Cooking on the move a new challenge for Nguyen
COOKING with hot oil and flames in a moving railway car may not have been Luke Nguyen's smartest idea, but it makes for great TV.
The celebrated Sydney chef and TV presenter returns to his roots, and second home, in Vietnam for his latest cooking show Luke Nguyen's Railway Vietnam.
"I was in Da Lat at the time, where they have this abundance of herbs and vegetables and edible flowers. I picked up pumpkin flowers and some Jasmin flowers and took them with me. I was sitting in a hard-seated carriage (heading to our next destination), and next to that was the kitchen," he tells The Guide.
"All the chefs and security were on a break, just sitting there having their lunch, and I said 'Do you mind if I have a look at the kitchen?'
"Nothing changed in that carriage kitchen in probably 100 years, and I said 'Let's just cook something'. I had a lot of fun navigating where all the ingredients were. I was cooking with this massive wok and lots of flames. I had to slide my way from the back bench to look for the ladle, and sauces were spilling over everywhere. It was a little bit dangerous with hot oil around, but the crew had fun shooting it. Our show is very real and raw. We just ad lib everything and show it how it is."
In the new series, the sights, smells and tastes of Vietnam are all linked together by Nguyen's main mode of transport - the Reunification Express.
Rebuilt after the Vietnam War, the railway spans the length of the country and symbolises the coming together of the north and south of the country.
"If you love adventure then the reunification express is for you," Nguyen says.
"The major places are great, but I wanted to show people the smaller, not so travelled areas which are just visually spectacular."
Rail is also the way Nguyen first saw the country his parents fled when he first visited Vietnam aged 19.
"I wanted to see the country, however I didn't have any money and the most affordable way was to catch the train," he says.
"Back then there weren't many other options anyway. I couldn't afford the plane, and there weren't a lot of public buses, so the train was the best option. I remember so vividly how incredible this trip was, being able to stop at all the destinations and see the diversity of the landscape - and most importantly the diversity of the food, which just wowed me. I wasn't raised in Vietnam; I was raised in Australia to parents who were from the south of Vietnam, so all I knew was southern Vietnamese food. I was taken back by how many different dishes Vietnam had to offer, and I'm still learning that today."
Like with all of his cooking shows, restaurants and other projects, Nguyen hopes to show viewers Vietnamese cuisine is about more than pho and banh mi.
"I want people to go 'Oh wow Luke hasn't even cooked pho once'. Vietnamese cuisine is so much more than that," he says.
"Take, for example, a dish called bun bo hue. I grew up loving this dish, which is a spicy lemon grass, shrimp paste and beef noodle soup. I went to Hue searching for the best bun bo hue in town, and every time I tried to ask people they were like 'I'm not sure what dish you're talking about'. I thought they didn't understand my accent, but there isn't such dish in Hue. It's a dish overseas Vietnamese residents created when they migrated. In Hue, beef is not the hero of the dish. It's called bun hue and it's got pork hock, crab and bone jelly.
"I want to show people the origins of dishes and how they've evolved."
Luke Nguyen's Railway Vietnam premieres tonight at 7.30 on SBS-TV.