Chef Si Toan of Sam Dining views the Culinary Arts as a fully sensory experience. Inspired by the beauty of Đà Lạt, and its bounty of sustainable and locally sourced ingredients, his restaurant offers an unparalleled fine dining experience to its patrons. Chef Toan’s passion for developing innovative flavours, led to the establishment of Sam Dining's Cookbook Tasting Menu, a singular dining experience that encourages guests to read the cookbook, while simultaneously tasting its dishes. We had a chance to speak with Chef Si Toan about his culinary journey and truly inspired food.
Can you please share a bit about your studying at one of the best Culinary Arts Institutes? What role did it play in your career in Vietnam?
In 2009, when I first stepped onto campus, and into my classroom kitchen, I was completely floored by how high-tech and well appointed it was. There were tools, appliances and ingredients I had never seen, no less worked with before. Imagine what that must have felt like to an inexperienced 19 year old Vietnamese kid… It was hypnotic…pure magic. The school provided me with such an incredible platform for the honing of my craft, and that knowledge, plus vigorous training, was the foundation for the Chef I am today.
Diners in Đà Lạt expect a regional culinary experience, different from a big city like Sài Gòn. How does Sam Dining meet their needs?
One of my diners once told me that my food is down to earth… unpretentious, but delicious. I strongly believe in sustainable cuisine, and we cook our hearts out, utilising the simplest and purest ingredients to the most complicated and luxurious. We treat them all with the highest respect, and try to produce as little waste as possible. Our focus with Sam DIning is a farm to table approach, and our new tasting menu reflects that ethos. We have only applied 1 imported ingredient to this menu, and the rest are all locally sourced. The great benefit of having a restaurant in Đà Lạt is that it is the best place in the country for the sourcing of farm-fresh, local ingredients. However, I am very happy to share that my team and I will soon travel to Ho Chi Minh City, and present my Cookbook Tasting Menu, as a dining pop-up, at Le Méridien Saigon’s BARSON. I’m really excited to have Saigonese foodies experience it!
What makes you most proud about Sam Dining's Cookbook Tasting Menu?
If there is one single dish from our tasting menu that I’m the most proud of, it’s our artichoke dish. We use the whole vegetable, including the stems, with absolutely no waste. I am committed to being environmentally respectful and sustainable at my restaurant, as well as supporting local business. It’s very important to me. I really hope that farmers understand the incredibly significant roles they play in our food and daily lives, and how much respect that we, as chefs, have for them.
If food is an art, how would you define your artistic personality?
Art is created by the use of our 5 senses. As chefs, we listen for the sound of hot oil sizzling in a pan, we smell the air to make sure that nothing we have prepared is burnt, we use our eyes to construct beautiful plating, we touch our proteins, vegetables, and fruit as we slice them, and taste our food to be sure it is properly seasoned. There is no other job I can think of which requires the use of all 5 senses at once; it’s unique to the art of food preparation, and something I greatly appreciate for my craft.