David Huynh’s grandma’s dumplings

The chef of Vit Béo gives us a bite of his child­hood

Annex Post - - FOOD - by Jes­sica Wei

Like a lot of Asian kids grow­ing up with grand­par­ents at home, chef David Huynh, of the new Vit Béo at Bloor and Oss­ing­ton, spent his child­hood mak­ing dumplings with his grandma.

They were 13 in a three-bed­room home in Eto­bi­coke. When ev­ery­one else was at work or at school, Huynh, the youngest, would get picked up from kinder­garten by his grand­mother, and they would start cook­ing din­ner at 2 p.m.

“It’s slow food,” he says. “And this takes a long time.” There are more steps to mak­ing the dumplings than there are ac­tual in­gre­di­ents: It be­gins with finely chop­ping hand­fuls of gar­lic chives, which his grand­mother grew in her gar­den. A dough is formed out of wa­ter and a com­bi­na­tion of tapi­oca and rice flours, which en­velops the gar­lic chives. The dumplings are steamed and then pan-fried be­fore be­ing served with a sauce of black vine­gar and chili oil. Et voilà: a flat, chewy, doughy, pan-crusty wrap­per around a hefty mouth­ful of tightly packed gar­licky greens. That’s the thing he res­ur­rected from his child­hood mem­o­ries to kick off a menu of Viet­namese items.

“This par­tic­u­lar dish is com­fort for me,” he says about the dumplings.

Huynh grew up and moved out of the crowded house­hold. In Novem­ber 2014, he and his friends opened up the bar Civil Lib­er­ties.

“It was great,” he says. “We were see­ing a lot of suc­cess, and there weren’t a lot of rea­sons to be un­happy, but I just felt like I was miss­ing some­thing.”

He and his girl­friend Amy took off to Viet­nam, with a quiet seed of an idea for a Viet­namese din­ing con­cept ges­tat­ing in Huynh’s head. He knew vaguely what he wanted: Viet­namese food, be­yond the usual bành mi and pho. Dif­fer­ent food, food he had grown up eat­ing.

“When I went to Viet­nam, even that per­spec­tive was dwarfed by the com­plete breadth of the re­gion­al­ity of ev­ery­thing,” he says. “The per­spec­tive of Viet­namese food in Toronto [dates back] 40 years.”

But with other Asian cuisines in Toronto, tides were shift­ing. Susur Lee and DaiLo’s Nick Liu put el­e­vated Can­tonese food into the main­stream spot­light. Ra­men ex­ploded onto the scene.

“We were all watch­ing this thing hap­pen, and it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore Viet­nam was go­ing to take its turn,” he says. “If we were a part of it, we could in­flu­ence it and shape it the way we want it.”

The menu of Vit Béo has nine items de­pend­ing on the time of night. It’s mostly stuff that has some sort of per­sonal con­nec­tion: brown rice con­gee; bánh xèo, a street food of pork belly and prawns wrapped in a rice crepe; beef pho; Shin in­stant noo­dles served with meat and veg; and, bành he, his grandma’s dumplings, with the flavour that brings him home.

“We eat gar­lic chives all the time,” he says of the star in­gre­di­ent. “It’s this beau­ti­ful fra­grance that’s herba­ceous and grassy. It makes me feel like a kid again. It’s how I re­mem­ber food be­ing. It’s a ther­a­peu­tic thing.”

Chef David Huynh of Blo­ordale’s Vit Béo makes bành he, his grand­mother’s dumplings

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