Rising Star Chef Sophie Banh of Monsoon Restaurant - Biography
Chef Sophie 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 Sophie and Eric 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 Sophie and Eric 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 after they left Vietnam that they remembered the comfort food from their childhood, the fresh and clean flavors of Vietnam (now so hard to find in the West), the very flavors that inspire Monsoon today.
Sophie’s love for food was apparent to everyone in the family. She never missed an opportunity to learn a new dish. She once invited an entire family over for a feast and in exchange asked for a curry recipe. Despite her constant love for food she spent years working in the banking industry and it wasn’t until Sophie moved to Seattle that she pursued her culinary career seriously. In 1996 she graduated from South Central College in the Culinary Arts. After graduating she worked at Obachine and Roy’s but always dreamed of having her own restaurant.
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.