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The Golden Spoon Awards: My Destiny Encounter

Friday, 04/14/2017 10:47
Being successful in the US and so well known in Hollywood but with chef Jack Lee, Vietnam is the culinary paradise. “The chefs of celebrities” wishes that the whole world to notice Vietnamese cuisine.

Not many Vietnamese chefs can succeed in US land or leave their imprints in the culinary world, where is just for Hollywood super stars and celebrities, such as Steve Jobs, Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Baldwin, or Charlize Theron. But Jack Lee (Vietnamese name is Ly Vinh Vien) is the one who has archived that surprised honor.

Jack Lee left Viet Nam at age 9 and he started up his career with bare hands. After 34 years working and struggling on the New World to get the best reputation, he suddenly came back Viet Nam to work and to continue his dreams. TV audiences always see Jack Lee on food show with all of his enthusiasm and happiness so they named him “Mr. Happy”.

Below is what chef Jack Lee shared about his career and his inspiration from Vietnamese cuisine.

Vietnamese original chef Jack Lee. Photo: The Golden Spoon Awards

As a chef who has honorably cooked for many celebrities and US V.I.P, which is not a piece of cake, why did to decide to come back to Vietnam after 34 years away from homeland?

Chef Jack Lee: Actually, I at first came to Viet Nam to help one of my best friends to launch a restaurant then I would go back to the US because both my work and my family are there. However, in the second day in Vietnam, I had known of the professional contest called The Golden Spoon with quite many interesting points to look at. In the contest, candidates well presented their talents and somehow I started my faith in the development of cooking career in Vietnam. That was a sudden turn that changed my mind.

After having contact and digging deeper, I realized that Vietnam is not only a beautiful country, where possesses a diverse culture, a warm heart, and a wonderful history of cuisine. Besides, I seemed to be attracted by abundant ingredients here as fresh fruits, vegetables, and fresh seafood as well.

You just mentioned The Golden Spoon Awards. It’s almost 3 years since you attended that contest and what did it relay on you till now?

Being in the contest is a memorable event. Certainly it is!

I had known the contest when the time was already so close and seemed like the organization did not accept any more attendance. I had a small chat with Mr. Ly Huy Sang (Deputy Director of the contest) and he offered me a chance to present myself. At that time, my Vietnamese was not good at all so it’s hard to win the contest. However, I think that getting into the final round was enough that year.

Although I was only in top 15 but the contest gave a foreign chef, like me, lots of senses about Vietnamese food. Indeed, I felt happy when cooking Vietnamese food from fresh ingredients here.

I’ve been following The Golden Spoon contest for years and I think the organization has offered an admirable investment to develop and elevate Vietnamese cuisine. The contest has not only helped local chefs by creating a useful and challenging playground to open their mind and to strengthen their confidence but it has also introduced and advertised Vietnamese cuisine through diverse, healthy, and delicious dishes.

At my point of view, I think The Golden Spoon contest can totally invite 5 star chefs from all over the continents so that our culinary culture would expand to every corner of the world.

Jack Lee was in The Golden Spoon contest 2014, just 2 days after his arrival to Viet Nam.

Attending in top 15 of a contest where all chefs from famous restaurants around the country had gather is not easy. So what are your keys to subdue the jury?

I always have an intense passion of cooking. I think you must cook with love and respect if you want to succeed in this career.

It also shows your respect to the culture, the national heritage, and the people of the soil where you’re standing and cooking. We have to seriously learn every single detail, from aroma to taste, of typical regional dishes so later you could re-create the soul of the dishes.

In Vietnamese culture, if you give love and respect to the honest local people, they are willing to love you to the moon and back and they always welcome your food with open hearts and impartial stomach.

It’s been 3 years since you attended in The Golden Spoon contest and also 3 years since you started develop your career in Vietnam. What do you think of the differences of Vietnamese cuisine from other countries’, especially the US?

