MANILA -- Luke Nguyen, star of the series "Luke Nguyen’s Street Food Asia," brings his Vietnamese culinary expertise to the Philippines as he joins the TLC Festival at the Bonifacio High Street on Saturday.
This is not his first time in the Philippines. Nguyen was here for a charity dinner back in 2003 but quickly flew out right after. This time out, he has a little more time to sample Filipino cuisine and to meet local foodies.
After sampling dishes like chicken pork adobo, sinigang na bangus, crispy pata, and sampaguita ice cream, this Australian-Vietnamese chef had nothing but raves about what he tasted going as far as hinting that he might do a series on Filipino food.
Nguyen is not the type of TV personality who flies in, spends half a day in a country, shoots the show, then leaves. “Before I film a show, I come back again and again to research and try the best food. Just travel, talk to local people, then write the recipes,” he recounts. “We do a lot of research. We go to that destination many times and we get to see the authenticity of it.”
Citing his experience when doing "Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam," the taste of food changes from region to region. Bahn mi tastes different in Hanoi compared to Da Nang and Saigon. “Never think that you know so much about a dish until you’ve travelled the entire country,” Nguyen said.
He remarked that the perception of Filipino food around the world was that it was just all about adobo. After getting to taste it first hand, Nguyen raved about the “originality and diversity" of Filipino cuisine.
"It’s Asian, it’s American, it’s Chinese, it’s Malay, it’s everything. I’d love to go to the islands and see what’s there,” he said.
Born in Thailand and settling in Australia after his parents fled Vietnam, Nguyen’s parents survived by doing odd jobs and opening up a Vietnamese restaurant. “Typical hole in the wall. Service was terrible. But the food was good,” described Nguyen. adding that he was helping out since he was 6 years old.
After that he opened Red Lantern in Sydney when he was 23. Apart from this, Nguyen is also the chef-owner of Fat Noodle in Brisbane, Moi Moi in Hong Kong, and Vietnam House in Saigon.
According to Nguyen, Vietnamese cuisine is characterized by freshness, elegance, and balance, apart from being healthy. For him, the Vietnamese dish that best epitomizes this is Cahn Chua, a seemingly complicated soup dish that has has tamarind, tomatoes, pineapple, fish sauce, fish or prawns, garlic, lemongrass, fish stock, sawtooth coriander, elephant ear stem, fried garlic oil, and bean sprouts. With all of these ingredients, it would be very easy to let one ingredient overpower anything else.
He stressed that it’s not enough to take one cooking class and be proficient in producing consistently good Vietnamese Food. “It’s about training the palette,” he said.
Luke Nguyen cooks Cahn Chua on his show
His mission is really to destroy the public perception that Vietnamese food is cheap. He combines this with his Australian culinary sensibilities.
“People might say that Australian is a bit light on flavor. But that’s because we let you focus on the ingredient and we let you taste it.”, Nguyen said.
The well-travelled chef uses high-end ingredients to bring his Vietnamese dishes to a different level. His restaurants outside Australia imports produce and meat from Down Under to ensure the quality of the dishes.
Take, for example, the humble Bahn Xeo, a turmeric rice crepe with a filling of shrimp, pork and mung beans, sold on the streets of Vietnam. In Nguyen’s restaurant, the crepe has a filling of Alaskan king crab, Iberico pork and black truffles. He alsp pairs wine with his Vietnamese menu items.
Nguyen has spent 15 years proving that Vietnamese cuisine can become a special dining experience.
For Saturday's TLC Festival, we will be displaying his cooking at the TLC Live main stage and conducting a cooking workshop at the TLC Kitchen.
Nguyen promised that he would find a way to use the flavors in his favorite Filipino dishes during the TLC sessions. He listed kamias, sampaguita, ube, and finally bagoong, which he seemed to become particularly fond of, as ingredients he would like to experiment with.
This year’s edition, with the theme “Go Lokal” is a celebration of all things Filipino and will be graced by other popular TLC personalities like "Cake Boss" star Buddy Valastro, "Fun Taiwan" hosts Patty Lee and Sharon Huang as well as local stars from “You Have Been Warned Asia” and “Worst Vacation Ever.”