From a line of chefs and restaurateurs, chef Hannah An has recently put a stamp on her own restaurant, West Hollywood’s The District by Hannah An, which offers modern Vietnamese dishes from diverse neighborhoods.
An was born in Saigon and strives to bring the nuances of the Vietnamese cuisine and culture to a bigger audience. She’s inspired by the fundamental flavors and balance of salty, sour, sweet, spicy and bitter, all working in perfect harmony. An grew up in her grandmother’s famous Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco, while studying electrical and computer engineering and eventually earning her MBA; she worked as an engineer for high-profile companies before pursuing her dreams as a restauranteur.
Now, with her first solo restaurant, she is quickly garnering a reputation as a high-profile chef, recreating recipes from her ancestors with the fresh bounty of Southern California produce and seafood. We caught up with her at this weekend’s Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival to talk traditions, favorite foods and how to cook for a date.
Congratulations on the opening of your new Vietnamese restaurant, The District by Hannah An. Tell us about it. How did you come up with the name?
In Vietnam, everything is divided into districts. Each district has unique herbs and spices. I chose the name The District because I wanted to bring all the unique flavors together in one place.
We’ve read that you practically grew up in your family’s famous restaurant, Thanh Long, in San Francisco. How did you want your restaurant to be different?
Thanh Long was more of my family’s favorite dishes where as The District modernizes traditional Vietnamese flavors.
You were born in Saigon and forced to flee Vietnam in 1975. What do you remember of your time there and how did it influence your cooking?
I left Vietnam when I was eleven, so there were a lot of dishes that I loved eating. I am always trying to recreate the flavors by using the authentic products that are available here in the United States.
You’re also an engineer and hold several degrees in electrical and computer engineering. That sounds very different than cooking. Which do you prefer?
In principle, they are not different. They are both creating and building, which I love to do.
What are some of your favorite foods?
I love noodles, sushi and Italian.
What’s one unusual hobby or interest you have that most people don’t know about you?
As a kid, I enjoyed martial arts for 10 years.
Lastly, what advice would you give to a young man who’d like to impress his date with a homemade meal?
Keep it simple using the freshest and the best quality ingredients, which is what Vietnamese cooking is all about!