Luke Nguyen, Australian Viet Kieu celebrity chef to France – and now India?

20 Jul 2015

Mid-Day (Indian Website), 17 July 2015. A French detour to Vietnam, by Monty Majeed.

Luke Nguyen is an Australian Viet Kieu. Born in a Thai refugee camp, he has gone on to enjoy great success in Australia as a celebrity chef. He has also done a very successful TV show on France – and could be headed to India.

An edited extract of the original article appears below.

Celebrity (Australian Viet Kieu) chef Luke Nguyen had no clue that a cup of coffee at one of the umpteen coffee shops in Vietnam would set him off on an unforgettable journey. Amid long gulps of the hot coffee, a question arose in Nguyen’s mind–how did coffee come to Vietnam? Thus began the journey tracing back the real roots of his motherland’s delicacies.

This led him to a not-so-surprising discovery that there is a great influence of French cuisine on that of Vietnam’s.

Born in a Thai refugee camp, like many of his peers from war-stricken Vietnam, the French connection seemed the most obvious answer to his query. For almost a century, the French had colonised his country and their influences can still be seen in Vietnamese food and culture. Curious by nature, Luke went ahead by interviewing many Vietnamese people who grew up during the French colonisation and were now nonagenarians. All this while running one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Sydney, Red Lantern, judging television cook shows like MasterChef Australia, hosting a highly-rated television show called Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam and penning food books like Secrets of the Red Lantern, The Songs of Sapa and Indochine…

This (resulted) in a show called Luke Nguyen’s France that is currently on air in India. “The idea was to immerse myself in the food and culture of France, and discover how French cooking styles and ingredients had influenced our cuisine and vice versa,” says Luke…

Through his eventful journey through France, the first link he unearthed was about his favourite Vietnamese dish pho. What he calls “the beautiful bowl of soup,” pho holds a special place in Luke’s heart, as it is one of the smells that take him back to his childhood. Having fled from Vietnam during the turbulent 1970s, his parents got into the restaurant business in Australia and Nyguyen and his siblings helped them out after school. His go-to dish, says Luke, is inspired by the boiled French dish, le pot au feu…

It may not be long before you meet Luke on one of our Indian streets, with his stove and wok. “You will be surprised to know that I have a very strong and large Indian family as well,” he says. “My aunt married an Indian man, and they live in France. We are a close-knit family… Every cuisine has a story to tell.”…

And, as for the question that kicked off this journey: coffee came to Vietnam through the French. The first coffee tree is believed to have been planted by a French Catholic priest in 1857. Today, Vietnam is the world number one producer and exporter of Robusta coffee and you can find a coffee shop in almost every corner in the country

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