How to get more things done that matter Posted by: | July 6, 2014
 

Being a woman with two businesses to run which are wildy different by nature (one in merchandising, one in F&B), I am forced to become the master of multitasking. On a daily basis, I settle Kitchen Art issues in the morning, then go to the KAfe to observe and settle service/food related matters in the afternoon. I also go to gym 3 times a week and do dancing class once a week to dance the hell out of my stress! That’s not all, I also plan my daily menu as I am sort of following a low carb diet and that means I have to cook my dinner (and lunch boxes) most of the time to make sure I eat right – thankfully Mom helps a lot with groceries and cooking too! Each day when I go to bed, I feel like I have just gone through 48 hours instead of 24, because I got so much done! 

 

 One of my healthy home-cooked dinners: roast chicken drumstick with vegetables 

 

On a larger scale, say in the first half of 2014,  I have published 2 cookbooks (one in Vietnam, one in Singapore), started to set up KAfe 2 (which involves working on the design, menu, style and construction etc), started on producing our 3rd cookbook, while working on a big commercial project, planning for my company’s long term future, restructure my organization, plus started on my own house renovation and planning for my wedding at the end of the year. 

 

 

Me at our Kitchen Art Open House event on 5 July with 20 wonderful ladies who came to appreciate baking and listen to my kitchen stories! 

 

The first question that would come to anyone’s mind reading the above: is she even human? How many cores does her processor have? Answer is, I have only 1 core – made of muscles (lol) and I am often too human I wish I was more like a robot. Working with feelings can be frustrating sometimes because emotions gets in the way of getting more things done. The only thing I seem to be doing well is juggling. So here I shall give you a few tips to “juggle” better in life, be in between work and personal life, to get more things done that actually matter to you and your career: 

 

1. Know what multitasking truly means. Multitasking is actually a myth. Humans, or even computers, are not physically able to do multiple jobs concurrently. Computers seem to run many programs at the same time, but they are merely switching between tasks to allocate resources very fast between one program and another, so fast that it seems concurrent to us (ah, my IT degree does come in handy). So before learning to multitask, first of all, drop the illusion that you are actually able to do different things at the SAME time. You will end up completing none properly. It is, in fact, all about the art of resource allocation (resource here being your time and mind space). More on that below. 

 

 The madhouse called the KAfe – where I spend a good half of my time besides Kitchen Art. It’s maddening but also exciting and fun! 

 

2. I cannot stress enough how important this step is: Every morning when you wake up, with a very clear mind, define the most important things for you today – in other words, find your “true intentions” of the day. Do you want to reply all your emails and take all those calls, or do you want to write a kick-ass proposal? With your true intentions clearly defined, write down your to-do list of the day, all involving steps to realize those true intentions. If today you want to get fit, then hell yeah, write that down: 30 minutes cardio after work. Remember, these tasks you just wrote down are NON NEGOTIABLE and you will spend at least 50% of your day on executing them. That means, no matter what gets in the way at work later, you are going to assign them lower priority, unless they have something to do with your true intentions. That way, at the end of the day, you are a few steps closer to your goal, and you still got some other easy passive work done (i.e. replying emails, assisting other colleagues…) once you are tired of your brain-consuming “true intentions tasks”. In short, own your day instead of letting the day own you. 

 

Here is a real example of how I did it: in the first 5 months of 2014, I set my mind on finding the next location for my second KAfe outlet. Every morning I woke up, I would envision how the next KAfe outlet would look like and make it a point to look out for that space whenever I am on the road or talk to real estate agents. It may not be a daily task, but it is always on the top of my mind while I get through the day. During the day, while I am working on other tasks, if anything related to this comes up, I would drop everything to pursue it – be it a call from agent about a location or a tip off from a friend. When I get that call, I would literally take my bag and just dash out to view the location. This went on for a good 5 months with countless viewings and several times of almost closing the deal, until I finally found the perfect spot - a big, spacious French villa within a quiet and historical neighborhood in the central district town. I just love it and knew it was special the moment I saw it! So, I didn’t put my job in danger by dropping other tasks to pursue this mission - because  business is still running fine – and I am now setting up my second KAfe outlet within a year after my first one. 

 

 

The KAfe Village – our second KAfe outlet in Hanoi, opening soon in August! 

 

3. Give every task your 100%. Be it a trivial one or important one. Because if you do, you get them done faster and better, to move to your next task. Sure, you may get interrupted in between, or be tempted to check your FB, but the moment you realize you are floating off, look at your checklist again and remember how much time you are spending on items NOT on the list and quickly readjust to gather your focus back to the ongoing task until the next interruption or distraction comes along, which you don’t necessarily should block out, see below…

 

4. Don’t always try to block distractions or interruptions. Unless your tasks requires intensive focus for a period of 1-2 hours to catch a deadline, always leave room for small distractions and interactions with your colleagues. Not only does it make your working hours more enjoyable, sometimes the most random conversation or headline you see will spur a brilliant idea for the proposal you are working on. Once you hit that light bulb moment, stop everything and write down the idea as fast as you can on a notepad (or Evernote, in my case). You will get to the idea later, but for now, it is in your idea vault. 

 

A great example of how a “notepad idea” turned true – my Kitchen Art studio concept scribbled in late 2011 on my notepad

 

5. Don’t be greedy with your to-do list. If you set out 15 tasks to do a day, you will soon feel stressed out and frustrated if you can’t do them all. Write down all tasks you can think of, then move them around into different categories. Maintain only 1-3 top “true intentions” tasks in your daily to do list, while you move the remaining tasks around and get them done at a more flexible time, after you have spent enough time on your top tasks. 

 

6. Read your to-do list at least 3 times a day. Review your progress, tick off things that are done (I love the high from checking off a box in my to do list), or break tasks into smaller tasks to tick off sub-tasks that you have settled in the progress (mini highs, why not?). While you review your to do list, you will realize which tasks are taking more time than it should, based on its priority in the list. Wrap them up, or temporarily abandon them to invest more time on your top tasks again. 

 

Repeat all above steps the next day. And I mean ALL. Then you will be a true multitasker who does not lose his eye on the prize even during the busiest hours. Good luck! 

 

xoxo,

Chi Anh

 

 

 

 
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Stay on top of your game – even during your holiday Posted by: | June 22, 2014
 

It’s vacation season in Vietnam! And while my staff and everyone else around me leaves town for the beach one after another, I have always hesitated to travel and leave my business alone. This is the common fear that most entrepreneurs like me or bosses would struggle with. I remember my ex-boss always had a ton of leave days because he could just not bring himself to leave work (and us) alone – every month there is a new excuse not to go on holiday. I am guilty as charged as well. I hardly ever left town for the past 2 years running my business! I grew up travelling the world, but ever since becoming an entrepreneur, I hate travelling and have crazy anxiety just with thoughts of leaving my business alone. 

 

All that changed this year when I decided to get into a long distance relationship with the Man in Singapore, and I am forced to squeeze short trips into my busy schedule every other month to see him to keep the relationship alive. Being an entrepreneur can tie you down, but if you really make an effort, your schedule can open up and be more flexible than anyone in a corporate job can dream of. Just over 4 months, I have been to Singapore 3 times! Last week I came back from a whirlwind trip to Hong Kong with the Man where he also proposed (I know, ain’t that fast?? But more on that in future posts!). With the frequent trips, I have finally learnt the strategies to keep business as usual while I’m away, and even staying on top of the game, without having to obsessively checking my emails for news from my staff at home (then you might as well stay home to avoid all that worries and stress). After all, the whole point of a holiday is to refresh your body and soul, have a peace of mind and be 100% present for the new environment that is there for your pure enjoyment.

