Vietnamese food is serious business. We pity the fool who tries to attempt cooking Vietnamese food in a restaurant without fully knowing its mysteries and secrets. Can’t tolerate fish sauce? Don’t understand the necessity of Chả lụa in everyday life, or what the hell nấu nước dừa is? Too scared to drink bear bile or cobra liquor? Too bad. True Vietnamese cuisine violently rejects the weak and the ignorant, which is why Leah Cohen wisely didn’t try incorporating its dishes into her new restaurant Pig and Khao.
After her stint on Top Chef, where she took a lot of flack for doing that thing with that guy, Cohen wisely decided to spend some time away from the States and backpacked across Asia, setting up restaurant stages in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong. One place she couldn’t get restaurant experience, however, was in Vietnam, largely due to the language barrier.
So she improvised. “I took a bunch of cooking classes,” she said to Food Republic, “and traveled literally from the south all the way up north, stopping in six or seven different regions.” But even though she took “intense” cooking classes throughout the country, she’s still not ready to cook anything from the motherland: “I don’t think I feel as comfortable in Vietnamese food, just because I didn’t cook in restaurants.”
(Side note: we’ll give credit for Leah understanding that the city of Huế is culinarily boring apart from Bun bo hue.)
As for now, there’s only one Vietnamese-ish dish on the menu at Pig and Khao: “grilled squid with pomelo, pomegranates, crispy shallots, rice powder and Vietnamese nuoc cham dressing.”
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