I was born and raised in Santa Clara, California. My parents were Vietnamese immigrants, and our house was always filled with the aroma of food cooking. My sister and I were usually assigned tasks in the kitchen; it was my parents’ way of keeping two rambunctious little girls occupied on weekends when we didn’t have homework or school activities. My grandmother also lived with us throughout much of my childhood. She came of age in French-accented Saigon, Vietnam, and her influence and presence played a big role in my early culinary development. I was exposed to a combination of French classics (think duck à l’orange) and Vietnamese staples (i.e., clay pot caramelized catfish). Together we watched television chefs Jacques Pèpin and Martin Yan, and I soon began dreaming of a life devoted to creating delicious meals to share with people in an inviting, loving way. Among the first dishes I cooked, around age eight or nine, were simple ones like Tomatoes Provençale (page 184) and Mom’s Famous Flan (page 223). In seventh grade, I began cooking family meals, often asking my dad, who also loved being in the kitchen, to seek out ingredients for me well before I could drive myself to the store. When my dad cooked, I was there by his side, learning how everyday Vietnamese dishes like Lemongrass Chicken Stir-Fry (Gà
Xào Sà Ot, page 131) come together.
Throughout college in Santa Clara, I worked as a server in a few restaurants, and I always enjoyed watching and learning how the chefs played with flavor. The restaurant work made me curious about attending culinary school, but coming from an academics-first Asian-American household, my parents guided me toward a more “stable” and prestigious career in corporate America. They didn’t want to see me “labor” like they did to make ends meet. So, I ended up graduating college with a business degree in finance, a total last-possible-minute decision, and probably the most polar opposite of my passion. I didn’t want to be stuck in a cubicle, so I continued working in restaurants on the side (for fun). Even though finance wasn’t the most ideal career for me, I’m thankful for the business experience I gained.
Still, when I progressed into a full-time job as a financial analyst in the Bay Area, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of creativity and stimulation that I naturally craved from a career. I had zero passion for crunching numbers all day long (and some weekends and holidays, too). Often, to flex my creative muscles, I began baking in earnest after work, starting by making my way through all of The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
. (My coworkers loved me for bringing in all the goodies.) This was all-new territory for me because I’d grown up baking only from boxed mixes. Baking from scratch was an interesting daily challenge and led me to discover new techniques and flavors—and I found so much inspiration from cookbooks and television cooking shows. Eventually, I even took on a weekend gig at Sur la Table, the cookware store, as an assistant where I would prep all the ingredients before students arrived for cooking classes. While most other assistants dreaded the mundane labor of chopping vegetables and carefully measuring items, I found it gave me a level of peace. It became my way to escape the more banal confines of a gray cubicle. I loved the energetic environment of the kitchen, and the proximity to food it
gave me new life.
Fast-forward a few years to when I met Nate, now my husband, who tried to charm me with what he refers to as his “culinary genius.” (You’ll learn more about that later.) He also happens to be half-Korean, which was definitely a plus because I love Korean food! Through him, I inherited a new family of flavors and culture, and Korean food has become a mainstay in my dietary repertoire. Nate also encouraged me to start the Honeysuckle
YouTube channel as a way to find my voice through food. Now after ten years of uploading a video or two a week, and nearly six hundred cooking videos about everything from baking to easy weeknight meals, I’ve finally understood how truly varied my background is. I am immersed in an American and Californian melting pot where cultures from all corners are somehow mixed in new ways. I consider myself lucky to have been exposed to everything from authentic Mexican flavors to exotic Burmese cuisine, from Ethiopian spreads to Pakistani dishes. And especially now, living in Los Angeles, where the culinary rules always seem to be rewritten, I am continually motivated to play and experiment with flavors. So I might heighten the umami character of a good marinara with a splash of fish sauce—a trick my dad relied on—or amp up the flavor of an ordinary quick bread with Japanese matcha powder. If you watch my YouTube videos, you already know that I call these little tweaks my “Honeysuckle twists.”
As my interest in cooking and experimenting grew, so did our family. We now are raising two young children (and a curious border collie) with growing appetites. Our oldest, Erisy, has developed into a little foodie herself, with discerning taste buds and strong opinions. (She does not
tolerate leftovers.) With each new phase in life, my culinary interests are always expanding, and for everything that food has taught me, my goal is to share that knowledge and inspiration with all of you. This has always been the point of my cooking channel: to create a place to interact with other food lovers and build a community, so I can also draw inspiration from viewers’ unique perspectives. That community has been the biggest catalyst in my development as a cook and really encouraged me to follow my dream of creating a cookbook. So here it is: The Honeysuckle Cookbook
. It’s a compilation of some of my family’s best Vietnamese recipes, plenty of easy, everyday meals with those Honeysuckle twists, and a few time-tested favorites from the Honeysuckle
channel I know you wouldn’t let me leave out, like the beloved Cold Buster Tea (page 22) and Quicker Beef Pho (page 91). Since I’m a busy mom, I know a mix of fast, delicious, and healthy options that can be whipped up on a weeknight is needed. You’ll find lots of those but also a few longer projects for weekends or holidays, when you might have a bit more time in the kitchen. I hope this inspires you to cook and then to share what you make with your family and friends.
Copyright © 2020 by Dzung Lewis. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.