Hailing from Surry Hills' Red Lantern, Luke Nguyen is all about Vietnamese, cooking and conscious living. Luke's pretty much a big shot on the cooking scene these days, but I won't bore you with his many accolades that you can google for yourselves - or learn about on TV. You've probably read a few interviews with celebrity chefs, why read another? The answer is simple: how else will you ever find out just why Luke wouldn't say no to another serving of horse penis? Oh, my. Here we go....
Is there any ingredient you are scared of cooking, or afraid you can't cook well?
There are absolutely no ingredients that I am afraid of cooking. There are many ingredients I come across that I don’t have great knowledge or experience with, but this just makes me more excited and keen to use it. And if I do a horrible job at it, I keep cooking it until I get it right. Food is fun, so for me cooking with unusual ingredients is a challenge & a constant learning experience.
My mother, May, is a very short, very adorable Lebanese woman who is quite convinced her Lebanese food is the best there is.She rarely eats out, can't understand why the Japanese won't cook their sushi and she has never tried Vietnamese food. How would you describe Vietnamese cuisine to her, or to people who haven't yet discovered its treasures?
Vietnam was once ruled by China for a thousand years, colonised by France for 80 years and is neighbours to Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. Hence Vietnam’s cuisine has developed by using the great influences from all these leading culinary nations, making it one of the most refined cuisines in south East Asia. Vietnamese food is light, fresh and healthy, as it uses plenty of raw vegetables and fragrant fresh herbs. Flavours are delicate, well balanced and every dish has delectable texture.
For me, it's my parents and my boyfriend. Who is the person/people that when you cook for them, you really - particularly - take pains to impress/delight? Why?
I always take pains to impress anyone who is Vietnamese, for Vietnamese people are the most passionate foodies in the world; however they are also the most critical. And they are not at all shy to tell you that they can do better.
What is the mistake most people make when they attempt cooking Pho?
Cooking Pho is like looking after a child. You need to give it patience, love and attention.
First of all you need to soak the bones in salty water, then scrub them clean. Add your vegetables and spices then bring it to the boil. Now you need to be by its side skimming impurities until the broth goes clear. Don’t leave it until this has been achieved. Only now can you lower the heat, bring it to a tiny simmer and let it sleep peacefully for at least 8 hours, allowing all the flavours to develop.
If you do not skim all impurities, the broth will be cloudy.
If you do not have the patience and only cook it for a few hours, you will not have a complete Pho broth – and do NOT use MSG.
Have you taken to any 'Australian food' - not the Australian food of multiculturalism, i'm talking about a meat pie or sausage roll? Or something that requires tomato sauce?
I eat lamb pies occasionally and will never have it without tomato sauce, and I can’t eat my scrambled eggs without it either.
I read about you spending time in a refugee camp in Thailand. In my studies i've spent a bit of time reading about peoples experiences at refugee camps in Australia. I remember being deeply affected by the stories I read. Can you say anything about how that type of experience changes you?
I was too young to remember – or maybe my mind chose to block it out.
Is there any ingredient you simply loathe and will never eat, or never eat again?
I will always try something twice, even if I didn’t like it the first time.
I don’t believe any type of food tastes bad or should be loathed. It is simply an acquired taste. I tried horse penis for the first time on my recent trip to Bac Ha, in the northern mountains of Vietnam. I can’t say I liked it, but if someone offered to me again, I’ll probably give it another go...
Where can we go shopping for good produce and Vietnamese spices/ingredients in Sydney?
The best place to source the freshest Vietnamese produce in Sydney is in Cabramatta, also known as ‘Vietnamatta’. When in Cabramatta, you feel like you’re in Saigon, but you are actually only 45 minutes from the city.
How does cooking make you feel?
Relaxed and content
Your own kitchen is sustainable and mindful of waste, can you give us a few ideas on how to use less water and be more sustainable when we cook at home?
Grow as many herbs, fruits and vegetables as you can
Upgrade old dish washer for a water saving one
Install water saving tap & shower heads
Never use a clothes dryer, always hang dry
Always have a bucket in the shower to collect the water that runs whilst you wait for it to turn hot. Use this water to water your herb garden.
That's Luke for you! Thanks to Luke for the time and Kelly and Aisha from SBS for setting this up. Thanks also to SBS, again, from whom I pilfered the picture.
Scrambled eggs w tomato sauce? Luke, how could you! I'm horrified, but also pretty impressed. I love it when connoisseurs go low brow! I'm trying to think about what my most shame worthy food fix is and the best i've got is nutella on a spoon or cream cheese icing from the bowl. Anyone got anything worse?