Vietnamese cuisine is definitely diverse and colorful. From flavors, display, to styles is harmonic and delicate. You know, let’s talk about tremendous choices you have for breakfast; all kinds of fresh rice noodles, pho, bun, or hu tieu; all kinds of rice and congee; and of course all kinds of breads and cakes. Unlike in the US, we usually just have sandwich, egg, bacon, or harsh brown. We Vietnamese are lucky because we easily have all delicious food every day. You know, in the western culture, money sometimes can’t buy that much good food.

Chef Jack Lee and the cookbook “The Golden Spoon Awards & The Quintessence of Vietnamese Cuisine – First season”.

Both chefs and diners in Vietnam started to pay attention to aesthetic value of a dish. How do think of it? Are there any similarities between the cuisine of US and Vietnamese in this issue?

Oh, aesthetic aspect is very important!

When I began my career journey at a 5-star kitchen, specifically Bel Air Hotel, I spent the whole very first year to learn how to decorate and display dishes. That’s vital if you want to walk this way. You must delicately and precisely decorate your food because before tasting your food, diners have to look at it. No matter what level you are, decoration is the first lesson you must take.

Vietnamese food is already so good. If it is displayed on proper utensils, its value will go up high.

Chef Jack Lee chose Minh Long I dining utensils at Food Festival 2017. Photo: Trung Dung

Seem you have great impression of Vietnamese cuisine. So if you have opportunities to cook in other countries, would you introduce Vietnamese cuisine to the world?

Definitely! I really want to let the entire world know the existence of Vietnamese culinary culture, which has so many delicious, nutritious, and attractive dishes. I’m always proud of it even though it took me 34 years to encounter it again.

I’m going to be in a food show with Asian Food Channel in Indonesia. I will use all Vietnamese ingredients for cooking Vietnamese food to introduce our cuisine.

Looking back at your journey, what are your most impressive events? Have you ever thought of doing something new, besides cooking?

My most impressive event in my career so far is to come back Vietnam to work. Vietnamese cuisine culture allows any types of improvising and creating. I’m more famous from Vietnam and I appreciate that.

With 25-year cooking, I admitted that’s not simple journey. To become a chef, you must work with your honesty and focus. You must believe that diners trust you for their meals and they will eat whatever you serve them.

I have been cooking since I was 6, and I will cook until whenever my body allows me too because cooking is my life.

With Jack Lee, passion is not enough but cooking needs all passion and love, knowledge and respect to diners. Photo: Saigon’s Celeb Chef

Not just cooking, you also play other roles in culinary work. Would you like to share?

I came to Vietnam exactly 2 years and half. During that time, I attended several food shows, in which I was a judge of 15 events and 8 different TV programs, such as Asian Food Channel, cooking for VIP at Parkview and Kool Club in Da Nang city.

Youngsters also told me that they want to follow my path but it’s quite hard to arrange since my schedule is tight. If I can put aside a leisure time, I would open a class to pass on my knowledge to cooking lovers.

A style of decoration of chef Jack Lee. Photo:

As a judge of different contest, what is your most desire?

I’d share my knowledge and experience to the candidates. With young cooks, I specially emphasize on hygiene and food safety.

We have to be aware of and understand why the Vietnamese has not had any Michelin star although we have so much good food. The problems can lay on the way we decorate, serve, hygiene and food safety, and chefs’ styles.

I hope my opinions would contribute to age young cooks and help them to get more success, more experiences, and more achievement.

Jack Lee believes that with existing strengths, Vietnamese food will go up high if it gets more attention on decoration. Photo: Oi Vietnam

Do you have any message to young generation of Vietnamese cooks?

Young generation nowadays is super smart and they learn things really quick from social networks and from academy programs as well. My generation was totally different! We have to study from books in libraries. So Vietnamese young cooks must always create, learn, and encounter more to grow up.

You should be proud of our culture and our heritages. Let’s learn more, work hard, follow the rules of hygiene, and be ready for all occasions. All of those will create a confident modern you and it should lead to success.

Thank you for your sharing.


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