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World Chefs: Phan shares food, journey from Vietnam

By Richard Leong

NEW YORK, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Vietnamese-born chef CharlesPhan shares his passion for his homeland and tips about how tocook its delicious food in his first cookbook, "Vietnamese HomeCooking".

Phan and his family fled to Guam from Vietnam in 1975 beforesettling in San Francisco a couple of years later. In 1995 heopened his restaurant Slanted Door, which has won acclaim forits modern interpretation of traditional Vietnamese food. He now

runs six other eateries in San Francisco.

The 50-year-old spoke to Reuters about his passion forVietnamese food, his plan to open a New Orleans-inspired bar andhis future plans.

Q: What is the goal of your first cookbook?

A: "It's way to spread the gospel, if you will, aboutVietnamese culture and food. We try to do that with ourrestaurant. The book is another way of bringing that culture toyou."

Q: What makes Vietnamese cuisine unique?

A: "The Vietnamese were conquered by the French and theChinese. On a Vietnamese table, there is always a big platter offresh vegetable and herbs. In Vietnam, up north, the food is abit different from the south. You have different climates. InSaigon, it's hot and muggy and tropical so the country rangespretty widely with its food."

Q: What does Vietnamese cooking have in common with othersin Southeast Asia?

A: "Obviously, rice is the common link across thesecultures. They use meat as condiments rather than a main course.We don't have ovens so we don't bake things. We steam things.Fuel is scarce so we use very little wood. You have the fruitsand vegetables that come from Southeast Asia you use over there.When you compare all of Southeast Asia with Laos, Cambodia,Thailand, they are very similar. Things get different when youget into China."

Q: You have plans to open another restaurant?

A: "We are about to open to Creole bar concept. I happen tolike bourbon a lot; so does my architect. So this bar will havean extensive bourbon list and interesting bourbon from the lastthree years. It's tiny. It's only 1,300 square feet. So the bardrives the concept. It's inspired by New Orleans. There will beoysters from New Orleans. We'll have gumbo. We'll make a meanfried chicken."

Q: Do you have second thoughts about serving Creole food?

A: "I cook all this food at home all the time. I'm notsaying I'm an expert at it but it's simple enough and it's highquality food .... You don't have be Vietnamese to cookVietnamese food as long as you understand the sensibility."

Q: What should one be mindful of in making Vietnamese food?

A: "You have to learn how to eat Vietnamese food before youcook it. You have to understand what the sensibility is or whatI call the gold standard. This is how the Vietnamese want it.This is how people in Vietnam treat their food. You might notagree.

"In Vietnam people like their meat medium to well done. Youcould change that. There's nothing wrong with that. Again inVietnam, people eat their soup with herbs and lemon in it. Butyou don't have to do it. Cooking is knowing where you are goingand achieving that goal."

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce (Makes 20 to 25 skewers;serves 10 to 12 as an appetizer)

2½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs ¾ cup sliced shallots ¾ cup shallot oil or canola oil 2 tablespoons minced garlic 1½ tablespoons roasted chili paste 2 tablespoons sugar 2 teaspoons kosher salt 2 teaspoons mild Madras curry powder Peanut sauce (see below) Sriracha sauce, for seasoning 20 to 25 (10-inch) bamboo skewers

1. Trim any visible fat from the chicken thighs, then cutthe thighs into long strips, about 1-inch wide. Put the chickeninto a bowl and set aside.

2. To make the marinade, in a food processor or blender,combine the shallots and shallot oil and process until smooth.Add the garlic, chili paste, sugar, salt, and curry powder andprocess until smooth.

3. Add the marinade to the chicken and mix well to coatevenly. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours. In a shallow dish,immerse the bamboo skewers in water to cover.

4. Prepare a medium-hot fire for direct-heat grilling in acharcoal grill (you should be able to hold your hand 1 inchabove the grate for only 3 to 4 seconds).

5. Just before the coals are ready, drain the skewers andthread 1 strip of chicken lengthwise onto each skewer, takingcare to insert the skewer through the center of each strip. Donot leave the tip of the skewer exposed or it will burn.

6. Place the skewers on the grill grate and cook, turningonce, for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until well browned andopaque throughout.

7. In a small bowl, stir together the peanut sauce withSriracha to taste. Transfer the skewers to a large platter andserve immediately, accompanied with the sauce.

PEANUT SAUCE (makes about 2 cups) 1 cup sweet (glutinous) rice 1/2 cup roasted peanuts 2 cloves garlic 1 Thai chili, stemmed 3 tablespoons red miso 3 tablespoons ketchup 3 tablespoons canola oil 3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons vegetarian stir-fry (aka vegetarian oyster)sauce

1-1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. Rinse the rice in a fine-mesh sieve until the water runsclear, then transfer to a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Add 2cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease theheat to low, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes, until thewater is absorbed and the rice is tender. Remove from the heatand let stand, covered for 10 minutes. Then uncover, fluff witha fork, and let cool to room temperature. Alternatively, therice can be prepared in a rice cooker.

2. In a food processor, combine the cooled rice, peanuts,garlic, chili, miso, ketchup, canola oil, sugar, stir-fry sauce,lemon juice and sesame oil and process until the mixture is afine paste. Thin with water (about 1/2 cup) until the texture issmooth and creamy. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerateuntil ready to serve. The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for upto four days.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney andRichard Chang)

((richard.leong@thomsonreuters.com)(+1 646 303 6313)(ReutersMessaging: richard.leong.thomsonreuters.com@thomsonreuters.net))

Keywords: FOOD CHEFS/PHAN