It’s one thing to follow a celebrity chef’s gastronomic adventures on TV, but quite something else to sit with them in person and hear their tales first-hand. With the upcoming launch of TV series Luke Nguyen’s France, I recently had the pleasure of attending an intimate masterclass with Luke (recipe will be shared on the blog next week) and had a one-on-one chat with him afterwards.

I Ate My Way Through / Jenius blogger Jennifer Lam with Luke Nguyen
Luke Nguyen and I, image courtesy of SBS Food

Where it began

Luke says the defining moment that led him to embark on the exploration of France took place in Hanoi, where he overheard two old Vietnamese men wearing berets, speaking pure French. What did they eat in France? What were their parents eating? Do they have banh mi? Do they have pho?

Luke’s culinary curiosity garnered many questions that needed answers.

With first cousins who have been living in Paris since 1976, Luke’s first visit to France was a journey of self discovery. On his second visit, he brought the film crew to produce Luke Nguyen’s France; the first episode airs on Thursday 24 April 2014 at 7:30pm on SBS One.

French Influences on Vietnamese Cuisine

Influence from the French colonial rule on Vietnamese cuisine is strikingly apparent once you take the time to analyse it. Pho, Vietnamese beef noodle soup, bares strong resemblance to the classic French beef stew, pot au feu. The broth of both dishes use marrow bones and charred onion to give a better colour and flavour. Luke goes into greater detail about this in episode 2 of Luke Nguyen’s France.

Pho dac biet from Pho Ann Cabramatta
Pho dac biet from Pho Ann, Cabramatta

The French also left a legacy in Vietnam in terms of introducing new cooking techniques. Luke points out that banh xeo, a Vietnamese savoury crispy crepe made of rice flour, water, coconut milk and turmeric and filled with slivers of pork belly, shrimp, mung beans, and bean sprouts, stemmed from a variation of the French crepe.

It doesn’t end there. There are similarities between Vietnamese bo tai chanh, lemon-cured sirloin, with French steak tartare. The list goes on.

Luke adds that he has been on a mission to get more Australians to cook with fish sauce – and in France – it already is a common pantry item!

Filming Luke Nguyen’s France

Luke’s genuine passion in tracing Vietnamese cuisine’s roots is what makes his journey on TV so authentic and engaging. It’s taken about a year from concept to produce the show; this includes 3 weeks of research and 7 weeks of filming.

“It’s all interconnected” confirms Luke. During a six hour journey on the Mekong River while producing Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam, he begun to question where the river led to and how food changed along the way. That resulted in the production of TV series Luke Nguyen’s Greater Mekong. His inquisitiveness has this time led him to another continent to produce Luke Nguyen’s France and we can’t wait to watch it!

When asked about his highlights in France, Luke laughs as he fondly reminisces the time he spent at Bistro Indochine (his cousins’ new Vietnamese restaurant in Paris) where they cooked and communicated in broken Vietnamese and his broken French.

Another memorable moment, he adds, was in the Basque Country (episode 8) where he was searching for an artisan butcher he had been referred to. Searching all over the farm for this man, he eventually sees a silhouette and unexpectedly finds him in a room filled with hanging jambon – each wrapped in white muslin cloth, cured to order, and attached with a chalkboard, marked with the chef’s name whom the order was for. Among the hams, were exclusive orders for Michelin starred chefs and the Prime Minister of France.

Luke Nguyen with jambon in background
Luke standing in front of the artisan jambon, image courtesy of SBS Food

Over ten half hour episodes, Luke ventures through the fascinating nation of France. Beginning in Paris, Luke circumnavigates the country: Paris to Strasbourg; the Franche-Comté to Lyon; Marseille to Nice; Biarritz to Île d’Oléron and finally, St Malo. Luke’s love of food coupled with his disarming nature unearths a side to the French food culture and lifestyle that has rarely been seen on television. Local characters open their homes and share family recipes, fusing the taste of France with that of Spain, Africa and Vietnam.

Travel Tips

For gastronomic travellers planning a trip to France, Luke recommends you to eat everything. Hire a car, get into the countryside and explore the bistros in the middle of nowhere.

Luke emphasizes upon the importance of learning the language – “enough to read the menu” he says. “Watch French films, use mobile apps, read cookbooks and translate the ingredients”.

Watch Luke Nguyen’s France

Luke Nguyen’s France begins Thursday 24th April at 7:30pm on SBS ONE. Following its premiere on SBS ONE, each episode will be available at sbs.com.au/food/luke-nguyens-france, on iTunes and Googleplay. The full series will be available on Blu-ray and DVD from June 2014.

See the preview below –

This post is sponsored by SBS Food

Previous articleCooking classes at the Korean Cultural Office + Recipes for Kimchi Stew and Bulgogi
Next articleMug Cake Mondays: 2mins Mocha Cake!
Jennifer is the founding blogger of I Ate My Way Through (originally, Jenius.com.au). Growing up in the multicultural melting pot of Sydney’s Inner West as a second generation Australian (of Vietnamese refugee parents of Teochew Chinese ancestry), Jen has always had a deep curiosity about global cuisines, culinary heritage and the cultural assimilation of immigrants. For Jen and her family, food is always at the centre of all celebrations, life events and milestones. A lover of the finer things in life, as well as cheap eats, her blogging ethos is all about empowering and inspiring people to expand their culinary repertoire. When not running her two companies (she is also the Managing Director of The Bamboo Garden online marketing agency), Jen can be found exploring old-world charms at vintage markets and delving into local eats around the world. She has a weakness for fried chicken.
  • LisaFoutzMcKeon

    I have stayed in St Germaine and recognize locations for shooting the show. What Café did he and his friend sit at before he went to his friends rooftop to cook? Thanks! I set my DVR for the whole series. It looks amazing with a different spin on epi-tourism!