 

 

Classified Cafe – Hollywood road, Hong Kong.

 

What I realized is, time away from my business not only did not put it in danger, but actually added more innovation and long term vision to the whole picture. So my advice to fellow obsessive entrepreneurs/bosses like me is: get away to get some much needed sanity and perspective! If you find yourself worrying during the trip or hyperventilating before the trip (I still get pre-trip anxiety EVERY SINGLE time), here are a few pointers to make the most out of the time out of town, be it a holiday or a short work cum play trip: 

 

  • Don’t check your email unless it is a matter of life and death. But do leave an option for urgencies (phone/FB etc). Tell your team to contact you at discretion and only when absolute necessary. I still struggle with this as I know hundreds of emails build up in my inbox everyday if left unchecked – but after leaving it alone for a few days, the anxiety goes away. And really, nothing happened that my team could not handle on their own (go team!). 
  • Set a limit to the damage you are willing to take when you are away. For example, matters below 300 dollars can be settled by your team without your approval or notice. There are only that many bad financial decisions your people can make with 300 dollars. Suck it in, let it go. Don’t sweat it. 
  • Don’t try to force yourself to not think about work. When thoughts about work occur, embrace them and be with them until they fade off. Suppression of thoughts can lead to stress as well, causing you to not fully enjoy the time away. Be there for your thoughts 100%, and when they go, be back for your holiday 100% without any guilt. 
  • Get inspired! Be it a brand, a dish, a shop or a location – let yourself be inspired by new things away from your usual environment. This is crucial if you need to create and innovate in your work! I love getting inspired by different cafes and neighborhoods I visit. (e.g. NYC, Hong Kong, Singapore…). Even the most unrelated things could spark a new idea for your next campaign, product or service. 

 

My favorite food in Hong Kong is the local breakfast!

  • Share your joy! It is important for yourself, as a boss, to be having guilt-free fun as well. We are as fun loving as everyone is, and now is our time to make our staff jealous! This is when your Instagram account comes in really handy… 
  • Carry a book with you that will keep you inspired and motivated – it is important to remember your purpose, vision and goals even during your holiday, so we know what we are coming home for. I carry my meditation and motivational books on my iPad everywhere I go! 
  • When you return – resist the temptation to open your emails the moment you get home. You will kill all the desired effect from the holiday the moment you hit the doorstep. Take your time after the returning flight to relax, let the trip sink in, and have an early night rest to be ready and fully recharged for work the next day. 
  • When you get to office – again, resist checking your email first thing you get there. Talk to your team to get the latest updates, and take that time to share with them the experiences of your trip and what you have learnt, while the memories are still fresh. After a good talk with the team, you can be assured that 80% of the emails will not require your attention as it has been dealt with by your capable team. With a clear mind, write down your important to-dos for the coming weeks post-trip. THEN you can check your email and get thrown back into the jungle. 

 

Me having my favorite snack in Singapore – Prata!

 

I hope this helped you get into the right frame of mind to plan your next vacation this Summer. Remember, don’t worry about what you would miss, but think about what you would gain – memories, delicious food, quality time with yourself and your loved one, and inspirations for your work for years to come. I finally see it now, and hope you will too ;) 

 

Stay tuned for next week entry, when I continue my post about how to stay fit, part 2! 

 

 

 

 
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How to start getting fit and STAY fit (Part 1) Posted by: | June 8, 2014
 

It has been a productive Sunday for me. I woke up at 8am, had a healthy breakfast with muesli and fruits, and got to gym by 9am. Did Bodyjam dancing cardio and Bodypump weightlifting cardio classes back to back. Then rushed to buy ingredients to cook lunch for my parents. I made Yaki Udon – leaving some extra for my pre-flight meal before I fly off in the evening to Hong Kong! Here is a glimpse of that delicious Yaki Udon (easy, just stir fry sliced pork belly, veggie, mushroom – all season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir fry the udon noodles with dashi powder and tonkatsu sauce, and in the end toss everything together, season to taste!): 
 
 
 
 
That is how I spend my only day off of the week. Some of you might think Sundays are for sleeping, but for me, it is the day to exercise big time, and cook a delicious meal, spend time with family, and THEN you can catch that little nap that you deserve!
 
You all know how busy I am running my two businesses (Kitchen Art and the KAfe) and seemingly have zero time for any after-work activity. Yet lately I have been getting compliments everywhere for my healthier and leaner look. I also find myself more energetic to be my best at work and giving my staff the attention and energy that they deserve. All that, thanks to exercising! The benefits of exercising are endless, including great skin, healthy glow without make up, great mood, alert mind and of course a tight body! We all know that, but where do we even find time to exercise in this busy, fast-paced life?? Amazingly, I did. And I am about to tell you how…
 
I am in no way a fitness pro or possess a model-like body. I have joined and left gyms many times in the last decade with little impact seen on my body. But now for the first time in my life, I have been regularly exercising (and enjoying it!), going to gym for the past 7 months and feeling better than ever! At the same time, I am seeing my body getting tighter and tighter, so this tells me I am on the right track! So what am I doing differently this time? I guess the most important thing about exercising is sticking to your routine (no matter what it is as long as it works for you) and staying high spirited throughout the process to maintain committed without too much energy spent on disciplining yourself or maintaining will power (believe it or not, even will power takes up energy!). It is as much physically challenging as it is mentally, so take care of both your body and soul while you are shaping up. After 7 months of trial and error, I have now gathered 15 sure-win techniques to help you find your own fitness routine that you can actually commit to.
 
 
 My usual pre-workout selfie to keep track of my body shape and hopefully also make others feel like exercising!
 
 
Today I will be sharing the first 8 tips with you, and save the remaining 7 for next week ;) Now this may be a no-brainer for fitness junkies who hit the gym every other day, but I am writing this entry for those couch potatoes hiding at home out there thinking they will never get fit! 
 
