Sponsored by kaiousei

Hotelintel.co is delighted this month to meet Luke Nguyen, and Australian-Vietnamese chef who has enjoyed a remarkable culinary career to date. Luke built his reputation in Sydney and Brisbane, opening his first restaurant, the renowned Red Lantern, in 2002 when he was just 23. Today he is the author of seven award-winning cookery books, and has starred in numerous cookery and travel programs which have been televised in more than 150 countries.

And if you’ve recently flown Etihad, you might have sampled some of Luke’s cuisine already – he is the airline’s official Food Ambassador responsible for crafting the First Class, Business Class, and Economy Class menus.

Leaving Australia behind and heading to Vietnam, Luke launched GRAIN Cooking Studio in Saigon in 2015 to offer cooking classes providing deeper insights into Vietnam’s food and culture. More recently, Luke has entered into a partnership with Windsor Property Management Corporation Group to open the Vietnam House Restaurant in Saigon, offering visitors to the city the chance to experience the very best of Vietnam.

What are your three most important ingredients?

Fish sauce, garlic, and fresh herbs such as perilla leaves, Vietnamese mint, round mint, or coriander.

What was the first meal you ever cooked by yourself? How was it?

Beef pho. I was 7 years old and I remember standing on a milk crate and skimming the impurities off the beef broth for hours, making sure it was clean and clear. I slow-cooked the broth overnight, drawing all the natural flavors from the beef bones, and grilled the vegetables and all the herbs and spices. In the morning I entered the kitchen to the most memorable and incredible aroma. I thought it was the best beef pho I’d ever had – well, I was only 7…

What is Vietnamese food?

Vietnam was ruled by China for 1,000 years, colonized by the French for almost 100 years, and our neighbors are Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. So for me, Vietnamese cuisine is the most refined cuisine in Asia. Our food is light, fresh, healthy, subtle, and our flavors are very well balanced.

What makes good Vietnamese food?

Vietnamese food must be delicate and the balance between sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy must be spot on. This is where we differ from Thai or Lao cuisine. Our flavors are not punchy or too powerful – all the flavor tones need to be elegant and soft. This is the reason why Vietnamese food is so popular around the world.

What are your thoughts on fusion cuisine?

I actually don’t like the term ‘fusion’. It’s too old fashioned. I like to use the term ‘modern’, as it’s a modern interpretation of a dish. Modern is never wrong or right. Cooking is an expression of oneself; cooking shows a chef’s personality and upbringing – cooking is art.

What are your kitchen rules?

I say to all my chefs, “Always cook like you’re cooking for your own family.” With love, passion and care. And be sure to always taste, taste, and taste.

What is your advice to someone who aspires to become a 5-star hotel chef? 

To be a chef is not a glamorous job – we stand on our feet for 12 to 15-hour days in a steaming hot kitchen. It’s a high pressured and very stressful job. We work on all the days that your friends and family have off.

Therefore, my advice is be prepared to work extremely hard, and if you don’t like to work hard and put in the long hours, then being a chef is not for you. But if you’re passionate, hardworking, and love to make people smile by cooking them delicious food, then pursue your dream.