Mai Pham, like many Vietnamese in the United States, was transplanted across the Pacific Ocean after the fall of Saigon in 1975. As it was for most, the passage was traumatizing for her. Her career in food has eased some of the trauma so that now she feels gratitude. "Cooking has allowed me to express myself, and to reconnect with my country and make peace with Vietnam. So cooking sort of became a soul-searching experience. To be able to run a successful business while satisfying your soul is a real blessing."

She opened LemonGrass in Sacramento, California, a restaurant that draws continual praise, not to mention a

clientele that is willing to travel from the very food-conscious city of San Francisco for its Vietnamese- and Thai-style food.

Through her food at her restaurant and her two books, she reaches back. If we are not the guardians of these traditional foodways, I'm afraid they may not be around for the next generation, she says. Much of my cooking and writing is about preserving and celebrating the wonderful richness of the culinary traditions of Vietnam where I was born, and of Thailand where my family lived for many years.

As a leader of Culinary Institute of America tours to Asia, as well as in the courses she teaches at the CIA, Greystone, Mai stresses traditional methods and authentic ingredients. Always, she stresses the importance of roots. "If professional chefs are aware of the importance of tradition, we have a better chance of preserving these cuisines. Many chefs want to be innovative. But there is something very essential and foundation-building when you embrace the cooking of your mother or grandmother, or a centuries-old recipe."

Chef Pham's books include:
Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table (HarperCollins, 2001). Selected as part of the “best cookbooks of 2001” lists of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.
The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking (Prima Publishing, 1996)

Mai Pham is a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle, and recently launched a line of foodservice products, Mai Pham’s Lemon Grass Kitchen. Her awards include:
• International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Bert Greene Award for Excellence in Food Journalism
• Association of Food Journalist’s Award of Excellence

 


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