  1. It’s all about you: First of all, tell yourself that you are working out for nobody but yourself. That it is a reward you are giving yourself for your hard work at the office or at home. This is a self indulging activity and also the best way to clock up your “me time” hours. Once you believe that exercising is a rewarding activity, rather than a chore, you will be much more likely to stick to it because it makes you happy. 
  2. Find your “sweet spot”: Try all kinds of exercises to find your favourite type: be it spinning, combat, kickboxing, running, zumba, weights, yoga, pilates… The type of exercise that requires the least “will power” to repeat, is what you should pursue regularly, at least twice a week! I have tried virtually all sorts of exercises and my favourite has got to be dancing. I do Bodyjam or Zumba twice a week now, in between my heavy muscle training sessions. It keeps me moving with joy, while still breaking buckets of sweat and burning those calories! 
  3. Get social: I prefer working out in groups to loud energetic music so I am a total studio junkie! Name any class, and I have done it. My favorite classes are Zumba, Bodyjam, Bodycombat, Bodypump and Spinning. If you are likely to get lazy (like me), I suggest you stick to group exercises because those ladies in class are going to complement you if you lose weight or ask you why you skipped class. It definitely worked on me!
  4. No pain no gain: Mix your favourite cardio exercise with 1 or 2 sessions per week of “painful” muscle training (e.g. weights or body-weight work out) to balance out the fun with the hard work. The muscles you gain from these exercises will help you burn more fat during the “fun” cardio sessions (e.g. Zumba or Bodyjam)
  5. It’s a date! Schedule your work out sessions from the beginning of every week, and add them into your calendar like any other appointment. It will help you commit to it and avoid clashing it with your personal appointments like that last minute dinner with your best friend.
  6. There’s always a happy ending: Schedule your heaviest workout session on a day you can rest afterwards, e.g. Sunday for me. Also give yourself a big reward at the end of the week if you completed all your work out sessions in your calendar, be it your favorite dish, or in my case, a Scandal or Glee Marathon couch potato session! 
  7. It’s all about timing: Morning work out is better than evening as you have more energy to do the exercises with joy and power. After a long working day, our energy level and will power are both low, and hence you are more likely to skip your work out, or feel too tired to carry it out properly. If you can’t be excused from work in the morning, try lunch break work out. Have a big nutritious breakfast, and a small snack (a fruit or a muesli bar) before noon and have lunch after the work out by 2pm. It will taste like the best thing ever. It helps to have a gym near your office too!
  8. Make fit friends: Get to know your gym or class instructors. They will give you great tips and keep you motivated. They will also make u feel bad for leaving their class early or not showing up for gym. I know my instructor would make noise if I don’t come to her classes every week! In return, you will make their job more fun too, because nobody wants to teach strangers class after class! 
 
 
 Me and my fit friends: Bodyjam classmates and my lovely instructor Linh!
 
 
Do my tips work for you? If they do (or don’t), let me know in the comments below and stay tuned to Part 2 next week! The fact that you read this post is already flattering to me as I would have never considered myself worthy of giving advice in fitness. But this shows that anyone can make their fitness goal come true, and I hope my tips help you get there a little bit easier, as I continue to pursue mine. Remember, we are all a work in progress. Keep exercising!  
 
xoxo,
Chi Anh
 
 

 
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The unofficial guide of a Food Entrepreneur Posted by: | June 1, 2014
 

Yet another 4 months have passed since my last entry, and as usual, so much has happened that I can just not list them all out in one entry. In broad strokes, in just 4 months alone, I have managed to launched and sell 2 books in both Singapore and Vietnam (Our Sweet Kitchen by Page One Publishing and Chuyen 2 Can Bep by Nha Nam Publishing). The book launches brought much attention from the public and media, making my busy life even busier with the multiple TV appearances, press conferences, interviews and so on. To be honest, I enjoy my life now much better after all the hype has died down, but hey, thanks to those books, many more people now know about my businesses and what I do! All that while, I was still juggling to manage both my Kitchen Art and the KAfe businesses. If doing merchandising is crazy, running F&B is even crazier! My schedule everyday has been booked with internal and external meetings, sometimes TV filming, job interviews (I am hiring!) and on top of that, I still try keep up with my fitness regime which involves 3 gym sessions/week and 1 dance class/week. It is during these months of my intense schedule that I have learnt a lot about coping with stress, finding inner peace, prioritisation while appearing to be on top of my game at all times! Oh and did I mention, I found the love of my life 4 months ago and now juggling a long distance relationship as well? In short, I have become a master of multitasking, but at the same time, I am more focused and happier than ever! It IS possible to do it all! 
 
 
Me and my co-author/soulmate/business partner Anh Nguyen at the “Our Sweet Kitchen” book launch in Hanoi, April 2014. 
 
 
I suddenly feel a strong calling to share my knowledge and handy skills of navigating through this bumpy road as an Entrepreneur. I believe there are more people out there like me, feeling lost like me, and trying to figure all this mess out while trying to stay sane and afloat. Believe me, I have been there, done that, still doing it, and often don’t know what the hell I am doing or why I am working so hard. I love Barbra Streisand description of herself as being a “work in progress” (even a perfection like HER can be improved!) – and that’s what we all are. Our life, our business, and our soul – all is a work in progress. 
 
In my recent interviews, TV appearances and seminars I took part in, there was a strong interest (especially from women) about how I “made it” in the business built on my own passion. It’s funny how I am considered to have “made it” when everyday I am still figuring out how to “get there”. But I do believe I have learnt a thing or two in the past 2.5 years living the start-up life, and I am eager to share it. I know I can’t keep answering interview questions from the media or reply messages on FB from people who ask for life and career advice (though I would love to), because I simply have no time. However, I can manage a blog post a week to share bits and peaces of my journey and hope it would reach more people out there keen to learn to become a better self, have a better career and in general live a happier and healthier life!
 
So…. I decided to change my blog tagline from “Food Blogger turned Dream Chaser” to “The Unofficial Guide of a Food Entrepreneur”. This will mark my turn from a Food blogger to a Lifestyle blogger, hopefully with that, I will be able to inspire more people and get more inspired myself! I miss writing and this will definitely get my juices flowing again! 
 
From now on, I will de-mystify and let you in “backstage” into my crazy/exciting life as a Food Entrepreneur in the crazy/scary town of Hanoi where anything could happen (both good and bad)! We will tackle topics such as:
 
How did I manage to open one of Hanoi’s hippest cafe, publish 2 cookbooks and run two businesses all within a year? 
How did I attract TV appearances, magazine interviews and online features all for free? 
Am I super-human? (No I am just as humanly impatient and weak as everyone is)
Do I have no life? (This is partially true for my social life, but I do have a lot of time for myself, which is not a bad thing at all – we will tackle this topic soon)
Do I have a huge team working for me? (No. We are a very small team and multitasking is our religion)
 
But that’s not all. I will also venture into topics like Fitness, Healthy eating, Spiritual well-being, self-care tips, love & relationships and family/friendship. Because all these aspects of your life do affect each other and you can’t do one thing well while neglecting the other. For example, to do well in your career, you need a strong body and mind to be on top of your game. And with a fit lifestyle and a calm, centered mind, you can get there much faster! 
 
I hope this blog will from now on serve as a guide to both you readers and myself as we grow on this journey together
 
With the blog revamp, I also decided to rewrite my Blog “About Me” to more accurately describe me as I am today and where this blog is heading towards – which leads to the first lesson I would like to share with you – KNOW WHO YOU ARE and WHERE YOU ARE GOING. It is a great exercise to write your own little biography. Only you know what makes you YOU and always use that knowledge to be unique and make the right choices for yourself. The moment you try to be someone else, you lose your own appeal. For a long time I tried to deny the fact that I have more than one passion, which is food, because it is what I should focus on to be good at it. But as it turns out, the more I let myself explore new things (e.g. dancing, personal development coaching, styling) and learn from it, the more inspired I become to do better in what I currently do! So never deny yourself from the right of being who you are, no matter who you are or what you do. It is the greatest gift you can give to yourself :) 
 
Here we go. About me… today: 
 
“Chi Anh is a crazy, hardworking entrepreneur in the emerging food and kitchen business in Vietnam. Whether she’s managing her kitchenware and cooking class business Kitchen Art, running the popular urban cafe the KAfe in Hanoi, writing her cookbooks, or filming her own cooking videos, Chi Anh is a multi-tasking hustler who does not stop at pursuing her dreams. With an overflowing to-do list everyday, challenges and setbacks lurking at every corner, she struggles to balance her crazy life as a passionate entrepreneur to remain inspired, healthy and centered. With the blog Door To My Kitchen – The Unofficial Guide of a Food Entrepreneur, she records her daily struggles, lessons and inspirations for fellow entrepreneurs or simply anyone with a busy work life to have a more fulfilling life in both career and personal life. Though the blog was first created and known for being a food blog, Chi Anh now hopes to reach out and tackle broader topics including business know-how, fitness, spiritual wellness, self-confidence, lifestyle, love and even pursuit of happiness, but of course, all in the name of her love for food and life! This is a blog that she herself wish existed when she started out in the professional world in her early twenties, and it will continue to serve both herself and readers as Chi Anh’s journey towards her dreams continues. As Chi Anh does not have a lot of time to share her views and experiences with people on the media or at events as much as she would like to, this blog will serve as a practical guide and communication platform between Chi Anh and readers who would like to live the fullest life, overcome obstacles and have a peek in the personal growth of this crazy entrepreneur.”
 
