INTERVIEW | Founder, Taste Vietnam Group – Trịnh Diễm Vy: TEND TO THE FOOD, NURTURE THE JOY

INTERVIEW | Founder, Taste Vietnam Group – Trịnh Diễm Vy: TEND TO THE FOOD, NURTURE THE JOY

Each entrepreneur has many different ways to return to their chosen path, should they stray from it. And for a culinary artist turned businesswoman such as Mrs. Trinh Diem Vy, her way to nourish and flourish the love for cuisine and its entailing business journey is to visit humble marketplaces, where she can feast her eyes and lay her hands on the endearing, fresh ingredients.

In most of its businesswomen interviews, the Businesswoman Magazine often starts with business-related questions. But in the case of businesswoman Trinh Diem Vy – a culinary artist, we would like to begin the article with the love for food – a lifelong passion that has guided her way towards a successful career in business and in proclaiming the Vietnamese culinary culture on an international scale. Ever since the age of 10, Trinh Diem Vy has spent a great deal of time in the kitchen along with her parents and has developed a strong sense of belonging for it. Though starting out as a single, simple way to make a living and support her family, cooking has gradually become a life source for her creativity and helped her discover the true meaning of “happiness”

Trinh Diem Vy, story of business

Greetings Mrs. Trinh Diem Vy. Shall we begin with the motivation that has set you on this path and encouraged you to venture this far, devoting several years to the development of your hometown – Hoi An’s cuisine?

Cuisine has always been one of the most essential needs in the culture of any country or people. This is especially the case for countries like Vietnam, where tourism is considered a spearheading industry, leaving much growing potential for its cuisine. And Hoi An is truly “a land between” where not only the cultural traits from everywhere in the country, but also the influence from the Eastern and Western world come together to create an extremely diverse and flavorful cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine in itself is highly beneficial for human health thanks to its geographic location and climatic characteristics, where every wild herb on the roadside can become a nutritious ingredient in its dishes; and that is a huge advantage. As of right now, however, I have a feeling that we haven’t been going the right way, having no sustainable strategy to develop and proclaim our culinary culture in the long run. What worries the most is the fact that Vietnamese cuisine is falling into oblivion, with misguiding nutrition and diet trends on the rise that are squeezing the life and professionalism out of its essential values.

In my opinion, this should be a community-wide concern, not limited to any individual. Every country wants to develop a uniquely nationalistic culinary culture through highly influential cultural activities such as movie, fashion… I have found the way, what I need the cooperation and a common voice in a bigger scale, for this will be a tough path to venture alone. It is, though, the only path I would take, considering how I only do the things that I love. Everything will come to you naturally as long as you have enough love and experience in whatever you do.

Trinh Diem Vy story of business

With your passion for cuisine, you have recently founded Taste Vietnam to add to your diverse hotel and restaurant system. Which distinctive feature do you wish your dining guests to remember them by?

After many years working and doing business in the food industry, I’ve come to realize that I must express the joys in my life on the dining table. And I try to deliver such joys to each of my restaurants, turning them into iconic destinations where dining guests can enjoy several values at once, those of culture, of a specific massage, of nutrition, and of other traditions.

Take Poison Café for example, a herbal coffee restaurant brand that I spent a lot of time and effort in, in association with its co-founder and my close friend – Dr. Luong Le Hoang. This idea came into my mind when I realized that many people, myself included, often develop “inebriated” symptoms after drinking coffee such as elevated heart rate, body fatigue… In addition, the “coffee-going” culture has not been very popular among women, making most coffee shops a male predominant place. Upon sharing this with Dr. Luong Le Hoang, I found a mutual understanding with him, who then agreed to research and develop a coffee product that incorporates herbal ingredients, making it more beneficial to the body, easier to absorb, and can be consumed during both daytime and nighttime. Meanwhile, I did my part in creating an elegant coffee restaurant atmosphere that everyone, men and women alike, can enjoy.

Most recently, I have opened a new restaurant complex called Hoi An Eatery Building, which includes the Morning Glory Food Lab, Vy Market’s Restaurant, and fine-dining restaurants. My goal is to deliver culinary products that bring about various values such as health benefits, cultural promotion, and enhanced experience for our dining guests. As for Taste Vietnam, each and every outlet will present a different aspect of cuisine, as diverse as life itself and living up the slogan I’ve chosen for the place: “The Choice of Food, The Choice of Life”.

