The term “family meal” takes on a different meaning for 2012 Hawaii Rising Star Chef Andrew Le. Born and raised in Honolulu to Vietnamese parents (his father from Hue, his mother from Hanoi, both having immigrated to Hawaii to escape the Vietnam War), Le had an American upbringing, but a strong connection to his Vietnamese heritage through his mother’s authentic food. Now working nearly every day with his parents and brother, Le is selling his family’s heritage for all to eat, exposing Honolulu diners not just to his take on Vietnamese staples pho and spring rolls, but also fragrant chicken salads, vegetarian stews, and French-inspired soups.
Le has been away from islands only briefly. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and after graduating in 2006 returned to Hawaii. He immediately landed a line cook job at the exemplary Chef Mavro under one of the original founders of modern Hawaiian cuisine, George Mavrothalassitis. Le soon was named sous chef. However, in 2011, unsure of what he wanted to do next—he had toyed with the idea of a brick-and-mortar restaurant of his own, but was leery of the risk—Le left Mavro and opened his now-famous pop-up The Pig and the Lady. It’s at the pop-up and the farmers markets that Le, along with Mama Le and the rest of the Le clan, cook up what is essentially family meal in the truest sense those lucky enough to snag a table.
Interview with 2012 Hawaii Rising Star Chef Andrew Le
Nicholas Rummell: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Andrew Le: A bunch of things. I guess it revolves around my family, because they were always cooking together. It all goes back to mama. First job was at Chef Mavro. I had just graduated from culinary school, moved back home, and I was going to go back to New York. So I staged at Chef Mavro. At the time, Kevin Chong was chef de cuisine. He was in New York for a while. I got there, and I thought I knew something, but it turned out I knew nothing. They put me in my place right away. They had very high standards.
NR: And after Chef Mavro you decided to go out on your own with the pop-up. How did The Pig and the Lady get started?
AL: Chef Mavro was my first job, and I was doing it for so long. I had built the foundations. So what I wanted to go to the pop-up to challenge myself to find my own voice. It was a complete shot in the dark. I had no idea what it was going to be, but I knew I wanted it to be a tasting menu. There was limited seating, but everybody loved it, and there was always one dish they always talked about: our noodles. The farmers markets came after the pop-ups, because we wanted to expose this type of food to as many people as I could. With the pop-up, though, there was always a price point. You had to have a bit of money to dine with us. Now we have the Noodle Bar, where students can just get a quick bite.
NR: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
AL: For me it's that people are getting excited about food. All the young cooks on Oahu are very supportive of each other. We have one mission: to promote as much local things as we can. A lot of people fell out of touch with that.
NR: What culinary trends do you see in the market now?
AL: I think people are getting very excited with the food. A couple of cool restaurants opened recently like Vintage Cave. It's a slow process because people are kind of scared because they don't know much about the food so they go for the familiar. That's what we try to do at Pig and Lady—we try to keep prices low but be really creative about what we have. This way you build a trust level, but it's a slow process.
NR: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
AL: Being mobile. We don't have a brick-and-mortar, so we have to cook at other restaurants, which is the biggest hurdle. I don't know why we've been so stable about not having a stable restaurant. We've had a bunch of investors, but [it] has to be the right time, the right place.
NR: If you had one thing you could do over again, what would it be?
AL: I'm not sure I would do anything different. Every experience is going to be a learning experience. There's a reason why you make those mistakes or have those successes. It gets you to the point where you are at now.
NR: Where do you see yourself in five years?
AL: We're going to have a space. We want to have a space of our own. We're going to take over the world.