Did I wet your appetite enough for my new blog yet? Then stay tuned to next week update, where I will be talking about the tricks I use to keep up with my fitness schedule and stick to it! A skill we all wish we had when we make and break that new year resolution to get fit, year after year (lol)! 
Till then, have a great week!
 
 
xoxo
Chi Anh.
 
 

 
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2013/Snake Year Recap & Reflections Posted by: | January 30, 2014
 

I have been meaning to blog about 2013 since last month, but I had no idea the first month of 2014 would be so crazy (after an equally crazy month of December – holiday season means INSANE time for people in merchandising and Food business like me). Today is the last day of Snake Year, and also the first day in a long long time that I have been doing nothing but nursing my cold in bed – yes, my body is finally on strike! One of the good things about being sick is being able to really shut down and taking care of your body – and mind, which is why I decided it’s time to break my writer’s block and get my blogging juices flowing again! After all, writing is the most therapeutic thing for the mind and soul :)

 

So as tradition, I am going to recap highlights and lessons of 2013/Snake Year – possibly the most eventful year in my life so far as you may have read in my previous posts – and it is hard to imagine I could even top 2012 if you read my 2012 recap! Anyway, here is a quick recap, in chronological order:

 

1. I entered the E-Commerce world!

 

I started 2013 with one-of-a-kind partnership with Vietnam’s biggest IT company (Vat Gia/VG) to build a warehouse system and online store for my merchandises and cooking classes at Kitchen Art – this was a life changer for my small team as we were doing stock taking by hand, and worked on a very primitive POS system. Since the launch of the online store in June, we have shipped our products to customers as far as HCM City and to towns I have never even heard of! 

You may wonder how a new start up like mine attracts attention and support from a big company like VG for systems I would never be able to afford? Simple: by staying authentic and true to my purpose. I even had a condition for this whole partnership: I decide how the Online Store looks, works and feels – it has to look like a product from me, not from them. Moral of the story is good things come when you know what you want and act in your own true purpose, not someone else’s. 

 

Snapshot of Kitchen Art Online Store

 

 2. Opened my first ever Food business, the KAfe

 

OK I am not going show off about my KAfe as you have read all about it in my previous post. But I have to say again, it was my most impossible milestone ever achieved, proving again that if you really put your heart and soul into something unapologetically as if it is already a DONE DEAL, you WILL get there. The following 6 months of operation was the harsh reality after the dream-come-true and the high of setting up. I did not even have much time to bask in the glory of becoming a young restauranteur. Everyday was another surprise (often a nasty one, such as a broken toilet), and just to get through everyday in one piece without having the customers yelling at us, is an achievement. I would go to bed patting myself on the back for getting through yet another day, and wake up starting the whole rollercoaster ride all over again. Now THAT is reality. And that reality is still ongoing. I don’t know when it would ever end because I do not see myself exit this industry in a near future. Despite the blood, sweat and tears, I am still loving it! (but not every second of it, that’s just absurd, who likes stinky broken toilets??). On top of that, I was still running Kitchen Art. So this leads to another point proven: Yes it is physically possible to own and run multiple businesses. Now I know how Steve Jobs did both Pixar and Apple. Only he had thousands of employees and I have only a handful. 

Beside all the hardship of KAfe, there are many perks. One of them being reuniting with my old friends at KAfe by chance (because who doesn’t go KAfe? Lol), or having them visiting me on purpose, just to show support and love! So many amazing reunions have happened as my good old friends from Singapore or even old colleagues have come to visit my brainchild and appreciating it (and giving KAfe raving reviews on fb, tripadvisor, foursquare etc – you know the drill). Guys, no matter how busy I may seem, I am always free for you if you pop by for a visit. This is the whole reason I open a cafe –  to spend time with people (and eat good food)! 

 

Picture taken by Siew Yian, captioned as “Power of Dreams” on her FB :)

 

My bff from Singapore – Joanne, came all the way from Singapore to visit me and my KAfe!

 

3. Signed my second book deal 

I know some of you are still wondering what happened to my first book, “Sweet Kitchens” – IT’S COMING THIS APRIL! But we (me and Anh) signed a second book deal with a Vietnamese publisher for the first time this year too. Surprisingly they gave us a lot of creative freedom, and wanted us to be as real as possible. Which is exactly what I did when I pitched for the book – no fancy powerpoint, no long stories. Just me thinking women in Vietnam should have a new modern spin to their simple yet soulful cooking without having to be over the top Masterchef perfect material – as Television is selling that image hard these days, esp with Knorr advertising budget, lol. Cooking really is not a big deal, but it should also not be seen as a daily chore. That’s all I wanted to bring across. And they bought that idea. The yet-to-be-titled book is scheduled to be launched on Women’s Day (how apt) on 8th March this year! We are still in the midst of design and layout but it is finally coming into shape. Here is a glimpse!

 

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of our second book about daily cooking

 

 3. Joined the gym and became a gym nut

 

I am actually very proud of this one. After 3 years of no exercise since I moved back to Vietnam, I finally am back in BUSINESS. It has been 3 months since I joined, and I still maintain 4-6 sessions a week, packed with combat, dancing and fitness classes, with a bit of yoga here and there. I did not pay attention to my weight but I did notice significant changes to my wellbeing and fitness. Everything feels tighter, firmer and stronger! Some say I don’t look like I lost a lot of weight since I joined gym, but that’s not the point. The point is, exercising balances out my life a lot these days, and it forces me to disconnect from the hectic work schedule to really just focus on every muscle in my body and sweat out the stress and tension. After each session I would feel more confident and waking up with muscle ache is just the most alive feeling I can think of these days! I also discovered my joy for dancing through the Zumba and Bodyjam classes that I decided to take up additional lessons in dancing – which brings me to the next point: when you really like something, don’t think twice about doing it for yourself. Doing things that you love is like collecting gold coins. The more gold coins you have, the richer you feel in life. So start stacking them coins up!

 

Before Bodycombat class at my local gym.

