Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Village Chance Kitchen, the sorcerer and her new apprentices

;It was a miracle that the Kitchen was ready to open for breakfast on the 15th of August as we planned.
To begin with I have 3 boys and a young girl from Village Chance to be trained: a Front of House Team Leader,  a chief cook, an assistant cook and a kitchen manager.  I took on the trainer job and at the beginning no one believed that they could be train, especially the three boys. They have neither experiences nor any sense of responsibility, but after the first week of tortures, the results are surprisingly encouraging, I managed to whip them into discipline, they all turned up to work more or less on time at 6am in the morning.

Dawn breaking from my window at 5am. 

The long hours spending in the kitchen reminded me of the time when I first opened Green Papaya at Toowong. But like then I felt happy achieving the basic pattern of a working kitchen.
The apprentice chief cook is surprisingly good, his observant eye took in every detail, he is a fast learner as well as having a natural good taste.
Below is an example of his plating work:

In a short time he has learned and believed that he could produce a great stock without the help of  the so called “flavour enhancers”.
The assistant cook was from the army originally and after being discharged he worked as a security guard at Maison Chance. He is married to a lady on wheel chair and just had their first baby. He approached me to be trained as a cook for two reasons, he likes cooking and he wants to have a proper career now that he has a family to look after. I decided to give him a go. He turned out to be a competent cook and he keeps the kitchen reasonably clean,
My best staff in the kitchen is the drink maker and “market goer”, she is a competent and dedicated worker, in her spare time she asked me to teach her English and other skills in restaurant work. Prior to this job she used to sell oranges from her parents’ farm at markets. Now we buy them for orange juice, and this turns out to be our best seller from the drink menu
I was strongly advised not to pin any hope on the trainee for the Front of House Team Leader and I was a little doubtful of his capacity to change however he has changed 90% in the last two week. I told him that I expect him to change 110%. He comes three nights a week for the FOH training in English since his French is better than his English so he wants to use the opportunity to practice speaking better English. So far I have to spend all my time in the kitchen so I haven’t done any practical work with him in customer services yet.

Besides them I worked with another volunteer from France, who specialises in making patisseries. And 4 others employees recruited from outside the organisation. The Restaurant manager is a dedicated worker, he is good in administration and accountancy but he has very limited knowledge on restaurant managing as such. However he is very diplomatic toward the Maison Chance Managing Committee and maintains a good relation with them, which is a good thing because that side of thing does not interest me.

The other member of the crew is another story.
The service industry in Vietnam is a strange phenomenon. I don’t think it should be called “services” at all.  Often in restaurant as well as in shops, the customer can be waiting at the counter for services while a group of staff sitting around gossiping or consuming their food refusing to acknowledge the customer’s existence. This really infuriates me but the Vietnamese consider it as normal, they would wait until they think it is time to shout out on top of their voice for attention.

This happens in Village Chance restaurant as well. The two waitresses would sit and chat with the cashier, ignoring everyone else like normal
And now the story about the food and the customers.
We started organizing for the opening on Friday prior to our opening day.
I spent all Saturday, and Sunday morning from 5am to 11 am to get the pho ready for Monday.
But my pho stock without the “flavour enhancers” was not the same and it did not appeal to the customers, I was a bit disappointed at their close mindedness, not willing to try anything different, it is like a frog sitting at the bottom of a well  seeing that bit of sky and thought that was the whole universe. I cannot blame them because most of them do not earn very much and some of them hardly go beyond the local district. It is really quite true that you can tell what sort of a person by what they eat as the French gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin stated .
So you can see the concept of clean healthy food and of international standard will be as hard as the struggle for Vietnam' s Independence!

On Monday morning at 6am when I arrived to work I had been given an order to prepare 15 portions of toast and jam for the kids by 6.30am and an order for 15 pho to take away and we had neither a toaster nor take away containers and carry bags.
So after serving breakfast we went shopping at Binh Tay Market for take away containers and other items for the drink counter.
Later that night I prepared Bun Bo Hue for early Tuesday trading. We had booking for 30 film crew who were doing a game show at the Village courtyard to raise money for a couple on wheel chaired and a blind couple from Maison Chance (it was kind of “your wishes come true” show) as well as a booking for15 visitors from France for lunch.
The TV film crew did not appreciate my clean food either, they are all MSG addicts and get them off cold turkey is a major problem.
However, the lunch party thoroughly enjoyed my food and they came in the kitchen to thank us and saw the international standard kitchen We got 400,000.00 Dong Tips (which was equivalent to about $A20.00 and we made less than 1,000,000.00  (A$50.00) for the lunch.
The farfalle pasta and ragu was a total disaster, no one wanted to try it; so we ate most of the ragu ourselves.

The Moc soup was very good, and it was one of the more popular dish:

This is one of the soup originated from North Vietnam, it is made mainly with pork prepared in different styles. And served with split Vietnamese spinach:

The first lunches prepared for the Brisbane Alumni Group were greatly  appreciated
I prepared some of my best known dishes for them :

Prawn in coconut juice:

Emperor pork and vegetable soup

Pomelo salad:

Green papaya salad:

The Brisbane Alumni rated our food at 5****. And they gave us enough money to buy a food processor and a large rice cooker and some to save for our dish washer!

We also made a few cakes for dessert:

This is a coconut tart made by the volunteer from France

So there we are my life as a dog again!


  1. Great story telling lien! wish i was there to help out. love Emmie