We chat to Hanoian foodie entrepreneur Chi Anh at home in her kitchen
In person Chi Anh comes across as smart, organised and down to earth. Every inch the professional, she’s confident but reserved. Born in Hanoi in 1984 Chi Anh has already managed to build a mini empire. She owns KitchenArt, a utensils store selling beautiful bright kitchenware. In 2013 she opened café restaurant The KAfe on Điện Biên Phủ.
Since then she has opened at another two sites, plus has four venues for offshoot business The KAfe Box, which offers takeaway food. Since 2012 Chi Anh has blogged about food and business at Door2myKitchen and she has recently launched a magazine, T-Pot Journal, a whimsical and beautiful lifestyle magazine perfectly suited to the young Vietnamese clientele of The KAfe. Oh, and she recently got married and moved into the apartment we are standing in today.
Safe to say, she’s a very capable and focussed woman.
Interview by Nhung Luu ● Photos by Linh Chi
The thing I treasure most in my kitchen is this KitchenAid mixer, the first big thing I ever owned. When I was working in Singapore I would go to the shop every week just to look at it. This one cost nearly 700 USD. When I moved back to Vietnam my friends put in the money and bought it as a farewell gift for me.
This machine is how I started to feel really passionate about kitchen utensils. It made me realise that kitchen utensils are not just crummy little gadgets. They are beautiful things that inspire you.
I have lots of books but most of them are about cooking. This is my kind of reading for pleasure. I really like Jamie Oliver, he’s my idol. These books help me to develop my cooking style, not too shiny and complicated, but simple and close to nature. I really like this way of thinking.
There are also some books by Julia Child. The movie Julie and Julia was kind of a kick start for me to be more serious about cooking. My cooking blog was inspired by it too. I also had this dream of writing cook books, and a few years after coming back to Vietnam, I wrote my own book – Story of Two Kitchens.
I have so many spices that when building this kitchen, I had to ask the architecture to design it with special shelves.
Cumin, turmeric, caprice, Indian spices like garam masala, coriander, and this is clove.
I rarely cook Vietnamese food, my parents cook Vietnamese dishes a lot and I like to try new things. Mediterranean, Indian, Italian. And I always use lots of spices. Spices help raise food to a whole new level. My husband likes Japanese cuisine so I also stock up on some Japanese spices.
And this little bay tree is from my friend Joel, The KAfe chef. He bought it back from Australia. At first, it was really tiny and didn’t grow much no matter how much I tried. Every morning I spray some water onto it. I thought it wouldn’t make it in Vietnam but look…now it even has a new branch.
I used to dream of a whole kitchen filled with lots of different pots of herbs, but then I realised it’s quite difficult to grow western herbs here.
I only go to the market once a week, and then I throw everything into the freezer, instead of buying fresh food daily like the majority of Vietnamese women. I just don’t have enough time to go to the market every day.
I don’t have much processed food in the fridge. There’s a shelf for breakfast stuff like cheese, mustard, peanut butter. I also have some chocolate here but rarely eat them. And coconut oil for some Thai or Indian food. The vegetable shelf is the most crowded. Cauliflower, sweet potato, carrot, eggplant, etc. There’s no soda, no unhealthy food. And there are fruits – bananas, kiwis, avocados.
I really like health food, super foods, like nuts and seeds. And kakao. Really good. Kakao contains lots of antioxidants and iron. These hemp seeds have lots of protein. I usually put them in my muesli for breakfast, together with milk and yogurt. Recently I’ve got quite obsessed with nutrition. I read a lot, watch a lot, and discover that our body actually changes a great deal if we eat healthy, drink healthy, and drink lots of water. I never eat sugar at all. No sugar in the house. When I need something sweet, I use natural honey or maple syrup.
I really like the area around West Lake. I like the view to the open space, which isn’t easy to find in this crowded city.
This apartment is a balance of two personalities with quite different interests. My husband just moved back to Vietnam this March. We were in kind of a long distance relationship for one year before we got married. Over the three months after the wedding, I did all the moving until my husband moved back [to Vietnam]. He was in charge of the budget and functions of the apartment. I can have loads and loads of wild ideas, but he’s the one who analyse those things to see if they are practical or not. I was in charge of art direction, like the materials, the colour of the wood, the floor, and other furniture.
I also like this kitchen island. It’s used for cooking preparation, and also for having meals. It took ages to finalise the design and also the construction because there were some ideas they thought would be practical at first, but then couldn’t do. But it’s completed finally.
The kitchen is where I spend most of my time at home.
The KAfe: 18 Điện Biên Phủ, 107 Láng Hạ, 4 Hà Hồi
KAfe Box: Vincom Bà Triệu, 8 Nhà Chung, 56 Hàng Bè, and 12B4 Phạm Ngọc Thạch.