House of An
The Queen of Fusion
By Rigche Ma
A few weeks shy of Summer 2015, Executive Chef Helene An returned to New York city, to present at the prestigious James Beard House – one of the most respected institutions dedicated to the culinary cause. This was An’s second presentation since the first was made some 20 years ago, but well-traveled east coast foodies and longtime An fans who were privileged to be served at An’s James Beard debut early on eagerly snapped up tickets as soon as they became available.
After the evening’s thoughtfully prepared spread, patrons pronounced the verdict with nostalgia; Mama – as An is affectionately referred to, never disappoints, and her cooking was ‘as good as was remembered.’ Indeed, the House of An maintains several recipes such as AN’s Famous Garlic Noodles™ and AN’s Famous Roasted Crab™, that had been perfected and trademarked, of which neither time nor distance dampened the appetite.
So what’s changed, if the well-known and timeless dishes are already preserved?
The House of An, which began as a modest 20-seat Italian diner where An and her mother-in-law, Diana, toiled 16-hour days, has developed into a formidable empire, conquering the west coast palate with five daughters now grown up and a grandson overseeing six successful concepts; Thanh Long, Crustacean San Francisco, Crustacean Beverly Hills, Tiato, AnQi, and An Catering, and even claiming credits for the concoction of the cocktail –The Beverly.
Soft-spoken and composed, Mama explained the strategy, ‘I do not imitate other cuisines, instead, I use my strengths and add my own interpretations – what I know best, light and clean Vietnamese cooking with herbs that are beneficial to health,’ – a formula that more than worked, earning Mama her reputation as ‘Queen of Fusion’. The depth and complexity behind House of An creations must unmistakably stem from Mama’s understanding and appreciation of her ingredients. Tiato – one of the six House of An operations, spearheaded by youngest daughter Catherine, even goes as far as to cultivate it own herbs, growing the tiato (a variety of the Perilla plant especially imported from Vietnam) in a local garden, to ensure a consistent and fresh supply.
For this current trip to New York, Mama arrived flanked by at least two daughters, a son-in-law and, Papa An, quietly trying to make himself inconspicuous as he lets his ladies take the spotlight. They were en route to meet the rest of the family for a family vacation after a hectic schedule at the James Beard House, conveniently overlapping business, and pleasure.
The House of An had starved New York of attention for too long, but New York’s loyalty had been proven by the warm reception. Will House of An at last give in to the city’s embrace and stay to pursue a full-fledged gastronomic relationship?
‘New York City is both fascinating and tempting,’ eldest daughter Elizabeth mused, ‘If we do establish in New York, it would likely be Crustaceans.’
This carrot, albeit somewhat vague, will suffice to keep the wanting alive. At least for now.