It's not your ordinary collection of homey family favorites, compiled with a mother's love. On the other hand, it is. Because Mama is Chef Helene An, and this is the way the Ans eat at home, and the way you will eat if you go to their restaurants.
The House of An has five: Thanh Long and Crustacean in San Francisco, Crustacean Beverly Hills, where Mama is the executive chef; Tiato in Santa Monica and AnQi Gourmet Bistro & Noodle Bar in Costa Mesa.
A book launch at Crustacean Beverly Hills had all the trimmings of the elite life Mama was born to in Vietnam: fine wines, spectacular floral arrangements (above), elegant china and a lavish parade of dishes, just as her family enjoyed until they fled Vietnam as refugees.
Three of her daughters attended the party, including Jacqueline An, who wrote the book with her mother. It's filled with wonderful food, as well as family history and insights into Vietnamese culture and history. This makes it a great read.
The recipes show how Mama elevates food to high levels, whether traditional Vietnamese or fusion. All have been tested for home use. Here are a few examples, from the launch party:
Cooking tips, advice on how to entertain, wine and beer pairings, ingredient explanations--the book has everything--well almost. What's missing is the recipe for garlic noodles. The noodles and roasted crab made the Ans famous, dating from their start at a small Italian deli in San Francisco, where Mama gradually worked Vietnamese dishes into the menu.
So that no one can steal the recipes, they are prepared in a secret kitchen, one for each restaurant. Only family members and loyal staff are allowed in.
Now 73, Mama works as hard as ever. Calling her Mama may seem too informal, but even restaurant patrons get to use that term. In the photo above, she's with corporate chef Tony Nguyen, demonstrating recipes from the book at the start of the launch party.