If our eyes are the windows to our soul, then our refrigerator is the window to our stomach. And it’s not always a pretty sight – half-eaten leftovers, tubs of condiments dipped with a dirty spoon, a few stray beers that escaped the clutches of surprise house guests. But what of the refrigerators of Saigon’s top chefs?
Would they contain the same mix of takeaway boxes and unsanitary sauces? Or would they be as well-appointed as an art gallery curated by a gourmet? We set off to see inspired by Carrie Solomon’s Chefs’ Fridges. Following her lead, we also asked the chefs we visited to volunteer a recipe containing ingredients from their fridge, something you can easily make at home.
Julien Perraudin, Executive Chef of Quince Saigon & Quince Bangkok
On normal nights, Quince’s wood-fired oven works overtime. Since opening in 2017, the restaurant has gathered momentum and grown its crowd of devoted diners. Along the way, Julien Perraudin has gathered an armful of awards. Quince Bangkok picked up #97 in Asia in April. And he’s been named chef of the year here in Vietnam two consecutive years running – in 2019 and 2020 – as well as receiving an award for best restaurant in 2020. Quince Saigon was name-checked on the Asia Top 50 Discovery list in 2019 too. “The secret?” Julien begins, “It’s to never rest on your laurels. Always strive for innovation and bring something new. And it’s important to focus on details – something that’s often overlooked…”
Even in the four years since Quince opened, the dining scene in Saigon has changed dramatically. “F*ck, this city! My head is spinning trying to keep up. I think we showed you don’t need a prime location to succeed. Now you have George and Stoker improving their game, Adrian at SOL Kitchen and Taco Del Sol, Pedro and Donato at Kiba, Julien and Albert at Octo. There’s Kiyota Sushi Sake, Viet Hong formerly of Monkey Gallery, Vicky and Son at CTY, Heath Gordon showcasing local talent through some great events at Park Hyatt Saigon, Bao La doing what he does best at Que Kaarem, offering a sense of new Parisian cuisine in an obscure location, there’s Hoang Tung opening 𝐀̊ by Tung in Saigon, and Peter Cuong Franklin finally putting Vietnam in the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants at Anan Saigon….”
Right now, with the latest COVID lockdown, he’s relaunching Quince’s Staples delivery menu and onboarding some new team members at Quince and their recently opened cocktail bar upstairs, Madam Kew. Besides that, he’s taking advantage of the downtime to spend time with his two sons Aymeric and Antonin, aged two and five, and his wife, Kwanruthai. “They’re all stuck at home going crazy, so I’m trying my best to support while not go crazy with them…a losing battle frankly!” he laughs, “Take things from me, but don’t deprive my kids of a pool or a park to play in. If you do, you’re taking my sanity away with you.”
What’s your fridge usually like at home?
Usually my fridge is packed. My kids, Antonin who’s two and Aymeric who’s five, eat like teenagers already!
You’ll also notice I have too many condiments. I like to cook at home and I tend to overdo it. I’ll cook Western stuff, my wife cooks Thai and so by the end of the week there’s usually a mix of half-eaten Western and Thai dishes in the fridge.
What items in your fridge can’t you do without?
Cheese and cold cuts for me…chilli for my wife!
Tell us about the contents of your fridge…
1. Shrimp paste – My wife told me to specify that it’s a Thai one!
2. Udon noodles
3. Hummus – Because hummus is life…
4. Pickles – They include mango and shallots.
5. K’ho coffee – I always order mine directly from Josh and Rolan from K’ho in Dalat.
6. A tin of French foie gras – My mum sends me one every Christmas.
7. Wine…lots of wines – Why? Because I just can’t stop!
9. Kimchi – I believe every house should have some kimchi.
11. Steam buns
12. Soda and tonic water
13. Sourdough bread
14. Vegetables and fruit – There’s brussel sprouts, peppers, sweetcorn, eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, jalapeños, Swiss brown mushrooms, birds eye chillis, ginger, galangal, tamarind, garlic, green peppercorns, lemongrass, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, coriander, lemon and some thyme.
15. Wine again – White wines, mostly Burgundy.
16. Condiments – homemade Sichuan chilli oil, pla la (fermented Thai fish sauce), and homemade Xi An noodle seasoning sauce.
17. Dairy – Pecorino cheese, cooking cream, Laughing Cow cheese, cheese cubes for the kids, burger cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, and a Marou chocolate bar.
18. More condiments – Tabasco sauce, homemade chilli sauce, homemade Peri Peri sauce, Saigon Charlie’s chilli sauce, capers, homemade Lebanese toum sauce, and homemade smoked jalapeño sauce.
19. Miscellaneous – Strawberry jam, mayonnaise, homemade XO sauce, and olive tapenade.
20. Egg and tofu
21. Bottles – Wine, champagne, Lillet, milk, fruit juice.
22. Stocks and things – Coriander roots, kaffir lime leaves, Spanish sofrito, seaweed butter, lobster stock, and Spanish stock. I make several different stocks that I’ll use later to cook paella, risotto or pasta.