 

4. Me and Anh finally met – and did a hell lot together

 

The friendship of the DECADE – me and Anh (my soulmate/business parter/co-author/co-blogger) has been a big topic of my posts in the last 2 years blogging. And all that time, we still did not have a chance to meet. In fact, it was in my 2013 new year resolution to meet her in person finally. AND WE DID! 2013 Christmas and New years was unforgettable as I got to spend it with her and her family who are now like my own. We went to Hoi An, Danang together, we ran the Christmas Feast event at KAfe together, baked together, and countdown to new years together. Unlike many beliefs that online friendships are virtual and often awkward once met in person, ours was nothing like that. We instantly bonded the moment we met, and didn’t even spend a day apart the whole 3 weeks she was here. We also didn’t stop talking – and probably annoyed a lot of people around us with our constant chatter. This proves one thing: A real friendship is real, no matter how it started and in what form. Now we are back to being on two different continents, but we never felt closer! We made a pact to see each other more from now, and next time we meet will be at our book launch in Singapore this April! Can’t imagine bringing her to all my favorite places to eat! I am also looking into visiting her in Melbourne this year, and we plan to travel to New York together this fall too. Having a best friend is one of life’s greatest blessing, and it is such a rewarding experience to open up to your friend and receiving nothing but love and respect in return. That, in my opinion, is true love. 

 

 

5. I grew up – a lot

 

Through reading, soul searching, meditation, writing and thinking – I have matured a lot in the past year. Wisdom or realizations don’t just come to you with time, you have to be open to learn, to feel and to acknowledge what is going on inside you. Having spent most of my twenties focusing on the things outside of me, I am now much more focused on what is going on on the inside and how I feel about things. In fact, the best decisions I made this past year are decisions I made based on what my inner guidance told me. Always ALWAYS trust your instincts and inner voice! This helped me to be stronger and fearless towards everything happening to me, and made me realize that life is ENTIRELY what you make of it. It can be total darkness but if you choose to see light, you will still find happiness and clarity. Happiness is a choice, not a result or reward. Have you made that choice for yourself yet? 

 

6. I have become a bit more famous (?!)

 

Now let’s not get too ahead of myself, but I did appear on TV quite a few times in 2013, and even on some major Magazines! The media is suddenly becoming very interested in what I do, and call me the food entrepreneur, “Fox of the year”, “wonderwoman”, “stylish CEO” and all sorts of things. I guess being a female entrepreneur is something new in this town, and I am glad I represent this new breed of homecoming “queens” who decide to do something new and refusing to conform to society conventions. Ah I’ve said it. I am weird and PROUD! As long as my words and what I do get out to more readers out there, it’s a good thing. I hope more women will be inspired to follow their calling and not afraid to challenge themselves! 

 

Me featured as one of “Foxes of the year” on 2!Dep magazine

 

Alright. Those are major milestones in 2013, and looking back on my 2013 resolutions, I did pretty well:

1. Not lose my drive for my business, passion and dreams – and never forget my purpose  –> CHECKED

2. Finally meet Anh in person  —> CHECKED

3. To eat, cook, dance, love and live with my loved ones everyday  —> CHECKED

 

For 2014, I do not have any resolutions. I decided the only thing that matters is to wake up everyday knowing I am going to give it my best and find love and happiness and sincerity in everything I do. Remember, it is a choice to feel good and why set resolutions and then feel bad about not achieving them? I’d say, throw them out the window and feel good everyday and you will achieve more than you can ever think of writing down in one list, as I did in 2013 :) 

 

Finally, here is a “Thank You” video that I produced with my team in Kitchen Art to thank my amazing and adorable team in KA and KAfe for having worked so hard the past year and stood by me through rain and shine. You guys are awesome, and truly my heroes!

 

 

Happy 2014/Horse Year everyone!

 

2014 new year’s eve countdown at the KAfe with my staff and customers

 

 

 

 

 
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Diary of a Food Entrepreneur Posted by: | August 24, 2013
 

the KAfe Entrance

 

3 months again have passed since I last blogged. It felt like a year! Over the past 3 months, me and my Kitchen Art and KAfe team have successfully opened the KAfe - the cafe/restaurant of our dreams. Everything we ever envisioned and believed about natural good food, drinks, warm desserts and an urban-casual cafe experience, came to life and now has a spot on the map in Hanoi! (18 Dien Bien Phu street). For those who want to read more about the KAfe, check out the official press release here

 

the KAfe “Sun Room”

 

Until today, I still can’t believe my own eyes when I watch our service everyday. Looking at our dedicated front service team working tirelessly to bring smiles to every customer, or our passionate chefs whipping out wonderful dishes consistently everyday, or our bartenders standing all day mixing refreshing drinks and comforting teas and coffees – all following the style and food philosophy we set out since the beginning – just brings tears to my eyes (yes, sometimes I have to turn away to hide my eyes clouding up in the middle of the cafe). And I have officially completed my food journey full circle from being a foodie to a food blogger to Kitchenware & cooking studio business owner to now, a restaurant owner – in 3 years. 

 

the KAfe “Glass Room”

 

We are barely open for two weeks, and all our tables have been filled up every single tea and dinner service. You may say, now I have finally tasted the sweet taste of success and dream come true. Yes, it is an overwhelming feeling, but coupled with an insane amount of pressure to keep this dream alive and beautiful for months, years to come! Also, it is no overnight success. It is a long, hard journey that constantly tested my strength, faith and patience. So instead of telling you all the inspiring notes of another “dream come true” story, let me break it down to you – the REAL deal. Here it goes, the true facts of a Food Entrepreneur…

 

 

the KAfe Bar

 

1. A LOT of No – thrown at your face

 

As any entrepreneur, you probably are used to this by now. Investors telling you no, family telling you no, friends telling you to get a life etc. But setting up a food outlet is a whole new level of getting slapped in the face constantly: investors telling you no (of course, who would want to spend such an insane amount on a cafe with a model never before seen in Hanoi?), contractors telling you no (big kitchen equipments do take months to produce and shipped to Vietnam), architect telling you no (it is always not possible to meet your required budget or timeline), and staff telling you no (you can only push them that much)…

 

2. Saying “No” and NOT taking a “No” as an answer

 

I have probably not said “No” so many times in my life. When somebody says “No” to me (see above scenarios), I respond with a “No – there’s gotta be another way”. More importantly, when someone tries to compromise my vision of the KAfe, it is a BIG FAT NO. Whether it is food, style, staff management or marketing direction. If you are not firm and clear about your vision, then nobody will know what to follow or listen to. Not even your staff, let alone your customers. 

 

3. Expect a lot of people to talk down on you

 

Hearing “No” is just the tip of the iceberg. Though your dream may be beautiful and you paint a wonderful projection of your cafe, to others, it is just another fairy tale. Expect family, friends and other people close to you to show doubts and urge you to bail or reconsider very early on in the process. It’s always either “the economy condition is unfavorable” or “the industry is too competitive”. If you are blindly ambitious like me, you will get through this phase and get more trash talk when you have spent 80% of your capital and still have no sign of income and work 24/7 non stop with no end in sight to get the damn place to just OPEN. And trust me, the closer you are to them, the more they give you the “ugly truth”. At this point, you can choose to listen and freak out, or just trust your own crazy guts and push on. 

