Traveling to Vietnam with Denver’s Sun Valley Kitchen

On a snowy October evening 2019, Denver residents gathered at Sun Valley Kitchen for an evening trip to Vietnam.

“From small beginnings come great things,” was the quote of the day situated on the Sun Valley Kitchen counter. Such words couldn’t ring more true for a place that stood empty for years following the closure of the convenience store business that had previously occupied the space. Today, one year after its opening in October 2018, Sun Valley Kitchen has transformed into a lively neighborhood center, which serves the community by providing fresh foods and job opportunities to local residents.

Sun Valley Kitchen’s Chef Entrepreneurship Program promotes the culinary talents of the residents of the community, many of whom are immigrants. Sun Valley Kitchen partners with chefs to put on cooking classes, which provide an excellent opportunity to gather with friends and learn about new cuisines and delectable dishes from a variety of cultures.

Recently, Sun Valley Kitchen hosted a Vietnamese cooking class, which was led by local chefs Tam, Tra, and Hong. All three women have lived in Sun Valley, Denver for more than two decades.

Daisy Wiberg (left), Director of Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center, stands with Chefs Tam, Tra, and Hong, introducing the night’s menu.

“[These] ladies take great pride in cooking for friends and family…we’ve become great friends all because of food,” says Glenn Harper, Founder of Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center. Glenn, having formed a strong friendship with the ladies, added that he is a regular recipient of their delicious home cooking, “just last night Tam called me to pick up a shrimp noodle dish and homemade kimchi, enough to feed about 10 people!”

Participants of the recent cooking class can attest to the trio’s shared love of cooking. As soon as each of us walked through the door of Sun Valley Kitchen, we were immediately met with warm welcomes from Tam, Tra and Hong, and as we waited for other attendees to arrive, we were promptly offered a small amous bouche, namely, a piece of Rau Cau (Jelly Cake).

Rau Cau, a Traditional Vietnamese dessert, can come in a variety of forms, and is traditionally made with flavored agar.

When we were ready to start cooking, Tam, Tra and Hong got right to work, showing us how to prepare each dish. The full spread included beef pho, assorted spring rolls, a succulent shrimp noodle dish, and crispy pork egg rolls. Vietnamese culinary staples, including fish sauce, ginger, and fresh cilantro, were present in nearly every recipe. 

Tra taught a group of us how to hand-roll the savory pork filling into neat rolls, which, once fried, became a deliciously crunchy package full of umami flavors. Tam and Hong helped others prepare the beef pho broth, which is traditionally flavored with an array of warming spices including cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, and star anise. The chefs showed us how to infuse the aromatic flavors into the pot of slow-cooked beef bones using a sachet full of whole spice pods. The result was an intoxicatingly aromatic broth, the perfect flavor backdrop for tender meat, noodles, and fresh cilantro.

For desert the chefs showed us how to prepare Che Thai, or Thai Coconut Fruit Dessert. The refreshing treat is made with an assortment jellies, tropical fruits, coconut milk or half-and-half, and ice. Tam, Tra and Hong’s version of Che Thai was full of sweet lychee and chewy nata de coco. Other versions may include jackfruit, water chestnuts, tapioca pearls, pandan jelly, and many other combinations of Southeast Asian-inspired ingredients.

For those interested in participating in Sun Valley Kitchen cooking classes and other events hosted by The Same Plate, click HERE to see what’s upcoming!

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