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Chef wants to demystify Vietnamese cuisine

Update: March, 10/2015 - 08:02

Bank employee Hoang Minh Nhat won the Master Chef Viet Nam's second edition, which carries a cash award of VND500 million (US$23,500) and an opportunity to publish her own cookery book. But she wants to do more to promote Vietnamese food, by opening a cooking class for foreigners as well as a restaurant or bakery, the young chef tells Le Huong.

Inner Sanctum: What has been your most important career move this year?

I am about to complete my 60-dish cookery book. This year, other finalists from the contest also plan to publish their books. I am trying to think of a way to make my book stand out. I will focus more on the artful appearance of the dishes to make them look like art work, while other finalists, such as the show's runner-up Le Chi, will introduce simple dishes for home cooking in her book.

I am also planning to start my own cooking channel on YouTube. I don't think that given my current style, I will be any good at presenting, for which I am practising so that I can attract a strong audience.

There is also a plan to tie up with VTV6 channel to make cooking shows for children, something like preparing for Master Chef Junior and other cooking shows, in which the show invites me to cook some dishes and exchange experiences. The proceeds from such appearances will be used for charity. However, teaching children is challenging, since they can get naughty and they tend to lose interest easily.

I also want to open a restaurant or a bakery. HCM City seems to be an easier market as locals dine out at restaurants more often, while the trend in Ha Noi is to stay at home and eat. My dream is to run a small restaurant, which will offer only 10 dishes on the menu so that I can concentrate solely on the quality of the food and service.

My cooking class at home for foreigners will also start soon. I hope to guide tourists and expats by making simple dishes from the Vietnamese cuisine, which they can easily cook back home. The menu for each show will consist of a starter, a main course and a dessert. Each class might enrol up to five students.

I also want to make a contribution to promoting Vietnamese cuisine. Our simple street food banh my (bread with pork and salad) has been listed among the 500 best dishes in the world.

I think our tourism sector should promote Vietnamese cuisine with street food as a highlight.

Inner Sanctum: Has your private life changed a lot after winning the contest?

My family, friends and my fiance are very happy and proud of me. All of them support my decision to quit my job at the Bangkok Bank to concentrate on my future plans. Besides, since I won the contest, many recognise me and send me friend requests on Facebook. One of my teachers from kindergarten recognised me on the show and sent a congratulatory sms.

I feel very happy and more mature. During the contest, the continuous competitive rounds forced me to work harder to win and get to the next rounds. When I returned to normal life, I still felt the pressure to overcome my own sluggishness and to work more effectively.

The contest has brought me more than I expected. I used to think that I could reach only the top five. I will spend the whole cash prize to bring the aforementioned plans to fruition.

Inner Sanctum: What is your favourite dish and which dish do you like cooking the most?

I prefer cooking seafood in Vietnamese style. I find cooking itself is not difficult at all. Yet, today's youth tend to be more interested in cooking European dishes, as their recipes and tricks for good cooking are all easily available, while Vietnamese dishes are not so easy to cook.

Since the recipes available for Vietnamese dishes do not usually mention exact measures, and even cooking teachers do not want to reveal any secret tricks for cooking well, most people find making Vietnamese dishes a difficult task.

I myself have tried to make a perfect banh cuon (rice crepe with pork) at least 20 times. I found all the available recipes to be misleading.

I like eating all kinds of bun, pho, mien (rice vermicelli, rice noodles and glass noodles). I think those dishes, cooked in Vietnamese style are easy to digest, are full of nutrition and have enough protein, vitamins and starch.

Inner Sanctum: How did you, a young woman of 23, gather such a vast experience in cooking?

I was taught the most basic cooking techniques at the age of five. I have been interested in cooking ever since and I acquired more knowledge by reading about cooking in newspapers, books and most recently, through the internet.

I became very excited after watching the first season of the US Master Chef and immediately registered to compete in the Vietnamese version of the show. But because of some problems in organising, I failed to register, but then I spared no effort to register for the second season.

I practised a lot for the contest. Two months before stepping into the competition, and after working all day at the bank, I used to start practising at 10pm every day. I learnt the basic theory of nutrition and characteristics of various kinds of meat, the way to blend them with vegetables, fruits, making simple sauces... Then I used to practise till around 3am and later leave for work at 7am. During that period, I always felt sleepy at work. I remember those days, I used to walk around the office like a "zombie".

Inner Sanctum: Did you always dream of becoming a professional cook?

No. The career chose me, I did not choose it. I used to dream about becoming a teacher of Finance, or of English. I always thought a teacher is able to spend more time with family. But then I worked as a bank clerk and now, as a chef.

I think any career has its own challenges and people are happy when they find success. I am lucky and happy to be able to do what I like.

Inner Sanctum: What do you think about your future family?

I will get married soon to a man who works in the e-sport business. He has been besides me and supported me for almost four years. I will share the same house with my in-laws in Ha Noi. My future mother-in-law also cooks very well. So I think it is good if my dishes are as delicious as the ones they serve in restaurants. I don't think I can surprise them with any new recipes.

I love children and expect to have them soon. — VNS

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