The organic garden at Banyan Tree Lang Co in Vietnam is home to an array of vegetables and herbs, some rabbits, chickens and goats that children can pet, and the occasional resort guest in an apron.
You see it is here that guests can pick fresh ingredients and then learn how to cook some of the Vietnamese dishes they’ve fallen in love with during their stay.
It’s also where I got to have some great chats and laughs with Anders Ho Groenholm, the executive chef of Banyan Tree Lang Co and its sister resort, Angsana Lang Co.
Anders is one of those people with a great energy about him, and a great sense of humour. The kind of guy you want sitting at your dinner table to talk to for hours (although after eating his food, I also want him in the kitchen making that dinner!).
In between teaching us how to make the delicious Vietnamese pancakes that I couldn’t stop eating at the resort’s breakfast, Anders shared a little bit of his own story. Born in South Korea, he was abandoned by his parents at a bus station, found by a nice old lady who took him to the police station, and after a year in a children’s home in Seoul, adopted by a Danish family.
He spent his childhood in Denmark, became a professional football player and then decided to change careers to focus on his other love – food. His apprenticeship included cooking for the Danish Queen and the royal family, and he has since gone on to work around the world at a series of top hotels and resorts.
If you thought I was letting Anders get away without answering Ten Questions, you’re crazy. Here’s what he had to share…
What’s the best thing about your job?
Opportunity for travelling ( I just love to travel). Just to experience new cultures, new countries, experience and learn to make different food.
This is how I meet my wife. I left Korea 41 years ago, (I was adopted be the best Danish family) but 36 years later I returned back to Seoul and Banyan Tree as an Executive chef and there she was. She now says that she has been waiting for me all these years to come back. Love her for that.
If you could change one thing about your job what would it be?
Office and paperwork…….and more office work. I chose to be a chef as I love and have a great passion for cooking. I still have and I still cook but not as much as I would like to, but this is something that follows more responsibility and I have got used to it now.
Working hours is also up there in the top. Long hours of work when everybody is off is hard, but as I normally say to my young chef, to be a chef is a life style and it can be great or you will hate it. You will slowly get used to it and now it’s great to be off then everybody else is working.
What’s something about your role that you wish people understood?
That to be an Executive Chef is not all about cooking great food anymore, there is a lot more to it. We must make sure that our chefs have the right and enough equipment, food ingredients and hardware, to make the all the great food. Budget, numbers, meetings, vendor inspection this is just some of the things we also do.
Another thing is in this modern world of ours, I wish people would understand that we (chefs) work in hot kitchens, work long hours to prepare a great meal for all our guests. When the guest then sends the food back because is not hot enough, because the food has been waiting for xxx min so the guest can take pictures of it or asked the waiter to take pictures of the food and them, they then have to post in on the social media, well that’s just frustrating at times.
What’s your favourite thing to do on your day off?
Spending time with my family is absolute my favourite thing to do. When I have time I try to squeeze a round of golf on our Sir Nick Faldo course here in Laguna Lang Co and good home cooked meal for dinner. Best days ever….
What’s a cheap and cheerful food secret you (usually) only tell your friends?
Well I have a lot.. But one has followed me from childhood… I love ketchup and I can eat ketchup on and with anything, even ice cream. I am not sure where its comes from though. I always have 1 or 2 bottle of ketchup at home and when we go shopping its always on our shopping list.
If money was no object, where would you go for lunch or dinner?
As a chef this is very hard to say…but I would go home to my mum. She is just great in a kitchen, and I have learned a lot from seeing her preparing our meals when I was younger. When I am home visiting we still have secret cooking competition between us and it’s so hard to say but she is still a little better than me. Not that I admit that to her, but mum now you know.
Of restaurants I would go for dinner in Da Dong ( Duck) restaurant in Beijing. I have tasted many kind of roasted Beijing duck but have never experienced duck skin so thin and crispy its simply out of this world.
Where do you take a friend when they come to visit?
Definitely a trip to Hoi An. A must visit to Madam Khanh – The Banh Mi Queen. Simply the best sandwich I have ever eating, and I had a lot believe me. Go for a walk in the old city, sample the local street food, afternoon pit stop in a Vietnamese coffee chop and relax with a Vietnamese ice coffee. We would end up in An Bang Beach Village restaurant for a great seafood BBQ,
What’s the best shopping experience in town?
It very much depends on what you want to buy. I love to go to the local market in Da Nang or Hue. I can walk around there and just get great inspiration, taste different food and find all kind of local produce.
Is there a local tourist cliché that’s actually worth doing?
As a foodie – go to one of the local markets or night-markets in Hoi An, Hue or Da Nang. So much going on there every day. The smell of freshly cooked Vietnamese street food specialities, seeing and learning local cooking methods, the warm hospitality of the Vietnamese is just out of this world.
Is there a tourist attraction nearby that you can’t believe you still haven’t visited yourself?
Absolutely although I have been seeing a lot there is plenty more to see and do. But I really want to try to plant a rice field. It’s not so easy as it looks like I have been told. Just to handle the water buffalo should be a great challenge. This is one thing I must and will do while I am here.
Amanda met Anders Ho Groenholm when she stayed as a guest at Banyan Tree Lang Co.
You can also check out a review of a sister resort, Banyan Tree Bintan Island here.