Peter Cornish talks to Anan Saigon founder Peter Cuong Franklin. Photo by Romain Garrigue.
With a mix of Western and Asian names, a question often asked is where are you from and what brought you to Ho Chi Minh City?
I was born and raised in Dalat in central Vietnam and immigrated to the US as a teenage refugee, where I was adopted by an American family.
You’re recognised as a pioneer of modern Vietnamese cuisine, fusing your knowledge of traditional flavours and techniques with your French culinary skills. Why do you think you have succeeded with this approach when others have failed?
At Anan Saigon we aim to achieve a delicate balance between the traditional and modern. My culinary approach is to move Vietnamese cuisine forward with modern cooking techniques at the same time respecting the country’s history and traditional culture.
What does cuisine moi mean to you? What made you decide that now is the right time for something like this?
I think Vietnam is entering a period of Renaissance and I wanted to take a new approach to Vietnamese cuisine. Moi in Vietnamese means new, fresh and modern. This new cuisine is about food that is not only up-to-date, but that has a story and reference to traditional food and local ingredients.
My goal is to learn as much as possible and find ways to modernise traditional dishes to gourmet level using quality ingredients and modern cooking techniques, all while retaining the spirit and flavour of Vietnamese cuisine. We are trying to break down preconceived ideas and expand the meaning of what it means to be Vietnamese today.
You spent some time in Hong Kong winning critical acclaim for your culinary skills, especially your fried chicken! What were you doing there and what influences have you brought with you to Vietnam?
My international culinary experiences in Hong Kong, New York, London and other world cities give me a unique perspective to create a new style of food.
Your restaurant on Ton That Dam Street, Anan Saigon, specialises in street food-inspired dishes. What inspiration have you taken from Vietnam’s history and traditions to create your current menu?
I am inspired by street food vendors and market stalls. Many of the signature dishes on the current Anan menu, such as the Dalat-style pizza and the banh xeo tacos come directly from my experience doing a lot of eating and talking with the local cooks and vendors in the Cho Cu wet market.
Anan’s special secret is the off-menu $100 banh mi, probably the most expensive in the country! What can people expect when ordering it?
The banh mi is one of the most iconic sandwiches in the world with a perfect balance of porky goodness from different pork cuts along with fresh herbs and chilli heat, all wrapped a crisp, light baguette. Through amazing hard work and ingenuity, the Vietnamese can make this tasty sandwich for about US$1.
The traditional street banh mi has a strong French influence already, with a variety of pork charcuterie, so we created a US$100 product (which needs to be ordered a day ahead) by making the sandwich even more French, adding a good amount of sauteed foie gras and black truffle to the sandwich.
I want the sandwich to be luxurious but at the same time retain the integrity and balance of flavours that make it so delicious. People will get a new experience and hopefully think a little bit differently about Vietnamese cuisine. It does not always have to be cheap to be delicious.
You were recently one of the chefs at the launch of Small Change Vietnam that provides scholarship funding for STREETS International trainees in Hoi An. You also sit on the board of advisors for Streets, can you tell us more about your role, why you became involved and what you hope to achieve?
It is wonderful to be able to give back and be involved in a great cause. When I returned to Vietnam a year ago, I wanted to do something positive and make a difference. I found a kindred spirit in Neal Bermas, the founder of STREETS International.
STREETS is a great organization that provides training for disadvantaged youths for a career and new future in the food and beverage industry. I have met and worked with many of the young students through a number of charity activities.