An Interview with Andrea Nguyen
It's always thrilling when Andrea Nguyen releases a cookbook. Her work is in heavy rotation in our kitchen. Her new Ever-Green Vietnamese is spot on with dishes we want to be eating right now. I had the lucky opportunity to catch up with Andrea during her recent book tour in New York City.
Kitty: Welcome to New York, Andrea! I love this passage you shared about your mom’s reaction to your new cookbook, Ever-Green Vietnamese:
When Mom received her copy, she called me and unboxed hers over the phone. She told me it was beautiful, that it was my đứa con tinh thần. “Do you understand what đứa con tinh thần is?” she said. Um no, I sheepishly admitted. “It’s something special that you only could create.”
Andrea lovely in her Semifinalist sweatshirt
It's such a sweet, profound statement. Could you clarify what she meant and do you think it is accurate? Why this particular book, not your previous books? How did it make you feel?
Andrea: I later realized that the phrase best translates to “brainchild” in English. My family went through a lot while I wrote this book. My dad was very ill and passed in December 2021. He’d answer my questions when he could. My mom was always there, even though she was stressed by his condition. When she saw the book, it’s depth and design, she arrived at her succinct comment. My mom doesn’t offer compliments easily.
Ever-Green Vietnamese represents me at midlife, as a much more confident cook and writer. There’s a lot of information packed into the book but it’s not stodgy or over serious. There’s plenty of wiggle room and cool hacks. It’s how we all want to cook today.
Kitty: Being of similar age, I find confidence at mid-life is an underrated thing. You sweat less of the small stuff, which is liberating.
You have written several well-received cookbooks (I believe seven?) How has your process of building a book changed over the years? Does it get easier or harder?
Andrea: Cookbook making during the pandemic was difficult. Getting ingredients was tough for testers and for the photo shoot. Shipping from the printer overseas could have been delayed. But all that said, there are changes that I’m happy about – for example, Vietnamese language is right there alongside the English, without having to call out the Vietnamese in italics as a foreign term.
Smart book design allows me to pack more information on the page too but that means lots of editing, polishing and proofreading before the book goes to print.
Kitty: Clever book designs has made home cooking more approachable. Finding more cookbooks becoming less "cheffy" (even those written by Chefs) and more "let's do this together". Although, yours have always been the latter certainly.
Vietnamese history has resulted in our people and culture living in almost every corner of the world. What do you consider the most fascinating evolution of Viet food in our diaspora?
Andrea: The internet has blurred a lot of Vietnamese culture and food. It’s now a translational cuisine that anyone may plug into. People traveling to and from Vietnam factors into the flavors and ideas that we see on the table, in Little Saigon. I’m extra excited about the next generation of cooks – professional and home chefs, who are looking at traditional recipes and creating their own riffs.
Kitty: I hear you about this next generation of cooks! In the last few years, we've had a wave of young Vietnamese cooks in New York getting nerdy with tradition, applying their own modern interpretations. Really delicious stuff.
Let’s say you have surprise dinner guests arriving tonight - Don’t know about you, but I found this is to be typical Vietnamese thing. Family or friends are in town and ping to say they are looking forward to dropping in for dinner! Lucky you!
What’s your “back pocket meal” that you can whip up with little notice?
Andrea: Fried rice because it can go so many directions – casual or fancy. I always have frozen fish or seafood in the house so I’d thaw that to pan-fry to serve with the rice. My pantry is stuffed to the gills so I can usually throw together a bun rice noodle bowl, too. I often have frozen chả giò (a recipe in the book) so that’s likely to be on the menu. And, I can do many things with tofu, which is a staple in my fridge.
Kitty: I have been jealous reading about the piles of chả giò your mom makes that you freeze and have on the ready! A great tips. A stuffed pantry is a great comfort.
Kitty: Thank you so much, Andrea. Such fun chatting with you. I'm really looking forward to cooking my way through Ever-Green Vietnamese - already jammed with post-its! Congratulations on another classic.