With the motto “Use your food as a medication”, I have implemented the “The Future of Food” model to this place. This means that our dishes are recalibrated using a new proportion and harmonious blend of health beneficial ingredients, while preserving their good taste. As someone who loves putting new and strange ideas into practice, I believe this is a one-of-a-kind restaurant complex model in Vietnam. People come here not only for the food itself, but also for the meaningful message of gratitude for the delicious and nutritious meal they’re served with. That is when the body releases the hormones of joy and happiness, using this positive energy to make for a healthy metabolism.

Taste Vietnam must have suffered greatly in terms of business operation due to the pandemic situation. As its owner, how did you cope with this challenge?

Trinh Diem Vy, story of business

After 30 years of seemingly relentless work, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about the once in a lifetime opportunity for me to reflect upon my own life and business. After the first pandemic wave in 2020, I had barely got everything into orbit for the year 2021 when the next wave came crashing in, which threw me off balance. But the past two years have not seen me giving up. You may have doubts about your passion at times, but there will always be tough times in life, either physically or mentally, and that’s normal. Instead of wasting too much energy on fixing the complications, I swiftly shifted the business model, altering the organizational structure, even down to the strategy and product, to cope with the new situation. For example, I’ve utilized the pandemic-led shutdown to update, upgrade, and renovate a number of restaurants, which I had intended to do for several years. I believe that the temporary closure during the pandemic was a golden opportunity for business owners and investors to reorganize everything, refresh their mindset and improve their skills. Despite some inevitable financial loss, what I gained in the end was an innovative way of thinking and new-found knowledge.

In the role of Chef “Trinh Diem Vy”, what are your criteria when judging a cook’s dish?

First of all, they must be able to create a delicious dish. Aren’t people afraid of medicine because it is bitter? The first thing that the dining guests must feel when trying a dish is its good taste. Then, a cook must be able to convey the joy of cooking in the dish. An intangible yet highly emotional value. A dish made with all the joy and effort of the cook carries a soul of itself, which in turn affects its taste in the mouth of the diner. The third element is the ingredients, which have to be fresh and of credible origin. To elaborate on the topic of ingredients, it is my belief that cooks and chefs should prioritize on local farmers’ products, those that come from the land you are living and cooking in. We often make it difficult for ourselves trying to look for high-end ingredients from distant sources. Some of them do indeed possess great health benefits, but how to properly process them and use them in a dish also require great efforts. Meanwhile, Vietnamese indigenous ingredients are diverse, no less nutritious or health beneficial, and readily available if you know where to look. Using local ingredients is also the best way to meet the criterion of freshness, and every cook and chef knows how heavily the quality of a dish depends on whether or not its ingredients are fresh.

Trinh Diem Vy, story of business

From what you’ve just shared, we can feel the boundless love that you have for cooking and ingredients. But how do Trinh Diem Vy convey such a spirit to the kitchen staff under your command and training?

For me, cooking is both a scientific and artistic work. All I need is some good music and the kitchen to myself, and my body will become one with the ingredients that lie ahead. Therefore, those who are chosen to work with me must not only possess the best cooking skills but must also be able to display a passion for their products. When looking at fresh ingredients, a cook must be able to feel the budding life, the invigorating energy, the breath of heaven and earth in order to feel the joy and happiness of cooking; being able to do so means they are one step closer to the path of zen.

In order to help my associates get a grasp of these notions and passionate energies, I often try to reach them via topics that are not … strictly business-related, for example watching a movie about the food industry or F&B business together. This is an important part in our journey as a team, which builds our mutual understanding through every valuable moment that we spend together. And this goes both ways, as they receive the professional energy from those around them, they will emit the same kind of energy to me and others.

I love my staff as I they’re my family. Therefore, I always want to see a joyous and vigorous smile on their face no matter we do. But, I’m also quite demanding when it comes to the work itself, so I expect my staff to consider the workplace as a learning environment, to heightening not only their skills but also the love for what they do.

Trinh Diem Vy, story of business

A culinary artist turned culinary businesswoman, what are the business philosophies that Chef “Trinh Diem Vy” pursue?

Cooking is my lifelong ideology, and I live with the “good wine needs no bush” mindset, but that alone is not enough for a culinary business. Each strategy has its own pros and cons. Running a business is a huge challenge for its owner, and with consumers being confused by a maze of good and bad choices, a businessperson cannot rely on their good product alone, but has to develop a supporting marketing strategy for it. As for my own business, I believe that with the ideal it’s pursuing and the message it’s trying to get across, there’s no reason not to reach out to the community and market.

