What do you get when you let two of our region’s most innovative (and eccentric) champions of F&B off the chain to collaborate for an evening, with the only condition being they use their collective imagination to come up with something remarkable?
You get The People’s Committee cocktail paired with a spoonful of wagyu black truffle ‘dry’ pho (no broth) that tastes quintessentially Vietnam in a single bite, that’s what.
Oh, you couldn’t answer that? Neither could we. Perhaps because we’re not the creative genius of Vietnamese culinary whiz and NHAU NHAU founder, Chef Peter Cuong Franklin or bartender, consultant, full-time artist and founder of The Studio Saigon, Richie Fawcett. It’s impossible to predict what these two entertainers will come up with next.
The People’s Committee cocktail and wagyu black truffle pho (pictured above) were just two items of many from a special menu created by Peter and Richie for the second NHAU NHAU – SESSIONS instalment last weekend (May 18), the follow-up to Elliot Faber’s (Sake Central, Renkon, Irusu) impressive session two weeks earlier.
Prior to the evening session, a bar-full of Saigon’s best up-and-coming bartenders was treated to an exclusive masterclass in the afternoon, kicked off with some sage words of advice from Chef Franklin in that customary (and sometimes colourful) way of his.
“Traditionally, you’re not supposed to fuck with it,” he said while making his point on the oft-times slippery topic of meddling with traditional Vietnamese dishes, like pho. “But if you do the basics well first and learn the history of it, once you have that knowledge, then you can play with it.”
I believe him…and that steely gaze of his.
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Indeed, the undeniable theme for the afternoon was centred around provenance, respect for history, creativity and local ingredients. Peter’s opening salvo dovetailed snuggly into what Richie (pictured below) had to say in his follow up. He echoed Chef Franklin when he revealed where he drew inspiration from in order to write, illustrate and publish his highly-regarded drink manual, Cocktail Art of Saigon.
“It’s important to make the connection (between history, drinks and dishes),” said Richie, “and it just so turns out that Saigon’s streets are named after significant people in Vietnam’s history, which formed the basis of my cocktails and ultimately, the book.”
Richie’s ‘tome’, published in 2016 while he was General Manager of much-loved modern European restaurant Shri in Saigon, showcases the restaurant and lounge’s signature cocktails.
While most of us leave organisations behind with little more than mixed emotions (depending on the circumstances) and perhaps a trail of nicked stationary strewn along the way to the nearest exit, Richie left Shri the recipes to 41 signature cocktails, each representing the 41 years of peace since the end of the war in 1975. A couple more have been added since. A true lasting legacy.
Meanwhile, that night, it was a rare opportunity indeed to taste the cocktails from the book, mixed by the author himself at a sell-out event where a record number of cocktails was sold in an evening at NHAU NHAU.
Until now, Richie is the only bartender in Vietnam who has created a truly Vietnam-centric cocktail program that doesn’t just follow global trends. If you ever get the chance to see him in action, go ahead and do it.
Below are the six cocktails from Richie’s book that he showcased for both the masterclass and evening session. They were all priced at VND190,000 for the evening. Also included is the inspiration for the drink, its ingredients and a memorable quote from the afternoon.
Dan Sinh Market
Inspiration: Known as the hardware market located on 104 Yersin Street where traders sell all kinds of hardware. Saigon restaurants and bars buy their equipment there. There is a central area selling war memorabilia from dog tags to parachutes.
Ingredients: white rum, pandan herb water, fresh ginger juice, coconut vinegar, sugar cane syrup, coconut foam
“What we do is an expression of ourselves”Peter Cuong Franklin
Hoa Binh Market
Inspiration: Known as the fish market since 1967 and has had a colourful history. Built by Chinese settlers in the 1900s, the building was used by the occupying Japanese forces from 1941 to manufacture aeroplane parts and repair tanks and jeeps.
Ingredients: gin, Son Tinh rose apple, coconut syrup, coconut vinegar, squid ink, egg white, soda water, black salt
“You need to learn how to balance your cocktails by playing with flavours and tastes”Richie Fawcett
Ton That Dam
Inspiration: The street we know today was named after Ton That Dam, the older brother of Ton That Thiep (nearby street) and was King Ham Nghi’s (nearby street) bodyguard, protecting him from the French from 1886 to 1888. Ton That Dam eventually committed suicide by drinking poison. Nowadays, Ton That Dam Street is famous for its wet market, which used to be the site of the main city market. In the 1960s, it became famous as the “thieves market” where black market goods were sold. It’s also the street where the dried candied ginger is bought for this cocktail.
Ingredients: vodka, King’s ginger, fresh ginger juice, fresh lime juice, sugar cane juice, egg white, ginger and BBQ tincture
“Know the fundamentals first. You can’t play ’till you know the thing”Peter Cuong Franklin
Le Thanh Ton
Inspiration: Le Thanh Ton was the emperor of Vietnam from 1460 until his death and is generally regarded as one of the greatest emperors in Vietnam’s history. Very popular with the people, Le Thanh Ton wrote poetry, of which some has survived. Nowadays, Le Thanh Ton Street is home to what is colloquially called “Japan Town” where there are many small bars, Japanese restaurants, karaoke parlours and massage joints.
Ingredients: Son Tinh white rice wine, cucumber juice, cucumber syrup, pasteurised egg white, peas-sized blob of wasabi
“The simple ideas are always the best”Richie Fawcett
The People’s Committee
Inspiration: This building was constructed between 1901 and 1908, then it was inaugurated in 1909 as the Saigon City Hall (Hotel de Ville). Designed by famous French architect, Gardes, today it’s one of the largest French colonial-era buildings in Saigon, functioning both as a city institution and prominent landmark positioned at the top end of Nguyen Hue Street.
Ingredients: cognac, ruou mo vang apricot, spray absinthe, star anise, yellow lemon peel garnish
“We eat, we learn and practise in the background”Peter Cuong Franklin
Inspiration: Thi Sach met, fell in love and eventually married Trung Tac, one of the famous Hai Ba Trung sisters. As the Chinese expanded southwards during the Han Dynasty, Thi Sach made a stand against them. The Chinese made an example of him by executing him, sending out a warning to all those who contemplated rebellion. His death spurred his wife to take up his cause and spread the flames of insurrection.
Ingredients: whisky, dark creme de cacao, espresso shot of Vietnamese coffee, homemade vanilla sugar
“Plan ahead and have your big idea ready”Richie Fawcett
Scroll down for more photos.
Words by Matthew Cowan. Follow him on Instagram at mattcowansaigon
Photos by Mike Palumbo. Follow him on Instagram at palumbo_photo
For more info about NHAU NHAU, click HERE. For more info about The Studio Saigon, click HERE