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Live Fast Mag curates the best of fashion, art, sex, and travel. A vivid and sexy inspiration board for the aesthetically-inclined, Live Fast features in-depth interviews, putting the spotlight on up-and-coming artists, designers and the beautiful minds of our time.

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Vietnam: Authentic Food Porn

I have known Thang Le my whole life. His parents left Vietnam in a time – which I am figuring – was just post-Vietnam War. His family arrived in the States and they were sponsored by our local church, and they ended up living directly across the street from my family. There were five kids in their family, each only about two years apart, and we played like children every day. We climbed trees together, had lemonade stands, ate corn on the cob, and even organized parades down our street for the neighbors (who we charged ten cents to watch). I was the Statue of Liberty (my favorite hand-sewn Halloween costume by my mom) while Thang set off fireworks to our serenade. Ahhh, so many memories…

Well, we have all grown up, gone our separate ways and followed our own paths. I became a photographer/writer. Who knew? Thang became a splendid chef, working in some of the finest restaurants in D.C.  and then mentoring with some of the most famous chefs in the world. He recently worked at Iggy’s, a renowned kitchen in Singapore, and then followed that with quality time with his family in Vietman. I caught up with my old friend to talk a little bit about his career and his travels, and this is what he had to say about his ventures:

Q&A

LF: How did your career as a chef take you to Asia?

TL: Since I started cooking professionally, I wanted to travel around to different kitchens around the world. Knowledge in culinary comes from hands-on experience and working with talented people. I enjoy working with driven people in the kitchen. I feel lucky to have a career that allows me to experience different cultures and their cuisines. I made it a goal with two other cooks in 2007 to cook in Asia, though it happened a lot later then we planned. In 2009, I ended up in Alicante, Spain working for a Chef named Sabastian Abad and his mother-in-law Maria Jose San Roman. He was a wizard on the grill – open flames especially. While there, I got contacted to work at Iggy’s in Singapore. So I headed to the Far East after my time in Spain.


LF: Iggy’s was nominated the best restaurant in all of Asia this year, correct? That’s quite a statement! Tell us about some of your favorite dishes that you prepared while working here?

TL: Yes, Iggy’s was ranked #1 in Asia and 27th in the world by San Pellegrino… but all that is bullshit. We had a lot of wooing going on – rankings are so unclear in the restaurant world. Everyone is always doing something good, but there are also some restaurants doing great and some doing UNBELIEVEABLE. It’s all politics. We had a lot of our fresh fish come from Japan, and working with the most pristine quality fish was insane! We also got live fish delivered to the restaurant. That was a lot of fun to work with THE MOST FRESH ingredients. I also butchered a live snapping turtle with a Japanese Master chef Yoshi… I had no idea what I was doing. Blood was definitely everywhere. I love to butcher, it’s a big passion of mine. It’s an art form and craft. I respect the traditions!

LF: You are Vietnamese, raised in the States, and this year you made your way back to Vietnam to visit your roots. Most memorable moment?

TL: It was my first time there and will not be the last time back in Vietnam! Most memorable moment was seeing the hectic traffic! It was controlled chaos!!! Scooters are everywhere! Whole families of four packed on one scooter! Of course, the food in the streets was heaven and so cheap! I was living like a KING!  There are just so many great stories and moments! The Fish Sauce in Mui Ne beach, Sapa in the northern border and sleeping with the Hmong people, drinking rice wine!

LF: Pho in Vietnam vs. Pho anywhere else?

TL: PHO IN THE STREETS OF SAIGON hands down, with no doubt! District 1 is the best, next would have to be MAMA LE’s pho! American Pho on the East coast is too aromatic! I can’t get down with it, I was spoiled over in NAM! West coast Pho – I have no idea – it could be good, but nothing beats the motherland!

LF: What stood out to you the most in the way food is prepared in Vietnam?

TL: The food in Vietnam is so fresh. Everyday my aunt would go to the market and gather all these greens, herbs, veggies and fish and protein… it was all so fresh! The fresh herbs were insane! It is a very healthy feeling. What also stood out was the street food – how they have been doing this for decades and it hasn’t changed! The street venders work so hard on one dish day after day, and they have so much respect for their craft.

LF: If you could go anywhere in the world for your next foodie trip, where would it be?

TL: Ahhh man that is such a tough question! It would be Italy, but Japan is neck and neck. Italy, because I am in love with the old world and the way time stood still their in their food culture with so much tradition!  Same in Japan. But Italy seems more romantic to me… the wine, cheese, cured meats, the outdoor markets! I would live there if I could and just get lost! Japan would be my vacation from there, haha!

LF: You worked in fine dining in the States as well. Where?

TL: In the states I had the privilege to work in the kitchen at Komi in D.C. We were doing some crazy amazing things for how small the kitchen was. Brooks Headly is probably the most talented Chef I work have worked with too. He was the self-taught pastry chef.

LF: How do you LIVE FAST?

TL: How do I live fast? When I am presented with a opportunity, I take it as if I HAVE to do it! Living fast, for me, means not thinking too much about the things that happen in life. I’m a firm believer in things working out a certain way, even if we don’t have any idea what we’re doing!

LF: Art Talk: What inspires you? Favorite art or work?

TL: Cooking is a expression of art, for sure – plating and merging flavors together so they flow and are tasty. Being a bread maker is a art  – seeing the dough rise and bake and then you have this amazing organic crusty bread. What inspires me? Good produce and a sexy IBERICO PIG! Also, E Bulli Cookbook Volumes –  they are massive with such beautiful food.

LF: Sex Talk: What gets you off? Literally or figuratively?

TL: What gets me of? A beautiful woman holding gummy bears and a properly made sandwich!!

LF: Travel Talk: Favorite destination or travel stories (besides this epic journey) that you want to share?

TL: Belize 2009 was my first time outside the country and I went alone. I have never seen water so blue!! Had a book bag and nothing planned… no hotel arrangements or transportation – straight winging it! I realized at that moment that the best plan is to have no plan when traveling!!! I met awesome people on that trip and I’ll never forget the perfect water (and when we almost died free diving for lobster in a storm)! It was the perfect storm on top of my hangover! It cleared up after we hit a HUGE WAVE and turned out to be a good day! We got over 100 lobsters!


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