 

4. Have tissues always on hand, because there will be a lot of TEARS

 

I may be labelled as an emotional female entrepreneur who has crazy emotions going on, reacting to the 1001 things that go wrong in a day, but being able to cry and admit weakness is sometimes important – we are human, we fall. At those times, your staff, your family will be the first ones to help you to get yourself together and not skip that meal at the end of the day. So don’t try to hold it in too much. It is liberating to cry yourself to sleep after an emotionally exhausting day and wake up to fight it another day (nevermind the puffy eyes)! If only I had a penny for each tear I have shed for the KAfe…

 

5. Get your hands dirty. Very dirty.

 

Before you can convince any of your staff to be as crazy as you, first you got to do all the shit you ask them to do yourself. Expect nothing less and nothing more. So staying on the ground, breathing the same dust and touching the same dirt will help you bond with the team and see everything clearer. It is not micro management, it is being hands-on and real. There is more you can learn from your staff and people on the ground than anywhere else! I made a point to spend the last 2 weeks of construction and set up with my team on site. We weathered storms (literally) while dividing tasks among us as much as we can. This is not the time to be hero and do everything yourself. You will break down. Share the load of your staff, and be the bridge of communication between them, because they will break down if you don’t hold them together. 

 

6. Whatever can go wrong, WILL go wrong

 

It is Murphy’s law in full force. During set up, and even during real service run. The only way to avoid this is to actually “go wrong” and learn from it. No matter how much I try to remind my team of what to avoid, during high time, nobody will remember. So it is important to make as many mistakes as possible and learn from it. The bigger the mistake, the longer you will remember it. People say the KAfe has great service. That is because we allowed ourselves to make a ton of mistakes during our test run and first days of real service, or even today. Being yelled at by customers is horrible, but they are the best teachers one can find. So as our skin grows thicker, so does our wisdom. 

 

7. Always, ALWAYS believe in who you are

 

It is one thing to satisfy customer personal taste, but another thing to know who you are and what you serve. There are a million different options out there, and if you try to fit every different taste, you will end up being forgettable or just the next best thing. We have been very attentive to customer feedback about our food, but also stand by our choice of taste when it comes to signature styles. After all, even tastes are acquired and learnt over time. So just because they do not get it now, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t in future. Just look at Lady Gaga. She’s weird at first, then cool, then weird again, but always firm in who she is or what she believes in. And over time, her weirdness becomes who she is and we love her for her unique style! 

 

8. Forget your previous so-called “normal life”

 

Because it no longer exists. Your busiest hours are noons, afternoons, evenings and weekends. And when things are not busy on the front, you are busy prepping for next service. As long as there is human activity on the streets, you have to be ready from back to front, which involves a million and one things on a checklist. If you think people in the food industry have a happening life because they are always dining and entertaining, you are so wrong. Most of the time, they probably don’t have proper meals or even time to go to the toilet (and when you do have time to go toilet, you probably try to double efficiency by inspecting the toilet cleanliness and top up toilet papers, soap if necessary). It is a big sacrifice and only those with insane passion for the food world would be able to take it. 

 

Wow. 8 points already. Let’s stop here for now. If you like what you read, let me know, I will share more on my crazy journey in next entry. I want to make an effort to share my experience of being an entrepreneur in Vietnam from now so others who are considering to enter this crazy world can have some form of reference. And hopefully I get invited to the next Start Up gathering event (which I never am!!!) *laugh*

 

 

Oh, and do drop by the KAfe if you are in Hanoi. And say hi to me if you see me :) Meanwhile, enjoy the food porn I have been posting from the KAfe such as below, as I continue my daily battle of making it in the food world (and making enough money to feed my growing team!). 

 

the KAfe signature dish: Beef Ragout Fresh Pasta 

 

 
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Food for thought: To save or not to save? Posted by: | May 11, 2013
 

For the past year, all the talk has been revolving around the fact that the Vietnam economy condition is so bad, that no matter what you do, your money is probably better sitting in the bank. Face it, how many businesses nowadays make more than 9% profit/year? I would be crying happy tears if my business even broke even. Instead, if you put money in the bank, you will get guaranteed 9%/annum in interest. Good deal, yes? 

 

Instead I put all my life savings and pension into my business, work 10 times harder than before, completely sacrificed my social life, and still feel like the richest girl alive. And this, is what I call my “return on investment”. I invested not in my business, but in people. Every person in Kitchen Art, came in at the start as lost as me, and together, we have grown so strong together and became something bigger than ourselves. I invested in friendship, in trust, in building a space where we can proudly say we only do what we want to do, and make things we want to see happen, happen. I am not a social activist, but in the little space that I can control, I want every single employee of mine to feel loved, valued, and appreciated for being who they are. Every member in my team has his/her own quirky ways, talents, imperfections, and strengths. But together, we build something beautiful and real. Yes, we have the pressure to make ends meet, to keep the company afloat, but we put a bigger pressure on ourselves to become better at what we love doing, and doing things rightfully and passionately, so that people can look at us and say, “thank you for being here, you made our lives better”. 

 

So to all the realists out there who say, your money is better sitting in the bank, I say, take out your savings, spend it on building something entirely and wholly yours, be it your own business, your own little garden, or a photography studio. Create, Share, Give, and you shall receive. If you are out of options to spend your money on, spend it on people, on charity, on shopping (please, help the economy by spending!). Because all that, will bring you greater interest and returns than any bank could. It brings you joy and fulfillment. It makes people around you happy (because you are happy), and ultimately, it helps build a healthier economy. With all that money in the bank, what do we really get out of it? Think about it. It is only benefiting banks and investors who absolutely have no interest in your growth and personal happiness. Is it worth that 9% (and declining) interest? Are you really getting security that you think you are getting? 

 

This is the first entry on this blog that is not food related, but it is food for thought – no pun intended. After a year and a half on my journey and struggle towards my dream that is still in the making, I experienced and learnt so much, that I just can’t bear to keep them to myself any longer. I want to start recording it and remember all the ups and downs I went through to get there. From now on, I will start sharing all the struggles, pain, joy and all that jazz of being an entrepreneur in a country as unpredictable as Vietnam. But don’t worry, I will still talk about Food because it is still pretty much the center of my attention and passion. After all, it’s how this all started. 

Oh, and did I mention, my “Sweet Kitchens” book with Anh Nguyen is finally coming out in June?  It is going to print, after almost a year since the first day me and Anh talked about the idea of the book. But that’s not all, the book is going to launch and sell at our cafe, The KAfe – Kitchen Art’s first Cafe, to open in Hanoi this July. I have been dreaming about opening my own cafe since as long as I could remember. I would never dare to think it would happen this soon. But more about that next time. For now, let’s focus on the fact that I have achieved all this by NOT leaving my money in the bank ;).

 

I hope my bank won’t call me tomorrow to complain about this. 

 

PS: to welcome summer, here is a picture of me and the fresh vanilla ice-cream we made for our upcoming e-magazine Ice-cream special. It is going to be a hot summer indeed. 

 

 

 

 
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2012 in Review Posted by: | December 31, 2012
 

It is New Year’s Eve, and I’m lying in bed trying to stay warm in my blanket. This is not exactly what I had in mind or planned for my new year’s eve this year. At this very moment I am supposed to be counting down with my friends at the Opera House, but I decided to stay home to accompany my Mom and my Dad who’s not feeling well. We watched “New Year’s Eve” on HBO together. Dad liked it, lol. The only part I could take away from that movie was the phrase: “Stop worrying about all the ‘what ifs’ and start thinking about ‘what will be’… But before we get to “what will be”, let’s think about “what was”. So here’s a little recap of my 2012 (with the help of curation by Anh Nguyen):

 

1. Kitchen Art Opening

You probably saw it all over my entries earlier this year, but yes – it is my top highlight of the year and I’m still enjoying the feeling of stepping into my store and studio every morning and greeting my lovely staff. I can’t imagine my day to start any differently now. I’m living the dream and loving it to bits! Can’t begin to describe how much I love my team too, who have become a loving family of mine who share my dreams and beliefs. 

