Although his name wouldn’t suggest it, Bobby Chinn is a (partially) considered local talent. Chinese-Egyptian Chinn is not only an internationally recognized chef with an acclaimed TV culinary show, he’s now added food writer to his repertoire.
Chinn’s book, recently released and now available at Diwan bookstore is an entertaining read. Titled “Wild Wild East: Recipes and Stories from Vietnam Chinn’s book is simply more than a collection of recipes with images of artfully decorated dishes. Chinn guides readers into a territory of unfamiliar cuisine and new ingredients, writing a narrative that is both humorous and informative.
Chinn was a late bloomer in the culinary world so to speak. His career started off on Wall Street after graduating with a degree in economics, and a stint with stand up comedy left him searching for another more gratifying pursuit, which led him to food.
Now, Chinn has come far and is considered a bit of a celebrity in the culinary world. His show, “World Café Asia, airs on the Discovery Channel, and a restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam was – until its recent closure – highly regarded by foodies in Asia.
His 224-page book is comprised of both traditional recipes that Chinn picked up from his time in Vietnam, and ones he personally created by adding influences from his Asian and Middle Eastern background.
Great photos of Vietnamese street scenes and Vietnamese produce are just as much a component of the book as are lip smacking images of Chinn’s recipes.
The book is divided into chapters that include descriptions and explanations of Vietnamese food from ingredients and sauces to snacks and street food, along with the traditional salads, main courses, and desserts sections.
With the opening of a Vietnamese restaurant in Fairmont Nile City and the worldwide fascination with Vietnamese food, I couldn’t help but ask him why all this focus on Vietnamese cuisine?
“It’s an undiscovered and unexplored cuisine, explains Chinn. “The popularity of food either goes with the fad of a diet, or some of the influences of that is business travel that happens. If you think of the 1980s and the baby tigers in Asia when they really kicked . everyone had a really serious palette for not just Chinese food but Japanese. Japanese probably was the one that everyone looked at as being really healthy. But Japanese food is not sustainable, you cannot continue to serve endangered species from the water and think that you can continue to serve it.
On the other hand, Chinn explains, Vietnam’s economic and social isolation from the world, imposed by politics and history, has led to a newfound interest in the socially burgeoning country.
But to most Egyptians, Vietnamese cuisine is uncharted territory. “You’re going to find that the cuisine is light, simple to prepare, [and] it satisfies everything that a chef is looking for in food: contrast, sweet and sour, crunchy, soft, gooey, crispy . those types of sensations in the mouth is what Vietnamese is really good at. They’re the masters of grilling, they are the masters of salad.
The book seems ideal for people who are not familiar with either the cuisine or their own kitchens.
“Most of the recipes are really simple. There are some recipes that I didn’t realize were so time-consuming. You read the book and don’t consider cooking . and then when you decide, you can do a lot of different things with [one basic sauce]. The versatility and practicality of Vietnamese cuisine is what seems to excite Chinn so much, explaining during a book signing and food demonstration at Diwan how one sauce can be both a dipping sauce, salad dressing and marinade.
Chinn’s passion about the publication of his book and his time in Vietnam is evident. “I went to Vietnam and it was very stressful. I came from really good French kitchens and started cooking very late. And I was in a rush to get to an opportunity to set up my own kitchen and learn on the job, because I figured anyone can do this job if their heart and soul are in it.
He started regaling stories of these stressful days, “and so people would laugh at my misery, my stress. A friend suggested he writes down these stories.
When approached to write a book, Chinn had most of the material ready and already written, but it was the selection process for the recipes that was his concern. What appears in the book is reflective of Chinn’s personal life experiences: a fusion and clash of cultures, ingredients, experiences and recipes.
“The key to Vientmanese food is preserves; cooking with sugar is a very unique technique of how they use sugar in food. You’re missing here maybe shiso, the green leaf in the menthol family, but I think you can get away with it. All you need is fish sauce, but the question is what good fish you can get.
Chinn explains that the best fish sauce found is that produced in Vietnam, and not much of it is exported, but suggests seeking Thai fish sauce in local supermarkets and avoiding Phillipino fish sauce which is too salty for Vietnamese dishes.
“Wild, Wild East: Recipes and Stories from Vietnam is available at Diwan Bookstore for LE 275.