Thai and Vietnamese dishes infuse UNCP dining fare


Celebrity chef Mai Pham brought the flavors of Southeast Asia to UNC Pembroke February 4.

 Mai Pham

CookingMai Pham demonstrates the construction of a salad roll.

It was an adventure in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine that appealed to a wide variety of palates. There were four dishes on the menu: rice paper wrapped salad rolls, vegetarian Pho noodle soup, pad Thai noodle stir fry with shrimp and Thai green curry with chicken.

Author of several cookbooks and owner of several restaurants, Pham visited UNCP’s campus courtesy of Sodexo Food Services.

Her dishes were appreciated by a variety of palates.

Mike ‘Mook’ Williams, a sophomore from New Jersey, said he was going to try every dish.

“I’m a wrestler, and we have to make weight so this is just right,” Williams said. “It has a zesty flavor to it; not too hot, good!”

Boreum Kim, an international student from South Korea, caught a feeling of home.

“I’m not really familiar with this, but it’s more familiar to me than American food,” Kim said. “Really good! I’m glad to be eating this kind of food.”

 Mai Pham

Food - Rice paper wrapped salad rolls

Symphony Oxendine, associate director of Student Life, and Chris Blackburn, director of Greek Life, gave the food two thumbs up.

“Phenomenal!” Blackburn said. “I didn’t think the sauce was hot, just right.”

“Excuse me,” Oxendine said. “I’m going for seconds of the curried chicken.”

Cookbook in hand, SGA President Arjay Quizon, who is from the Philippines, said he would attempt a Mai Pham recipe this weekend.

“This is a very nice opportunity for students to be introduced to something different,” Quizon said. “It’s very nice to have Mai Pham here to share her cooking.”

 Mai Pham

Bon Apetit! – ‘Mook’ Williams said “savory” and “zesty”

There was a cooking demonstration, a class for Sodexo’s chefs and food available for all the students, said Mike Nance, Sodexo’s general manager. He said Pham’s recipes will be served in the Cafeteria throughout the spring semester.

“The students were really very excited about this event,” Nance said. “This is her first visit to southeastern North Carolina.

“It’s an opportunity to bring the flavors of the world to Pembroke,” he continued. “I think it’s good for the students, and this has been a successful day.”

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Mai Pham discussed her life, saying she “grew up in a home where food was the center of the universe.”

The family fled their home as the war wound down and cooking brings the family together.

“We cooked out of longing for Vietnam,” she said.

 Mai Pham

Enjoy! - Boreum Kim, a Korean exchange student enjoying the fare

Fast forward to the 21st century, Pham is able to go home, and each visit is a culinary tour of Vietnam and its street vendors.

“It re-energizes me and inspires me,” she said. “Street food is soul food and it welcomes me back home.”

Like most great cuisine, Vietnamese food is influenced by both European and Asian styles. But the Vietnamese and Thai herbs and spices give it flavor and make it unique.

“Fresh herbs are the core of Vietnamese cooking,” Pham said.

And there are secrets.

“The thing you can’t do without in this dish is mint,” she said about curried chicken. “It’s very, very lovely; you’ll love it this way.”

Mai Pham is the chef and owner of the nationally acclaimed Lemon Grass Restaurant and Lemon Grass Asian Grill and Noodle Bar.

She is the author of “Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table” and “The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking.” Pham is also a guest chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America and a food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.