With numerous cake and dessert recipes to his name, Nguyen Van Khu has become a hot name on social networks. Here the vice head of the Ha Noi Association of Chefs and chef de parte at the five-star InterContinental Hanoi Westlake Hotel shares his passion for cooking with Bui Quynh Hoa.
Inner Sanctum: Could you tell us how you became a chef?
Like other boys in rural areas in the northern province of Thai Binh, I made friends with the smell of straw and cooking smoke very soon, when I was just a little boy. My childhood was spent preparing lunches and dinners for my family. They loved my dishes, though they were very simple. I have loved cooking since then.
I decided to go to Ha Noi to join cooking classes in order to open a small restaurant in my village when I returned. However, fortunately, with my passion for cooking and my hard working, I was accepted at a five-star hotel, which I had not dared to dream of.
Of course I have faced a number of challenges during my days as a beginner to the time I became a professional chef, but with the help of my family, colleagues and my non-stop effort in cooking, I could make it.
Now I am proud to be a chef with ten years of experience. I feel proud to wear my white uniform and apron and serve my customers with my delicious cakes and food.
Inner Sanctum: What, according to you, is a kitchen?
I think a kitchen is a heaven to someone who loves cooking, but a hell to those who hate it.
Inner Sanctum: Having had the opportunity to work with many professional international chefs, could you tell us something about Vietnamese food? Which dishes do you want to introduce to foreigners who are visiting Viet Nam?
More and more people, even international chefs around the world are interested in Vietnamese cuisine, especially our street food, our rare herbs with their unique fragrance and special sauces to serve with each dish.
Each country has its own style and typical dishes to try. Viet Nam is not an exception. If you have a chance to visit our country, I think pho (rice noodle soup served with beef or chicken), nem (spring roll), bun cha (vermicelli served with grilled pork, various kinds of herbs and dipping sauce) and bun thang (vermicelli served with chicken, lean pork paste, eggs, mushroom, dried shrimp, onion and fragrant khotweed) are items you should not ignore.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about our rare aromatic herbs and ingredients that are typical of each area in our country?
Viet Nam's aromatic herbs are known worldwide. Along with their special fragrance, they also have medicinal remedies.
Each region has its own specialties. I love them all. It reflects the lifestyle and cuisine and culture of people from each region, from delta to mountain, and from the north to the south. It also brings back good memories I experienced during my field trips.
If you have a chance to visit the north-west mountainous region, you must enjoy lon quay la mac mat (roasted pork with wild leaves), ca suoi nuong hat doi va mac khen (grilled stream fish with doi nuts and mac khen, famous kinds of ethnic people's spice which only appears in north-west mountainous regions of Viet Nam), and xoi nep nuong (steamed glutinous rice which are grown on terrace field in the highlands). They are so completely special that you should try them.
Inner Sanctum: Do you have any plan to introduce more Vietnamese dishes, especially desserts to our foreign guests?
Following Chef Luke Nguyen who introduces Vietnamese food to Australia, Chef Michael Bao Huynh who introduces Vietnamese food to New York, or Chef Didier Corlou who wants to use Vietnamese spices in his European foods, I also want to do something special in my desserts.
I have combined Vietnamese tropical fruits with typical spices of regions in my desserts. Many of my dishes such as mousse socola chanh sa ot (chocolate mousse with lemon, lemon grass and chili flavour), mousse vi pho (chocolate mousse with pho flavours), pandan crepe rolls with young green rice or panna cotta with young green sticky rice flavour, have won people's hearts.
I will also research applying some medicinal herbs in my European-style cakes in order to create a new style of cakes as well as to advertise Vietnamese medicinal herbs to the world.
Inner Sanctum: Do you think passion is the only thing chefs should have to follow a job in the kitchen?
I think passion is the most important thing to any kind of job. However, in order to be a good chef, along with that, you are also required to have good taste, good health and be skillful, hardworking and patient.
Inner Sanctum: Has your dream to be a famous chef changed in comparison with it ten years ago?
Yes, a little. In the past, I dreamt of being a famous chef with a good income. Now, I want to nurture the youngster's enthusiasm for cooking. I want to popularise it with more free cooking classes.
Inner Sanctum: You have shared many of your recipes of cakes and desserts on the social network. Are you not worried that you may have nothing to earn money from one day?
Some friends told me about this. But I think giving is receiving. Thanks to sharing recipes on social networks, I have received love and respect from many people. I feel happy when others are happy.
Inner Sanctum: How long have you taken part in the Ha Noi Green Dream Charity? Could you tell us something about the group?
I joined the group four years ago for just one reason. I want to do something like organising weekly cooking classes to collect money to help poor and old people, patients who are in difficult circumstances and especially children with HIV/AIDS who are abandoned at orphanages.
The 12-year-old charity is a group of more than 100 members living in Ha Noi, of which 70 per cent are disabled.
Though we are not rich and many of us are disabled, we do want to come together to share with others, both in spirit and materials, who are worse off than us. — VNS