 

2. “Meeting” my soulmate, Anh Nguyen

Despite having tweeted each other and reading each other’s blogs for a year before that, me and Anh only started having deep meaningful conversations about our dreams and passion from April this year, and by June, she has become the Creative Director of Kitchen Art, contributing to many wonderful recipes we produce for our website. Then another amazing thing happened to us…

 

3. The “Sweet Kitchens” Cookbook

While me and Anh collaborated on Kitchen Art, we stumbled upon a book deal with Page One Publishing (Singapore) that would fill our lives with cakes and sweat for the months to come. We produced in total 50 over cakes, collaborated with our wonderful Photographer Kiyoshi Jiro, and now we are in the final stages of writing before submitting for print. The book should start shipping from March 2013, if all goes well! We are so so excited and also relieved that we are not too far behind schedule. I know I promised to share the process of writing the book, but truth is, baking and shooting 4 cakes a week really took a toll on my already crazy schedule, and I had to fall back on Instagram to document the process. I hope some of you caught a glimpse of the cakes in production on my feed! (In case you didn’t here it is: http://instagram.com/doortomykitchen)

 

4. US Trip and meeting my nephew

During fall this year, I made my way to the States for the first time, and stayed with my sister’s family for 3 weeks. I finally met my dear nephew, Daniel, and experienced the magical feeling of having a child being bonded to you. Mother instinct awakes? Perhaps :P I also made my first trip to New York City and embraced the amazing Big Apple. I loved every minute of it. The great food, fresh produce, Dean & Deluca, Wholefoods, the liberal people, museums… And not to mention hot dogs! 

 

5. Appearance on National TV and Masterchef Vietnam

This year marked my appearances on TV as a guest judge. First I appeared on VTV3 Morning Show as a guest judge for their viewers cooking contest, and in December I was invited to be the guest judge for Masterchef Vietnam Hanoi Audition. On the Masterchef set, I got to meet Luke Nguyen in person – that alone deserves to be a highlight of its own! 

 

6. I loved, hoped, and learned

My story is not always a happy ending, and over the course of one year, I have had my heart broken, mended, and broken again… but I am still a strong believer in love and firmly believe (hope) that one day I’ll find someone who will love me for who I am, and take me as I am. I will never settle for less. That I promise myself. 

 

I’m sure my recap can be longer, but it is only 15 minutes until midnight and I would like to move to my 2013 Hopes & Resolutions…

 

1. Not lose my drive for my business, passion and dreams – and never forget my purpose

 

2. Finally meet Anh in person

 

3. To eat, cook, dance, love and live with my loved ones everyday 

 

That’s it. I am not a person to set many new year resolutions because I never look back at them after New Year’s day. But I’m pretty sure the above 3 things will be on my mind every day of the year :)

 

Happy New Year everyone. 
Lots of love,

Chi Anh. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Announcement: I am writing a Cookbook!!! Posted by: | July 23, 2012
 
Dear Readers. I’d like to start this entry with a slightly more serious tone as I am about to announce the most serious and awesome news I’ve had since Kitchen Art. It is a dream come true, AGAIN! Even now I am still pinching myself, but it is happening!!
 
I am publishing a COOKBOOK!!!! With a real publisher! Distributing worldwide!!!
 
 
 
Ok that didn’t sound formal or serious at all. But I just can’t contain my excitement! I started my obsession with cooking and baking through amazing cookbooks like the ones by Julia Child, Mark Bittman, Jamie Oliver… Never would I have thought that there would come a day when I can publish my own! (Actually I did imagine it before, but then again I also fantasize myself winning on American Idol or Masterchef).
 
 
To tease you guys a little bit, we are “leaking” a few pictures of the first few cakes in this entry that are going to be in the book. Are you liking it so far??
 
 
 
 
So this book that I am going to write, it is a special one. Because I am co-writing it with a very special person. Yes, those close to me would have guessed it as I’ve only been talking about one person for the past couple of months. It is none other than Anh Nguyen from A Food Lover’s Journey, a very seasoned and popular Food blogger from Melbourne, whom I have been reading since my blog was still an embryo!
 
I love Anh. She’s like the one person that gets me, being a fellow Vietnamese/Hanoi-an, growing up in a Vietnamese family yet spending most grown-up years in a Western culture. We are like mixed bags with crazy eclectic taste in food (and everything else). It is hard to pigeonhole us as any cultural category, but together, we feel like we really belong. Naturally, we share the same love for classic western pastries, but always feel connected to our Asian childhood desserts, fruits and spices. This led us to the idea of working on a book about Cakes with Asian touches and inspirations. We have since experimented with many combinations of Asian flavors in Cakes and have achieved amazing results that we can’t wait to share with you!
 
 
 
Our Publisher is Page One, a big Bookstore chain and Publisher founded in Singapore, with bookstores all over South East Asia and China, and a worldwide book distribution network. Being a Publisher very much focused on Art & Design since day one, they truly understand me and Anh’s mission of expressing the “art” and “beauty” of our sweet creations, and work closely with us throughout the process of the production. Our editors, Inez and Min Kok have been very supportive and guiding thus far, missing their dinners due to late evening Skype conference calls with me and Anh (blame it on Anh’s time zone, lol).
 
 
The book, available in both English & Vietnamese titles, is expected to be completed by end of this year and available in book stores worldwide by early next year. It might sound like a long time, but it is still a very rushed production time for us, considering the amount of recipes we need to test, fine tune, photograph, and write (in both languages)! Not to mention that I still run my business, Kitchen Art, and Anh still has a full time job in Finance, and we both are not even in the same country or time zone!
 
 
 
Despite the crazy workload and schedule, we enjoy the process immensely and will start documenting it regularly on our blogs. So stay tuned to catch “behind-the-scenes” of our book in production, or hear us lamenting about having to eat too many cakes in one day during recipe testing (it is NOT fun if it’s a failed cake, lol).

Now that I have finally made the news public, it feels even more real now… And scary too! Your moral support will truly encourage and inspire us on this challenging and exciting journey! So show some love for us alright? We need it!

xoxo.

 

 Credits: Photography featured in this post are by Anh Nguyen, it may or may not appear in our upcoming Book.
 

 
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June Food Recap: Grilled Summer Dinners, Fresh Vegetables, Summer Fruit Desserts and Birthdays Posted by: | June 27, 2012
 

First of all, sorry about the blog being down a lot lately. There is some problem with my server in Singapore and decides to go on vacation at random times for a couple of days at a time. I have since started searching for a new home for my blog and Anh Nguyen & her hubby have kindly adopted my blog into their new home. Such love. I’m sure my blog and Anh’s blog are already playing together in the yard now or fighting over cupcakes on the counter.

 

June is always my favorite month of the year. It is the middle of Summer, the month of my birthday, and the season of the tastiest fruits and vegetables! I have been so busy everyday working and picking up as much good fresh vegetables and fruits on the way as I can, to bring that Summer home onto the table. Summer in Hanoi is not exactly as comforting as Summer in Europe or anywhere on the other side of the globe, but it is pretty decent if you bathe as often as you can and stay inside airconditioning most of the time. I have yet to explore swimming in Hanoi, but maybe after I regain my bikini body.

