Chef Bobby Chinn became popular in Viet Nam after opening restaurants in Ha Noi (in 2001) and HCM City (in 2011). He recently opened a new Vietnamese-influenced restaurant in London, The House of Ho. The new Ambassador of Viet Nam's Tourism in Europe speaks to Le Huong.
What do you think about your new title?
I am humbled, honoured and privileged to be given such a position and opportunity. To be able to give back to the Vietnamese people who took me in, taught me so much and provided me with the opportunity to excel, something I did not feel was obtainable in my own country, makes this a very meaningful appointment.
Viet Nam and the Vietnamese people provided me the opportunity to succeed in my profession. That attracted the attention of Discovery, which then gave me global exposure through The World Cafe Series programme. Without the support and encouragement of my friends in Viet Nam, none of this would have been possible.
What's your plan to promote Viet Nam's tourism?
One of the ways I have been promoting Viet Nam during the last seven years is through events where I cook Vietnamese dishes, do cooking demos and often express my love for Viet Nam by speaking about the food, culture and the people.
For example, I held a cooking class and dinner at the Trisara Hotel in Phuket [Thailand] on August 18, and will organise a Vietnamese promotion programme at The Movenpick Heritage Hotel in Sentosa Singapore from September 6 to 8. I have been doing this type of work independently, but today I'm getting full support from the government, especially Vietnam Airlines, and the embassies of the countries that I visit.
I will continue this type of work as it generates a lot of press in the lifestyle sections of newspapers, magazines, local television, not to mention the Internet.
There is a lot of work and learning to be done, but I envision working with both the private sector in tourism and hospitality, and state-run enterprises to have as much impact as possible.
I am only just getting oriented so it is a little premature to give you a plan. I can only tell you that I will work tirelessly to make a difference, because I believe that with the support of many, we can.
What do you think about Vietnamese cuisine? What are the main principles in cooking Vietnamese dishes?
Food is one of the reasons why I came to Viet Nam in the first place. It is also one of the main reasons why I stayed so long! I have the utmost respect for the food and the people here. Vietnamese food is like no other.
The great fine dining restaurants of the world, run by incredibly talented chefs who have a brigade of highly skilled cooks in chef whites and an arsenal of phenomenal high-tech equipment to create dishes of incredible complexity, have to charge incredible prices that only the affluent and the privileged few can afford.
Yet, on countless streets across the country, there is some person in his pajamas sitting on a plastic stool creating contrasting flavours, colours and textures on the side of the road with rudimentary equipment and making dishes that would tick all the boxes for world-class cuisine. In my mind and palate, they provide a similar type of culinary experience for a fraction of the price.
I can clearly understand why rich people jump out of their Bentleys for a bite of perfectly made banh cuon where, regardless of wealth, great food is accessible to all. Vietnamese food is extremely modern, but it has been practised and perfected for over 1,000 years.
The principles of great food are always the same. Firstly, it is the quality of the ingredients. Secondly, it is a deep understanding of cooking techniques. Thirdly, it is the simple understanding of the complexities of contrasting textures, flavours, whilst remaining pleasing to the eye. Vietnamese food embraces simplicity, whilst creating sophistication and complexities that are often taken for granted.
Tell me about your experience of cooking Vietnamese food. What's your favourite dish? Which dish do you cook best?
Unfortunately, I have never been able to pick a favourite number, a favourite colour, an animal or a favourite anything! Everything depends on my mood, which is constantly changing. So it would not be fair or accurate for me to provide one! However, if I am feeling tired and sick or need something to rehydrate, there is nothing more comforting than a hot bowl of pho.
I also love a bowl of bun rieu. I am a sucker for banh xeo when I am caught between eating something fresh, light and healthy, and some crispy fried food.
Then there is always something very magical about banh cuon made by Chi An on Hang Bo Street in Ha Noi.
I'm not really sure. I love making stocks, so my pho is pretty good. I love making caramel with anything. It really depends on my mood!
Tell me about your new restaurant in London.
The House of Ho is located in London, the birthplace of British rock 'n roll and the modern pop industry. It is a historical building in the heart of Soho. It's a modern Vietnamese eatery, quite casual, hip and a lot of fun. I wanted to have a restaurant that is unique and has not been done before. We introduced the small plate concept, like Spanish tapas, where we encourage sharing of a broad selection of dishes.
But we introduced it with a much more healthy approach due to the many dietary concerns found in the Western world. The food is made with light, extra healthy cooking techniques by use of either ingredients or technology or both, in which our chefs are trained to reduce the use of oil, do steaming as against boiling, and use coconut palm sugar that has a much lower glycogen index.
Although one can find traditional dishes here, they often have a modern twist. The selection of fruit-inspired cocktails made by our mixologist and comprehensive well-planned wine lists make it a restaurant that just buzzes like the rest of the neighbourhood. But to me, there is truly nothing like it. — VNS