamese cooking. I believe we have the best food and it is very healthy, too. I use the fresh fruits of Vietnam to create many wonderful Vietnamese fusion dishes such as watermelon soup, lobster and salmon with soursop sauce, and foie gras with passion fruit sauce.
What led you to take part in the popular TV gameshow Chuẩn Cơm Mẹ Nấu?
Many producers found out that I had returned to Vietnam and asked me to film. I have four TV shows now: Mon An Cua Ngoi Sao (Yan TV), Thien Duong Am Thuc (HTV7), Masterchef Jr (VTV3) and Chuan Com Me Nau (VTV3). The Dong Tay Promotion production company invited me to film Chuan Com Me Nau because I have a lot of filming experience and 25 years of culinary experience. They were really inspired by my success story in the U.S and in Vietnam.
What advice do you give to young people who want to become chefs?
As a Food Ambassador for Netspace Culinary School, I always encourage young cooks to study hard, be creative in the kitchen, and to cook Vietnamese and Western cuisine with pride. It is very important to learn English, if they want to become an executive chef. When a chef can speak English in Vietnam, he or she has an advantage and can work in five-star hotels and restaurants.