Bobby Chinn, a New Zealand born Chinese-Egyptian chef and restaurateur based in Hanoi has been stirring up trouble in Vietnam since 1994. Along with Frenchman Didier Corlou who was at the Metropole Hotel and now has his own restaurant Verticale, Bobby was one of the first foreign chefs to come to Vietnam.
He’s opened and closed a number of restaurants in Vietnam; doing business as a foreigner has it’s many ups and downs. His current eponymous eatery called Restaurant Bobby Chinn remains steadfast. It’s located in the Hoan Kiem District and offers interesting takes on Vietnamese food. Like many chefs, Bobby’s cooking reflects who he is, where he’s been. He used to live in San Francisco so his interpretation is California-Vietnamese, which means there’s a bit of the Pacific Rim, France, and the Mediterranean too, along with fresh, seasonal organic ingredients.
In late October at the Asia Society in New York, I met Bobby as we were both on a Vietnam food panel. With a background in finance and stand-up comedy, he’s smart, funny and energetic — a savvy entertainer. He’s full of self-deprecation when he describes how he had to invent his own version of Vietnamese since it’s a hard language to master. Listen to his Vietnamese on this YouTube trailer for a new television travel/food show, World Cafe Asia. He’s got a bit of Anthony Bourdain’s sincerity and brashness and sounds a bit gravely/serious like Anderson Cooper on CNN:
"Who is Bobby Chinn?" – World Asia Cafe trailer on YouTube
At the Asia Society event, Bobby prepared a take on a Vietnamese pho cuon — hand-held rolls comprised of the pho beef and herb garnishes wrapped up in a fresh rice sheet. It’s retro food that’s come back in full force in Hanoi for the past couple of years. Bobby’s version had duck gizzard confit and Japanese shiso, a stand-in for Vietnamese tia to, which is hard to get in New York these days. Freshly made Cantonese haw fun from Chinatown was the perfect, supple rice wrapper.
Bobby is a very nice person who respect Vietnamese people and their cuisine. He also loves to joke around. "You know what my name means in Vietnamese?" he asked me. I was trying to botch "Bobby Chinn" in Vietnamese but didn’t get the joke. "Bop chim, bop chim, " he barked. "That means strangle the bird. I do my best Foghorn Leghorn whenever I hear that." (Foghorn Leghorn is an American cartoon character based on a rooster.)
His show airs in Asia on Discovery’s Travel and Living channel. If you watch it, post your thoughts!