This month there’s no need to trade a kidney for a plane ticket to Australia because throughout April, Vietnam will be celebrating 45 years of diplomatic relations with Australia by hosting a selection of big name events across the country. This year marks the third annual Taste of Australia celebration and promises to provide more gut-busting delights than ever before.
“I’ve been coming back to Vietnam at least once a year for over a decade now and I’ve seen the industry in Vietnam go very quickly that way,” celebrity chef Luke Nguyen motions enthusiastically upwards with his hand. “We’ve got fantastic restaurants, great cafes, lots of skills here whereas ten years ago we were just beginning – nowadays we have five star hotels, excellent bars and mixologists, great baristas and of course so many awesome chefs and cooks as well.”
Proudly serving once more as Taste of Australia’s ambassador, Nguyen arrived at the KOTO Training Facility with a message of hope for the trainees studying there. “I visit KOTO every year to give support, training and motivation, but also to see their program – over the last few years we’ve seen the students graduate and go on to work in the best hotels in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and across Australia.”
KOTO – Know One, Train One – was founded in 1996 by Vietnamese-Australian Jimmy Pham as a means of providing budding young Vietnamese chefs, bartenders and baristas the chance to learn the hospitality essentials at an international standard. “It’s quite incredible because in Australia, we have a lot of options, we can follow our passion. In Vietnam it’s not so easy, so to see the younger generation here following that path is really rewarding.”
Besides Nguyen, veteran chef and representative for the Australian Vocational Educational Training alumni, Stephen Lunn also attended the KOTO Training Facility to deliver cookery classes to the wide-eyed trainees – their enthusiasm was palpable. “I’m certainly gonna take away a lot and what you’re doing for these young people is amazing,” beams Stephen as he congratulates his partner for the day, KOTO chef trainer, Hau. “Their skill level was surprising – I don’t know why it was a surprise – but it was above what I expected. I think this program is working and it’s working with such great effect bringing these students a purpose, a goal and a dream.”
Hau, now the KOTO chef trainer, was once a student at the same facility. “I graduated from KOTO in 2008, nearly ten years later I was able to follow my dream,” he explained. “When I was a student here, I looked at my teachers and I was thinking in the future, I really want to be a teacher like him or her – it’s a dream come true.”
The following day saw the Melia Hotel host the Taste of Australia Gala, an event showcasing the best of Australian food and drinks. Luke Nguyen returned to the stage to give an impassioned speech on the importance of bilateral relations for F&B, followed by the Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, Craig Chittick. “When we talk about the Taste of Australia, it can mean many things, but the most literal interpretation is food and drink – Australia has world class food and wine.” Just last month saw the signing of a strategic partnership between Australia and Vietnam, which is set to deepen ties between the two nations. “We’re Vietnam’s eighth most important trading partner and we’re seeing a strong growth in Australian agricultural products because Vietnamese people are hungry for it and now they have the spending power to afford Australian products.”
Chittick went on to explain that the majority of banh mis sold on the streets contain Australian wheat, Australian hops – most of the beers, both foreign and local, actually have a little bit of Australia in it and of course, Australian beef which is now available across the country here. The Ambassador also revealed that in the next 11 years, Vietnam will remove tariffs on Australian wine, “Australian wine will be cheaper and we hope Vietnamese customers will be happy to try it at some of our Taste of Australia events.”
Providing a musical backdrop to the gargantuan Aussie feast at the gala was Australian-Vietnamese pianist, Van Anh Nguyen who was born to Vietnamese parents in Australia and has since been experimenting with pairing music to wine. “When I play music, I imagine a story, a mood, it engages the senses – the wine pairing came about because I love wine and I love food,” she grins. “When you’re cooking a meal, you have different music to when you’re eating or when you’re having a drink afterwards, which is subconscious – but what if you consciously pair food, wine and music?”
Taste of Australia runs throughout April with events in Hanoi, Da Nang and Saigon, where community BBQs, wine tasting events and culinary competitions will be open to the public in a bid to highlight the diverse manner in which Australian and Vietnamese relations are fusing together stronger through the universal medium of food and drinks.
See Taste of Australia’s Facebook for events.
© HOT TABLE Photography by Mi Nguyen.