Elijah Ferrian has a stellar time at a local chef-driven event that is attracting people from all over Southeast Asia to Ho Chi Minh City. Photos supplied.
When someone invites you to an event named “The Gastro Mob of Ho Chi Minh City” you don’t say no. When Sylvain Ha, business developer for the company Chu Hospitality here in Saigon, explained to me what they were up to, I was intrigued immediately.
Chu Hospitality owns Xu restaurant here in HCMC, and 1911 up in Hanoi. They also operate a cooking studio called GRAIN. They offer cooking classes and event hosting out of this multi-faceted space. Think part open kitchen, part television studio and part well-designed hangout area that is easily malleable to fit any event that graces its floors.
NOSH is the entity that they created to put on food events and establish a network between the various chefs and restaurants coursing throughout the different enclaves of Saigon.
NOSH Food Week Saigon is the actual series of events that the team puts on a few times a year. Sylvain explained to me how it all started back in 2015.
“We spend three or four times a week meeting and discussing our projects, and one day we were discussing how we’d like to start making more stuff happen,” Sylvain explained. “‘We need to do something to bring the industry together. Something to give back to the chefs.’ That was the idea. We thought about these pop-up dinners that are happening all around the world, and so in 2015 we launched the first NOSH Food Week Saigon with over 20 chefs across 5 nights.”
I come from a city that has a food and beverage scene at a fever-pitch. There is intense camaraderie, and a community-driven spirit behind a lot of the establishments that help to keep the creativity flowing. I would imagine many foreigners cooking or running restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City probably miss this aspect about their hometown, and this event is designed to develop that energy here – for everyone.
“The concept of Nosh is to give back to the food and beverage industry. We let the guys decide what they want to do. Everything is about the chefs.” Sylvain says.
When my guest and I arrived at the event, we were greeted by Sylvain, handed a glass of sparkling wine and eventually seated among dozens of other people at a series of giant tables in the spectacular GRAIN space.
“GRAIN gives us a relatively issue-free location because it is neutral,” Sylvain explains. “It’s not someone’s restaurant. There’s no stepping on toes. We don’t want people to think that NOSH events are GRAIN events. GRAIN is a cooking studio that was opened between Bien Nguyen and his partner Luke Nguyen, the chef from Australia. When we have events and people know that Luke is coming, they show up. It’s a one-of-a-kind studio really. There’s not many places like this in Asia. A true live cooking studio. First we wanted cooking classes then we realized it is more than that. You can rent the space for a lot of different things. We use it right now because it’s a great venue.”
The lineup for the event was an exciting one: Four chefs from four different countries. Camilla Bailey “The Dane” of Mad House, Julien Thabault “The Frenchy” from Stoker, Gabe Boyer “The Yank” via Soul Burger and Chris Donnellan “The Kant” of Racha Room. Each one of these chefs operate top restaurants in the city and now all they had to do was perform their craft in front of a bunch of random people with video cameras watching their every move.
Each chef prepares a course, with wine pairings tailored by one of the local wine merchants in town. We listen as each wine is explained by a sommelier, watch as each dish is prepared live and then served to each table swiftly after the presentations are finished.
Perhaps one of the coolest things to watch was how everyone seemed to be having a blast. Not just the guests sitting at the tables sipping their wine and awaiting each course, but the staff working and the chefs doing what they love.
“I’ve seen a big change,” Sylvain says. “People [in the restaurant industry in Saigon] used to not want to do cross promotion, and now it seems that everyone is much more open minded and supportive. I think that most of the chefs now are taking shares of their respective business. You have these guys in their 30s and 40s not just cooking but taking ownership. Restaurateurs are developing a community in Ho Chi Minh City like never before. Over the past three or four years this new branch of chefs.. they love promoting what they’re doing. They are always down to do new events.”
There are plenty of amazing wine dinners in five-star hotels. Extravagant sit-down dinners are always a treat, but they can be a little more serious than some people want. These events at NOSH Week are more involved, yet more relaxed. They take the food and overall experience quite serious, but it is more approachable for everyone by design.
It’s not just about having a nice meal. It’s about showcasing the talents and vision of the various chefs around the city and what they can do with an audience. They get to have fun with their friends and peers, and when guests are watching someone partake in something that they are so obviously passionate about, everyone is sharing the experience.
NOSH Food Week Saigon is something that Ho Chi Minh City has never really seen before. The dinners have been so successful that after some members of the Royal Thai Consulate attended one of these events, they quickly contacted NOSH about setting up their own.
“The Thai consulate is flying in a chef at the end of July for a one day event designed around the concept of a NOSH dinner. This idea has always revolved around focusing on the chef and their food. If the chef wants to showcase their restaurant they can, but mostly they use it as a platform to cook something they like with their friends.”
Look for the next NOSH Food Week Saigon to ramp up again before the end of this year.