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Chef Interviews

Chef Khai Duong is beloved by Vietnamese cuisine aficionados for his marriage of traditional Southeast Asian recipes with classic French techniques, thanks to his studies at Le Cordon Bleu.

His San Francisco restaurant, Ana Mandara, certainly embodies Eastern mysticism and European romance; ‘Ana Mandara’ translates to ‘beautiful refuge’ and refers to a Vietnamese legend about forbidden lovers who flee to a South Vietnam island and feast upon the foods indigenous to their paradise.

The restaurant is world-renowned for creative, complex dishes with whimsical names like “Elixir of Innocence”, a soup of kafir lime and lemongrass broth with filet mignon, and “Tales from the West Sea”, whole fried New Zealand snapper with green mango sauce.

Chef Duong’s passion for philanthropy rivals his zeal for flavors and freshness; he is a founding member of both the Asian Chefs Association, where he sits on the board of directors, and the ACA’s ‘Chefs Without Borders’, a disaster relief organization comprised of dozens of chefs from around the world.

EBS: How would you describe your cooking style?
DUONG: My own cooking style is very unique. I use a lot of Vietnamese ingredients, I use fresh vegetables, I use whatever is available in my area, along with my spices from Vietnam. I take authentic Vietnamese recipes and I modify them with new styles. There’s a farmer’s market near my home, and I love to see what is available there; you can’t buy those things in any store.

EBS: Do you cook differently for your family at home than you do in the restaurant?
DUONG: At home, when I cook it’s a little bit quicker. I don’t have to make it look as nice as in the restaurant. I don’t have to focus on how the plate looks. My children, my wife, they are very easy to please. I do modify the traditional Vietnamese food at home. In Vietnam, everything is very salty, but at home we like to be careful of what we eat.

EBS: How do you keep the menu exciting at Ana Mandara?
DUONG: Every year I travel around the world, and I see what is out in markets. I collect ingredients. I like to change my menu every year.

EBS: Why did the Asian Chefs Association decide to found “Chefs Without Borders”?
DUONG: Joining the ACA (Asian Chefs Association) has allowed me to connect with some of the most talented Asian chefs in the world. They have good hearts and share my strong sense of community; this is how Chefs without Borders was created. Every disaster around the world needs help. We thought about Doctors without Borders; they go to different countries, without politics, to help people. We do fundraising for disaster relief like Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami, and it’s not only Asian chefs. It’s chefs from all around the world. We raise money to help whoever is affected by disaster.

EBS: What should people know about Vietnamese cuisine?
DUONG: It’s healthy, and we have a lot of different herbs like basil, mint, cilantro. We don’t use a lot of oil or fat. We don’t do a lot of frying. We do grilled, broiled, or steamed.

EBS: Do you have any cooking tips for our readers?
DUONG: Cook the way you like! Use fresh ingredients. Also, you have to know how to balance the senses on your tongue. You don’t want too much sour, salt, or sugar. You have to learn how to balance. Also, eat healthfully; broil, steam, make light sauces

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