 

Speaking of bikini body, I have officially started my new exercise regime (again), inspired by the one and only Anh Nguyen, who has been following her 12 Week Body Transformation program religiously. For the past week I’ve been waking up early everyday to do 10-minute intensive workout routines before going to work, and I already feel such a great difference both mentally and physically! My mood is much better, I am much more focused and efficient at work, I feel healthier (together with my effort in creating a healthier menu at home with Mom), and my appetite has also increased tremendously. I know you would wonder how a glutton like me could still grow appetite, but having a big appetite for healthy food is a true blessing!

 

You will see my healthy transformation in daily meals in my recap below (which include dishes I made at home or my test kitchen at Kitchen Art), with basic how-to for each dish that are so simple, you mostly don’t even need the recipe! Now let’s do the recap (all pictures were strictly taken by my trusty iPhone 4 only):

 

But before that, let’s catch a cold Sangria cocktail that pretty much sums up the flavors of this season and has become a staple party drink for us at Kitchen Art (see recipe here):

 

 

Yesterday the Chinese celebrated Dragon Boat Festival (DuanWu Festival) and we Vietnamese celebrated Tết Đoan Ngọ (basically means “Beginning of noon”, and is celebrated at noon on the 5th day in the 5th month of the Lunar Calendar). While the Chinese celebrate this day to commemorate the poet Qu Yuan, who committed suicide in the river (hence the delicious zongzi rice cakes and dragon boat racing tradition on this day), the ancient Vietnamese farmers also decide it’s the day they want to kill harmful insects in their crops, and usually dine on a lot of sour or acidic fruits and fermented rice to “kill” the “worms” in their tummies. This is probably the cutest (and grossest) custom in Vietnam I can think of. But I always happily “kill worms” in my belly with lots of seasonal lychee, longan, peaches, plums, and of course, the one and only Rượu Nếp (Sticky Rice Wine).

 

 

 

This dish is made by fermenting whole grain glutinous rice with yeast to produce a sweet, slightly alcoholic “rice wine” or “rice pudding”. It’s sweet, tangy, boozy taste and the chewy rice grains make this treat a great accompaniment with yogurt. It either comes in white or purple, depending on the variety of rice used. I prefer the white ones for its lighter taste, but I’m sure the purple ones are healthier as color always means more vitamins!

 

This month, I made it a point to eat healthier and we decided to have a vegetarian meal at least once a week. I’ve been exploring the vegetable shops near my Kitchen Art store more and realized they have quite a nice array of fresh western vegetables and herbs!  It’s the expat district so it does make things easier for me to buy western produce. Mom can now relax a bit more on grocering at the local wet market, as I bring home more vegetables and fresh meats from the butcher near my shop every week. Some of you might wonder why I need to buy western produce when Vietnam is the land of greens. Reason being, the local greens are good and rich in fibre, but it’s always better to eat more variety of vegetables that are different in colors and textures to get the most nutrition! Plus, there are more exciting vegetarian meals to be made with western vegetables like Pasta Salad or Ratatouille (I’m sure nobody wants to eat Vietnamese Morning Glory and Tofu all the time, not even my parents).  So while we eat healthier, it’s also important to keep exploring different ingredients for more flavors and excitement. You will know what I mean with “excitement” when you see this:

 

 

 

Pasta salad with Tuna, Zucchini, Snap peas and Cherry Tomatoes: simply toss everything with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and an extra kick from Balsamic vinegar, then season to your taste.

 

Or this:

 

 

Stir fried Vegetable madness: Celeries, Red Peppers and Mushrooms, following the same stir fry methods on all my other stir fry dishes on this blog.

 

Or even this:

 

Fettucine with Baby Spinach, Grilled Eggplants and Ricotta cheese, which I made at Kitchen Art Studio. Find the recipe here.

 

Before you all get sick of my vegetarian meals, here is some treat for you carnivores (which seem to be most young Vietnamese nowadays, who always frown at the Vegetarian dishes I make, sobs). I’ve been grilling a lot recently (both meat and vegetables) as it’s just really satisfying to have a meal ready to serve within minutes and always tastes super refreshing with my favorite lemon/lime garlic dressing on top. Be it salmon, chicken breasts or tomatoes, zucchini or green beans, everything tastes great grilled! I may sound like I have a grill in my backyard, but I actually only have a grill pan and grill everything on my gas stove in the kitchen while sweating like a pig in the smoke. Yeah, not the best Summer cooking experience, but oh so worth it.

 

Grilled Chicken Breast with Tomatoes and French beans: marinate all ingredients with salt, pepper, olive oil and then let the magic happen on the grill. See the full recipe here.

 

 

Grilled Salmon with Potatoes and Yogurt dressing: marinate Salmon with salt & pepper and lemon/lime juice, grill it 3 min on both sides until opaque. Mix yogurt with garlic, lemon/lime juice, salt & pepper and fresh dill, spoon on top of Salmon and pan-fried potato wedges and you’re good to go!

 

In case you still find grilling a bit intimidating, here is a video of how I grilled chicken with vegetables on my Kitchen Art Cooking Show on YouTube (btw, subscribe please!!). Warning, the video is in Vietnamese and we haven’t had time to subtitle them. Sorry!

 

 

 

 

Ok let’s move onto dessert, shall we? I have been exploring with Summer fruits and it can’t get anymore exciting! It’s now lychee and dragon fruit season, so I made a beautiful Fruit Salad with Lychee, Red Dragonfruit (very rich in antioxidants and also shockingly and radiantly purple!), Pears and Banana. Just cut up all the fruits of your choice and toss them with a tablespoon of Honey and a generous squeeze of lemon juice! I added a teaspoon of Brandy for an extra boozy kick too. It would taste even more fresh with sparkling wine or champagne! (See Summer Fruit Salad with Sparkling Wine Syrup)

 

 

June is also the month of parties in Kitchen Art thanks to the birthdays (birthday of mine, our web admin/production editor, and our photographer) and farewell of our colleague who has moved to Singapore (sob). So the kitchen studio has been busy whipping up cakes for the parties (we usually don’t buy desserts or drinks from outside when we can make everything ourselves!). Here is what I made for the farewell party:

 

Strawberry Victoria Sponge Cake, find the recipe here.

 

And what I baked for June & Kien’s birthday parties:

 

Peach Upside Down Cake, find the recipe here – just replace the fruit topping with any fruit you like!

 

 

Now to my favorite part, my birthday cake!!! Baked lovingly by my amazing girls at Kitchen Art. Thank you babes!

 

4-Tier Victoria Sponge cake with Kiwi, Mango and Cream filling, using the same Victoria Sponge recipe as the Strawberry Sponge above, baked in 4 different pans then piled together!

 

(Nom nom nom. Birthday cakes never go out of style!)

 

And finally here is me, the happy birthday girl, with my Kitchen Art darlings, who have been through quite a bit of  food & kitchen adventure together with me in the past 4 months. Mwah!

 

(Picture taken by our dear Photographer, Kiyoshi Jiro Kien)

 

Whew! What a recap! And that was just was just the highlight. I eat and cook good stuff everyday so it’s kind of hard to share everything without boring you guys, so if you want more, do follow me on @doortomykitchen on Twitter or Instagram for more instant updates and food porn!

 

Have a great Summer everyone!

 

 

 

 
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