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If Vietnamese is fast becoming one of London’s favourite cuisines, it’s safe to say that Uyen Luu had something to do with it. With her first supperclubs back in 2009, Uyen offset a dining trend that has since taken the nation by storm. Cooking dishes from her native Vietnam and serving to guests in her Hackney home, Uyen has single-handedly heightened our understanding of what true Vietnamese home cooking is. She came to England from Saigon in 1983, her parents escaping the communist regime that had engulfed the country.
I feel like I was the only voice here in London who could answer people’s curiosities about Vietnamese cooking.
“My father tried to escape several times,” Uyen explains. “He was finally rescued by the British. After that, he brought over my mum, my brother and me.” As is so often the case, Uyen’s roots were brought to life by the food her mother cooked at home. “When we were younger my mum desperately missed home, and cooking Vietnamese food was a way to bring it to London,” Uyen tells us. She and her brother were raised on a Vietnamese diet, something she didn’t always relish. “We hated it!” She says, “We wanted chips and fish fingers like the other kids. For us, it was more of an embarrassment. But as I grew older, I realised it was the food I loved more than any other.”
For Uyen, food was not always the plan. It was after studying and working in film production as well as a 10-year stint in the fashion industry that she decided to move towards cooking as a full time occupation. “I felt like I was the only voice here in London that could answer people’s curiosities about Vietnamese cooking.” Uyen explains. “I could show people how things are supposed to taste in home cooked Vietnamese food.” First through her supperclubs, and now with her cookery classes, food styling and growing stream of recipes, Uyen is reinvigorating our taste for the cuisine.
Her supperclubs now take place once or twice a week, with a guestbook that includes Jamie Oliver and Ellie Goulding. “Jamie has to be the best guest I’ve ever had! I felt a little under pressure. I invited my friends and told them to behave themselves!”
We made ourselves guests in Uyen’s sunny home for the afternoon, where she brewed us some fennel and peppermint tea (naturally) and told us her story, all the while preparing summer rolls with juicy prawns and endless layers of fresh herbs picked from her walled garden. Her little cove of urban horticulture has everything growing, from wild lavender and blueberries to lemons and pears. She sent us on our way with a bag of wild garlic and newfangled dreams of a London allotment of our own.
With new ventures on the horizon and hopes of opening her own restaurant, you can expect to see a lot more from Uyen in the future. Her first cookbook, My Vietnamese Kitchen (which has a foreword by Raymond Blanc, no less) was released in 2013 and has secured her place as one of the most important cooks on the London radar. So if you find yourself tucking into a herb-laden Vietnamese salad or cooking a colourful Bánh cuốn at home in the near future, this might just be the lady you have to thank for it.
MORE WOMEN TAKING OVER THE LONDON FOOD SCENE:
More at thecuriouspear.com
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