EAT: Bao-ing to Vietnamese cuisine

From Vietnam to America, and from a student of architecture to successful chef. Chef Bao impresses SU AZIZ no end.

FOR over two decades, ever since he was 15 years old, Chef Michael Huynh (known affectionately as Chef Bao) lived in America.

“I am the oldest in my family. We lived in the south of Vietnam and my father was an architect. My father believed there would be bigger opportunities for me there in America,” he said in his heavily-accented American English.

Well, his father couldn’t have been more right.

It is amazing when you think about it: a boy of 15-years old floating on a boat in American waters, being picked up by American authorities, adopted by an American family and is today a known chef in New York City, running a myriad restaurants of his own.

Eateries such as Bao 111, Mai House and the less expensive Bao Noodles are quickly gaining good reputations.

“I worked at an Italian restaurant when I first arrived (in America). I was a cook for four to five years. In between, I studied architecture,” he recalled.

From architecture to chef?

“Well, it is a useful degree. I do apply what I learnt in college in my job today,” he said.

Chef Bao comes up with new dishes to add to the Vietnamese cuisine on the menu of Imperial Hotel’s Essence restaurant.

Although his Vietnamese dishes have “a twist of modernity” to cater to the sophisticated palates of New Yorkers, he says they are still authentic.

Hmm, how so?

“Well, the ingredients originate from here (Asia). While the style in which they are presented may be fusion, the food isn’t.”

Whichever way he chooses to categorise his Vietnamese dishes, one thing comes through clearly in the overall flavours — the balance of sweet and savoury.

“Yes, it is quite Vietnamese,” he said, sagely.

The clever twists to familiar flavours make for a memorable experience.

The way to judge for yourself is to either try out his recipes (below) or amble along to Imperial Hotel (formerly known as Sheraton Imperial) along Jalan Sultan Ismail in Kuala Lumpur and visit the the Essence restaurant.



Bean curd, as you know, is a terrific source of all sorts of vitamins and goodness.

I shan’t get into it now but I do know that it can also be an acquired taste. Many non-Asians will agree.

Cleverly, Chef Bao has balanced out its pungent fragrance and flavours with sour and sweet. Not to mention spice and everything nice!

For the Fermented Bean Curd Marinade, you will need:

  • 2 cups of fermented bean curd, drained;
  • 2 cup of Aji Mirin or 1 cup of Chinese cooking wine mixed in one cup of water;
  • 2 tbsp of red curry paste;
  • 1 cup of sugar;
  • 2 pieces of lemongrass stalks;
  • 5 pieces of lime kaffir leaves;

Simmer all the above for half an hour or until smooth and let it cool for an hour.

Meanwhile, gather up 1kg black cod fish fillet (or salmon or any ‘oily’ fish). Marinate for 12 hours in the fermented bean curd and then roast in the oven in medium to high heat until golden. Serve with roasted or mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables or fresh diced vegetables.


This dish has an underlying caramelised creaminess. The grilled lamb, due to the marinade, is juicy and fragrant.

The fine balance of the marinade sweet and savoury taste adds a twist to the predictable favours of lamb.

This marinade I have discovered, is not bad with fish or any strong-smelling meats either!

Well, one does have to experiment, you know.

For the Marinade, you will need:

  • 1 tbsp of chopped garlic;
  • 1 tbsp of chopped bird chili or cili padi;
  • 2 tbsp of chopped lemongrass;
  • 2 tbsp of chopped galangal or lengkuas;
  • 10 leaves of kaffir lime, very finely diced;
  • 1/2 cup of samba sauce or red curry;
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil;
  • 1 cup of fish sauce;
  • 4 tbsp of sweet & thick soy sauce;
  • 1/2 cup of sugar;
  • salt, black pepper to taste.

Mix them all really well together and slather onto:

  • 2kg of lamb chops

Leave the lamb to marinate for around three hours before grilling on them on charcoal. Or alternatively, on a griller but bear in mind that nothing adds to the flavour like charcoal does. So it is well worth the cleaning-up!

When that is done, serve with diced pear, as Chef Bao recommends. If this is too sweet for your taste, mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables are fine too.


A favourite of mine simply because it is convenient to serve at dinner parties. It is served cold and can be prepared way before one’s dinner guests arrive.

Furthermore, this dish, like the ones above, balances sweet and savoury ever so nicely. Succulent too!

All you need for the beef marinade:

  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp chopped bird’s eye
  • (chili padi)
  • 2 tbsp chopped lemongrass
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Mix them up well and gather up:

  • 1kg of cleaned hanger steak or steak

Marinate all the above for three hours and grill on charcoal. Cool them down for an hour before slicing into half centimetre-thick slices.

By the way, if you do an extra kilogramme of beef, simply double the amounts to make the marinade. Keep the beef slices for sandwiches as a lean lunch for a couple of days!

Now for the salad. You’ll need:

  • 1kg sliced grilled beef above
  • 1 cup diced pineapple
  • 1 cup seedless cucumber, chopped
  • 2 cups pomelo grapefruit, sliced
  • 2 tbsp chopped bird’s eye chillies
  • 1 cup Vietnamese mint herbs
  • 1/2 cup of cilantro

Combine all these ingredients and toss them together to make a salsa. While leaving it to marinate for around 30 minutes, prepare the lime dressing. You’ll need:

  • 1 cup of fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup of white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 2 tbsp of chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp of chopped chili or samba sauce
  • 2 tbsp of chopped lemongrass
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil

Simply whisk them together in a big salad bowl. Once this has become a vinaigrette, get the marinating salsa and mix everything together well before you serve.


One Response

  1. you guys ROCK for putting up these delicious recipes

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