Thuy Diem Pham: 'I have a mission to really elevate Vietnamese food'
PUBLISHED: 10:00 09 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:14 09 May 2019
Little Viet Kitchen - the snug Vietnamese eatery found on Chapel Market - has been named as the Best Restaurant in England when it comes to Oriental cuisine. We spoke to head chef and co-owner Thuy Diem Pham about winning this prize at last week's Golden Chopsticks Awards.
Thuy Diem Pham has every reason to be bursting with pride. Ten days have elapsed since her restaurant - Little Viet Kitchen - was named as the best for Asian food in England, and that is still taking some getting used to.
"Every five or ten minutes, I remember and I just think: yay!," she explains. "This trophy is so overwhelming, I feel so proud. Little Viet Kitchen is a family business, and every single person in there cares.
"Winning the award is almost like a validation that what we are doing here is worthwhile, it's been such an emotional journey. On the night, I've never experienced anything like it before."
Thuy's restaurant - which she runs with her husband, Dave Kelly - fought off strong competition from around the country to take the prize at last week's second annual Golden Chopsticks Awards. They were presented with their prize by Gok Wan at a glitzy Mayfair ceremony last Monday (April 29).
Born in a small village in south Vietnam, Thuy moved to London aged seven and has lived here for the last 30 years.
"Everything about London makes me feel at home," she says, "but there was always something missing. I'm Vietnamese and it's my roots; it's definitely a bowl of noodles that would take me home-home, back to my Grandparents.
"With the Little Viet Kitchen, I have a mission to really elevate Vietnamese food, and raise awareness of the amazing dishes from my heritage. On an evening out here we tend to say: we're going for a Chinese; we're going for an Indian; we're going for a pizza; nobody ever says we're going for a Vietnamese."
Last week's award-winners were celebrated after a public vote, with 20,000 people having their say on the best places to eat Oriental food around the UK right now.
There was further success for Thuy later in the evening, as she was recognised as a finalist for the Golden Chopsticks Food Influencer Award. The chef, restaurateur and author (her debut cookbook was published last year) has over 67,000 followers on Instagram.
Little Viet Kitchen has been open for just over four years, launching after the success of a supper club hosted at Thuy's home.
"I ran the supper club for a year - we were sold out for six months - and at the same time I was working in marketing. I was doing that for nine years and it felt safe. But I really wanted to do something that made me happy; that had a purpose. I didn't know what it was (at first), but this is it."
For Thuy and her team, there is a focus on using good quality and carefully sourced ingredients.
"Organic shouldn't be a fashion or a trend," she continues. "We only eat three times a day, so we should know where our food is from, how it's treated, and what we put in to ourselves.
"Dieting is a fad, it shouldn't happen. If you turn eating healthy in to a culture, part of your routine and lifestyle, we wouldn't need to diet every time we needed to fit in to a dress."
After attending the first Golden Chopsticks Awards in 2018, Thuy and Dave returned to the scene to scoop one of the 22 prizes that were on offer. Little Viet Kitchen was up against established restaurants including Duck and Rice, Jinli Newport Place and the Dragon Inn Club, and Thuy confesses she was shocked to hear their name read out.
Her ambition to bring Vietnamese food the credit it deserves can be traced back to her formative years in south-east Asia, and the restaurant's success last week is a step in the right direction.
"We still get customers saying: oh is your food just like Chinese? Just like Thai? It really isn't. It's in its own right - wonderful dishes, ingredients and flavours that are blended and cooked with so much care."
Little Viet Kitchen, 2 Chapel Market, N1 9EZ. For more details, click here.