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Good dining, Vietnam
Shes crying. She doesnt wipe away the tears; instead she continues slicing onions before moving onto the cucumbers, which she juliennes. Her hands and fingers work together deftly with the knife against the vegetables and therein lies the promise of flavour and texture.
It is morning and petite My Linh (pronounced Maylin) Vo preps for the lunch crowd at Huê Café in Times Square on No. 3 Road. Donned in a white Costa Rican-appliquéd apron, with a soft pink scarf wrapped around her neck, she smiles through her tears.
My Linh began working for Huê Café in the fall. Owner Mila Quach required assistance for her ever-growing new business and on the recommendation of a friend, sought out My Linh. My Linh says it was fate. She had never met Mila, didnt know the restaurant existed, but with her third son entering Grade 1 she was ready to take on more work. Mila asked at the right moment.
My Linh didnt attend cooking school, but as a young girl in Vietnam she watched her aunts prepare food. She was in charge of making rice and smaller dishes. When she came to Canada at the age of 12, she never forgot what she learned.
A couple sponsored and adopted her and her brother from Vietnam, and eventually they also adopted two boys from Thailand and a girl from Korea.
We are an international family, she says.
Her family loved her cooking and always asked her to prepare food for visitors. Eventually, after graduating in visual arts and working in photography, she decided to purchase a Vietnamese restaurant in Nanaimo.
Some said, You cant do it. To which she responded, Yes, I can.
She hired a Vietnamese woman to show her techniques and procedures and she learned much as she went along. She had, after all, a sense of how it all worked.
Her family became her test-tasters and her younger Korean sister credits My Linh for inspiring her to follow a career in the culinary arts. Today, she can be found in the kitchen of the infamous Sooke Harbour House.
These days, in the evenings, My Linh teaches Vietnamese cooking through Richmonds Continuing Education. She never tires of demonstrating the versatility of Lemon Grass Chicken. Once marinated, the chicken can be used in many ways, including chicken salad and salad rolls, or added to curry. She prepares different sauces, such as peanut and traditional fish sauce, and while she doesnt usually follow a recipe, she does adhere to traditional fare, infusing her own ideas.
Instead of bacon, she uses chicken and she always skims off fat, anything to promote a healthier version. She also compromises to a certain degree, substituting ingredients such as certain herbs that arent available locally. She stays away from some traditional heavy and smelly foods, which she says are not practical for Canadians.
Aside from the pleasure of creating food, My Linh appreciates the opportunity to meet people. Everyone who comes into the restaurant has a story. They eat, share their stories about life and love, and she tries to take time to listen.
When I know their story, the connection becomes personal, and makes my heart beat.
Arlene Kroeker writes about every Thursday in The Richmond Review.
Life Tastes Great Cooking Series
Join My Linh Vo for Tastes of Vietnam, part of the Life Tastes Great cooking series at Trail Appliances on Tuesday, Jan. 23, from 7-9 p.m.
To register, contact Arlene at 604-209-2003 or AKroeker@aol.com