23. Meats – Andouillette sausage, duck magret, homemade foie gras terrine, weisswurst, ground beef and Wagyu sirloin.
24. A mix of things – Lemon tart, chocolate tart, croissant, green peas, raclette cheese, and homemade Bolognese sauce.
25. More stock and miscellaneous – Ratatouille, frozen dim sum, chicken stock, and braised octopus.
26. Mash potatoes and lemon Gelato
Can you share a recipe using some of the things in your fridge?
This is my Steamed Chicken With Fermented Soy Beans. It’s a very easy and straightforward recipe…but it’s really delicious. You can serve it with steamed rice or pilaf rice (which is even better). The sauce from the chicken is enough but you can always add some chili sauce to it…
Ingredients: 500g Chicken thigh & drumstick, 2 tbsp oyster sauce, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp fermented soy bean sauce, 3 garlic cloves chopped, ½ tsp pepper, 2 lemongrass sticks (smashed), 5 kaffir lime leaves (torn), 2 coriander roots, 4 slices galangal
Step #1 Mix all the ingredients together and combine well
Step #2 Let the chicken marinade for 1 to 2 hours
Step #3 Place the chicken in a bowl or container that can fit in your steamer
Step #4 Place the bowl with the chicken into your steamer and close the lid
Step #5 Cook for 30 to 40 minutes
Step #6 Take the chicken out and serve
Thao Le, Chef at Nage Eatery, Saigon Eatery and 523 Kitchen & Bar
It’s strange to see Thao Le at home. She’s usually buzzing around Nage Eatery, sharing her favorites off the menu with guests — the raw tiger prawns with spicy tomato sauce, the tangy cobia ceviche — or uncorking one of their well-curated wines. Everyone seemed to fall in love with this new modern seafood restaurant instantly, with its small menu of boldly-flavored dishes. “I aimed for simplicity,” she smiles modestly, “somewhere very casual and laid back, a neighborhood kind of place that’s still a bit chic…” So far it’s going to plan. “It is pretty close to what I imagined and from here we’ll evolve while staying true to our values,” she nods.
Thao and the team at Nage didn’t have much time to develop their delivery menu – they only opened at the start of March – so she’s spending the time at home with her son. “It’s tough being a parent and being in this industry!” she admits. “Fortunately I only have one. His name is Tết because he was born right on the eve of Lunar New Year. It must be even harder for other people in the industry like Julien who has two. I admire them for being a parent and running a restaurant. My approach when the restaurant is open is to wake up early, have breakfast with my son, maybe go to a playground and then I’m off to work in the evening when I rely on my husband and mother.”
Usually, what’s your fridge like at home?
Honestly, it’s usually pretty empty. I’m not home much to cook. Plus we live in this apartment building and there’s a supermarket right downstairs so we don’t bother stocking up too much.
What things in your fridge can’t you do without?
Fruits, vegetables, eggs, condensed milk for my husband’s ca phe sua da every morning, and kombucha.
Tell us about the contents of your fridge…
1. Frozen dim sum
2. Frozen beef
3. Frozen dracontomelon – Typical in sour Northern soups.
4. Frozen tiger prawns
5. Frozen chillis – They’ll last forever!
6. Frozen spices and condiments
7. Frozen fish
8. A bag of frozen seasoned minced pork – My mom sent this over for me to make nem ran, deep fried spring rolls.
9. Baby food
11. Tins of chamomile tea
12. Kimchi and Parma ham
13. Take-out sushi and sashimi
14. Bac Giang lychees – In season right now with great flavor and a cheap price.
15. Chopped herbs
16. Da Lat chillies – These are very spicy. I use them in pho or banh mi.
17. Sliced brisket
18. Herbs for pho
19. Pickled chillis
20. Quail eggs
24. Lime, lemongrass and ginger
25. Cheese, mustard, green chilli dipping salt
26. Cocoa powers and jam
27. Tom yum paste and tamarind paste
28. Kewpie mayonnaise, dark chocolate buttons, soy and black bean milk, and condensed milk
29. Sponge gourds
30. Saigon Kombucha
And can you share a recipe using some of the things in your fridge?
This is my recipe for Hanoi-style pho. The recipe will serve five or six people. For quick preparation, I used chicken bones, but you can use beef bones for a more beefy flavor. However, it would take a few hours more. Try to keep the broth clear and don’t over stir it. The broth can be kept in the freezer for up to three months
Ingredients: 1kg beef brisket, 0.5kg sliced beef tenderloin, 1kg chicken bones, finely chopped herbs (coriander, Thai basil, spring onions, mint, sawtooth coriander), spices (2 cinnamon sticks, 2 whole ginger, 2 star anise, some black pepper), 1kg quartered onion, seasoning (50ml of fish sauce, 30g sugar, 30g seasoning powder), 1kg blanched pho noodle, beansprouts (optional), condiments (pho hot sauce, sliced chilies, pickled garlic, lime).
