LUKE NGUYEN – “I’M JUST A COOK”

Travel Bulletin - - ISSUES & TRENDS -

IF THERE’S one thing that makes Luke Nguyen un­easy, it’s the term “celebrity chef”. The softly spo­ken restau­ra­teur talked to trav­el­bul­letin dur­ing a re­cent APT river cruise in Europe, and un­der­stat­edly de­scribed the amaz­ing jour­ney he has taken since launch­ing his first restau­rant in Syd­ney about 15 years ago, at the ten­der age of 23. Red Lantern, now de­scribed as “the world’s most awarded Viet­namese restau­rant” was cre­ated be­cause Nguyen had a pas­sion to share the cui­sine of his par­ents’ na­tive coun­try with Aus­tralians. He was born in a refugee camp in Thai­land and ended up set­tling with his fam­ily in west­ern Syd­ney where his pas­sion for cook­ing was awak­ened. De­spite the de­nials of his celebrity sta­tus there is no doubt Nguyen is a star. He runs his own tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion com­pany which has cre­ated shows such as Luke Nguyen’s Viet­nam and Luke Nguyen’s France, which are tele­vised in 150 coun­tries in­clud­ing on SBS in Aus­tralia. There’s also a sec­ond Red Lantern restau­rant, and he has writ­ten four best-sell­ing cook­books. Oh, and by the way, he also runs a cook­ing school in Ho Chi Minh City and hap­pens to be a judge on the Viet­namese ver­sion of Masterchef. Nguyen is also an am­bas­sador for APT – a re­la­tion­ship which grew from his own pas­sion to ex­pe­ri­ence Viet­nam on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. “I used to close down Red Lantern each Christ­mas so I could travel,” he said. “Peo­ple said I was mad to not open dur­ing the busi­est part of the year. But even­tu­ally the cus­tomers who asked why I was clos­ing wanted to come to Viet­nam with me”. In the early days he had five trav­el­ling com­pan­ions but “ev­ery year it got big­ger and big­ger”. Nguyen even­tu­ally sought out a travel part­ner and the role with APT was born. “I wanted to find a part­ner to al­low me to do what I wanted to do – of­fer real lo­cal

Peo­ple said I was mad to not open dur­ing the year’ busi­est time of the

au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences,” Nguyen said. He still per­son­ally es­corts APT tours to Viet­nam twice a year – tak­ing guests to his favourite spots in­clud­ing a restau­rant where in­sects are the sta­ple food. He also de­vel­ops menus for APT’S river cruise prod­uct in Asia, in­clud­ing its voy­ages on the Mekong and Myan­mar. His travel con­nec­tions have also seen Nguyen linked with Eti­had, where he is again an am­bas­sador and pas­sion­ately spoke about the car­rier’s com­mit­ment to fine din­ing in the sky. There’s also a re­la­tion­ship with Sin­ga­pore’s Tiger Beer, with the port­fo­lio all fit­ting into his self-de­scrip­tion as a “gas­tro­nomic trav­eller”. It’s hard to imag­ine Luke fit­ting more into his busy life – but he and his part­ner are also now the proud par­ents of two baby twin boys. What’s next? More travel cer­tainly seems to be on the agenda, with Nguyen en­thus­ing about a trip he con­ducted to Ja­pan a few years ago where he vis­ited all of the “Iron Chef” restau­rants run by the stars of the fa­mous cook­ing show. “It was just a one-off, but I’d love to do more of that sort of thing,”

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