Rising Star Chef Eric Banh of Monsoon Restaurant - Biography
Eric Banh's family is from Saigon…all eight of them. And while most siblings would argue as to who was next in line for the bathroom, their battleground was in the kitchen and the point of contention was which meal would be served.
Nearly two decades later and after distinctive paths, siblings Eric and Sophie found themselves together again, this time in Seattle, not Saigon. This time in their own kitchen, not their mother’s.
Their father is of Chinese descent, a culture, which dines out frequently and they were educated with food, not only in diversity but in quality as well. Their parents always believed quality and freshness were the key ingredients to creating great food. As children it wasn’t freshness that captivated Eric and Sophie so much as American fantasy. They would beg their Aunt to make grilled steak with french fries or something exotic like macaroni and cheese. It was only once they left Vietnam that they remembered the comfort food from their childhood, the fresh and clean flavors of Vietnam (so hard to find in the West), the very flavors that inspire Monsoon today.
Eric, has never had any formal culinary training. He graduated with a degree in business and later worked in real estate. By 1995 he ventured to open his first restaurant, Lemongrass, in Alberta, Canada. Unable to find a suitable chef, he decided to take on the role himself, but admits he could not have done so without a crash course in Vietnamese cuisine from his mother and aunt. It was this lack of professional training that gave him the freedom to experiment with ingredients and non-traditional combinations - to learn simply by trying. As his exploration with food developed, it was only natural that his curiosity and love for wine also matured.
Both Sophie and Eric admit their surprise at Monsoon’s success; they never anticipated such positive reviews from local and national critics including Bon Appetit’s 2002 Best Neighborhood Restaurants, as well as a StarChefs.com Rising Star Award in 2003. They credit Monsoon’s popularity to the locals of Seattle who were quick to embrace modern Vietnamese food. The Northwest’s abundance in ingredients, local and international, is a continual source of inspiration for them. The selection, availability of wine and the commitment of distributors have only encouraged Monsoon to create an extensive wine list which has garnered the Wine Spectator Award for the past three years.