Many people believe that businesspeople are those who know how to earn money, but for me, real businesspeople are those who know how to spend money. They know what they are spending money on, or should I say they know how to make the right investment, creating valuable products and delivering messages that can affect the consumers’ mindset and give them a more positive way of thinking.

So how does a chef such as yourself spend her money?

As a female chef, I spend most money on three things. First is kitchen equipment, the means to convenient cooking, and also a way for me to discover the creativity and advanced materials that manufacturers put into their products. Second is cooking ingredients, once an ingredient has managed to please me, it will become my treasure. Lastly, and I’m not speaking for myself but for every woman out there, invest your money in footwear, even if it’s just a pair of slippers, because the feet are the most important part of the body that take us everywhere; to cherish your feet is to cherish your health. Making money is hard, spending it wisely is even harder. But I believe that a woman who knows how to spend her money will have a happy and meaningful life.

Throughout your career, what are you most satisfied with?

As a perfectionist and a challenge seeker, I can hardly say that I’m satisfied with what I have accomplished so far, and there are still many unfinished goals lying ahead of me. One thing that I’m slightly pleased with at the moment is the fact that I have taken the right path to take and thought of the right things to think. I hope to be able to continue spreading my love for cooking to everyone, especially other women. Knowing how to cook will help women understand their body better and connect with other family members. That’s why, for the past 20 years, I have been inspiring the next generations by running cooking classes and organizing culinary events in Vietnam and many other countries.

Trinh Diem Vy, story of business

In the face of failures or when things don’t turn out the way you want them to be, how do Trinh Diem Vy get back on your feet and become even stronger?

Whenever I feel lost, I’d go to the market (Grinning). Just by looking at a fresh, lush tomato, realizing how much effort the farmers have put into harvesting it, feeling it in my hand and thinking of the dishes that can be made from it, I already feel balanced and full of joy again. Seeking and achieving balance is extremely important. With it, I feel like I can accomplish anything in my life and even in business. The journey of life becomes more meaningful for me when I realize my weaknesses and find a way to fix or improve them. Anyone who has ever achieved anything in their career has one thing in common, they rarely give up. Every time I encounter a problem, I often think about a horse in a steeplechase where with each obstacle past, the finish line becomes closer, even though it may still be far away. I have a strong belief that, even in the most negative situations or events, we can still find something completely positive.

Trinh Diem Vy, story of business

As a culinary artist, your life must be quite poetic and exciting, isn’t it? How are you enjoying your life?

My passion for cooking itself has made my life exciting and worth living. But to enjoy everything around us, it’s important to understand ourselves. Self-development through art is a beautiful journey and the best way to achieve self-clarity. Therefore, I’m particularly interested in dancing, an activity in which I can communicate with every part of my body. I become aware of how each muscle works, how it connects to and cooperates with the rest of the body. I also learn how to regulate my breath, preserving more energy to nourish and flourish my passion with each passing day. I’m also trying to discover myself and fully exploit my potentials by focusing on inner strength and listening to my body.

Trinh Diem Vy, story of business

What do Trinh Diem Vy suppose are the required qualities for someone to thrive in the culinary field?

Cooking skills are, obviously for a cook, a must, meaning that you have to be good at cooking and love being creative with it. Then you have to be a pragmatic and a good laborer since this will be quite a harsh profession, requiring much diligence but not paying as much as you expect at times. You’ll have to accept that sometimes, a day’s worth of work can only buy you a meal. For those who are after a grand career, they won’t spend much time thinking about themselves, but rather do more research into what they’re after. I’ve been through all of these stages over the past 20 years, and I know better than anyone the feeling of pooling your everything into your career.

Does your artisan spirit make you a perfectionist in life? What is your opinion on a perfect life and fulfilling one’s passion?

Life is about accepting your own weaknesses. In the past, I used to feel lost and disadvantaged when failing to achieve something, but once I’ve thought it through, everything feels much more comfortable. I believe that you only need to do a good job today and everything will come to you, for while man proposes, God disposes. Everyone has their own weakness; we may not get what we want but everything will surely be better when we understand the root of the problem and come up with a solution for it.

Content Director: JENNI VÕ | Creative Director: LÊ ĐỨC HIỆP | Editor: HỒNG ĐẶNG, AN MI | English Translation: HÒA TÔN | Photo: THẠC TRƯỜNG GIANG | Graphic Designer: HUY HỒ

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