Step #1 Add the chicken bones and beef brisket to 4 liters of cold water in a big pot
Step #2 Toast the cinnamon sticks and star anise until fragrant
Step #3 Added the toasted spices, ginger and onion to the pot and season with 2 teaspoons of salt
Step #4 Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Skim any scum off the surface.
Step #5 After one hour, remove the brisket and leave the rest to continue to simmer for another hour.
Step #6 Strain the stock, discarding the bones and the spices. Return the strained stock to a low heat.
Step #7 Season the stock with seasoning powder, fish sauce and sugar to taste.
Step #7 Assemble: Add the noodles to a bowl (use around 150-200g per person), add the sliced brisket. Blanche some sliced tenderloin in the stock pot and add to the bowl. Add loads of herbs. Top off with boiling stock. And serve with condiments and blanched beansprouts.
Hervé Rodriguez, Chef and Founder of Hervé Dining Room
Hervé Rodriguez is in love with what he does. “Every single day, I feel the draw of my passion and profession,” he smiles. So this latest interruption isn’t going to stop him experimenting. “I took advantage of the lockdown to do some research. I’m especially focused on fermentation, vinegars. Oh, and I’m trying to make a nuoc mam candy!” he laughs.
The chef made his name at MaSa, his Michelin-star winning Parisian restaurant. The name MaSa refers to someone who manipulates flavors. “Actually Jean Francois Mesplède, who was director of the Michelin Guide from 2005 to 2010, called me that. He gave me the name after I cooked dinner one time,” he explains, “and it stuck.” At MaSa, Hervé Rodriguez’s approach was to let the fresh ingredients talk. “I really tried to understand the products, to let the ingredients express themselves,” he adds, “of course culinary technique is essential, but I tried to erase that from my mind, and I tried to not have any emotional attachment to what I was doing…”
He says that at his new restaurant here, Hervé Dining Room, once it reopens, he’ll continue the same approach. But now he has a host of new products and ingredients to play around with. “Vietnam corresponds perfectly to my culinary thinking. There’s such a diversity of products it’s incredible.”
But my favourite of all? Probably fermented tofu. It’s a completely new flavor for me, and it’s sparked a host of ideas.
Usually, what is your fridge like at home?
It’s usually pretty sparse. There’s some tapas nibbles that I eat on the go. Because I spend most of my time in a professional kitchen doing tasting after tasting, when I’m not working my palate does the same as me…it rests!
Which items in your fridge can’t you live without?
Cheese, cheese, and…cheese.
Tell us about the contents of your fridge…
2. Basil oil
3. Kumquat gel
4. Yuzu juice
5. Grenada juice
6. Raspberry coulis
7. Yuzu kosho
8. Red cabbage
9. Red pepper
12. Fermented shrimp
16. Red plums – At the moment, I’m obsessed with plums. I really like their acidity which reveals lots of flavors.
17. Chinese cabbage
18. Fish of the day – My other big obsession right now is trying to understand all the varieties of fish available here.
19. Red onions
Finally, can you share one recipe using the ingredients in your fridge too?
Here’s my Purple Ceviché with Raspberry Kimchi. To cook is to enter a space of freedom. Your inspiration is an integral part of the recipe, so I’m not sharing quantities. Trust yourself….
Ingredients: Fish of the day, coarse salt, beetroot, ginger, red cabbage, red onion, pomegranate juice, yuzu, mirin, yuzu kosho, red cabbage, apple, red plums, herbs (like basil), Chinese cabbage, kimchi, fermented shrimp, rice vinegar.
Step #1 I prepare the fish carefully, being sure to remove all the bones and any impurities. Then I let the fish marinate for one hour in iced water with one or two handfuls of coarse salt. That gives me time to prepare my leché del tigré.
Step #2 I collect beetroot and ginger juice as well as half of the red cabbage and two red onions. I add the pomegranate juice, yuzu and the mirin to balance the acidity and the sweetness.
Step #3 Dry the fish fillet and cut it into small strips. Collect the juice from the kumquats and marinate the fish in it with a nice spoonful of yuzu kosho.
Step #4 Finely chop the rest of the red onions, the red cabbage, the apple and all the red plums, and some herbs such as basil and mix them delicately with the fish. Pour the leché del tigré over the whole lot and wait ten minutes.
Step #5 While you wait, finely chop the Chinese cabbage and then mix it with the kimchi, and add some fermented shrimp. For the raspberry coulis, mix the yuzu juice with the mirin and the rice vinegar. You will serve this salad as an accompaniment.
Step #6 The ceviché is ready. Go try it…
Photographs by Nghia Ngo for The Dot Magazine.