In Sapa, tourists and statesmen alike enjoy the flavors of the mountains in dishes prepared by Chef Nguyen Cong Mien
With many years of cheffing experience at the Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa (Lao Cai), Chef Nguyen Cong Mien says that it was his destiny to be a chef.
Not a native to the land of year-round cool, foggy climes of Sapa, Chef Mien first visited the area with a friend after completing his military service. There, he fell in love with the beauty of Sapa and its cool climate, and decided to pursue a career there. He started out in security and after five years, was transferred to the kitchen as a line cook. “I was lucky in that I was taught by a French chef how to make Western dishes. I had a passion for cooking, so I quickly caught on,” says Chef Mien.
Image: Head Chef Nguyen Cong Mien is cooking Grilled Sapa Tuna
Chef Mien had previously never had any formal cooking education, just some experience cooking while in the military. As he started cooking professionally, he began to study and explore the ingredients of the region to create a new concept of Western cuisine.
He remembers once visiting a friend in Lao Chai in time to see the family roasting a pig. It tasted different from regular roasted pork, so Chef Mien asked about the ingredients used which included curry leaves and black cardamom. He tinkered with the recipe at home to make it palatable to foreigners and suggested putting it on the restaurant menu.
“Fortunately, many guests really liked this dish. It was roasted pork, but with a different flavor, very aromatic thanks to the spices used. Many guests asked about the ingredients and cooking technique to replicate the dish back in their home countries,” said Chef Mien.
Other than the roasted pork, the restaurant’s menu also features bamboo sticky rice, rainbow sticky rice, Lao Chai chicken, Ta Phin-style duck and Sapa tuna, all using naturally-grown spices from the northwestern region of Vietnam. “They’re the same spices as elsewhere, but thanks to nature and climate, these spices are more flavorsome than those grown elsewhere. These spices are also natural, so they’re very good for your health,” said Chef Mien.
According to Chef Mien, the secret of making delicious ethnic dishes is to be creative while retaining their unique flavors so that guests can enjoy them. Introducing visitors to local cuisine brings him joy. Over more than 10 years working his way up to Head Chef at Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa, Chef Mien has had the opportunity to cook for millionaires and visiting statesmen. “I want tourists from around the world to know about Vietnam through the dishes which highlight the ingredients of the mountains. They will never forget these unique flavors.”
Translated from Vietnamese-language article here.