Chef Tong

I entered Saigon’s culinary world as a 16-year-old, walking upon the footsteps of my family members. There was no passion driving this decision; it was a path I witnessed my family take, so I followed.

In my first decade of working, I bounced from diner to restaurant to diner to restaurant, working from dawn until dusk to make ends meet in the big city. I was just one cook among thousands that can be found at every corner, and it dawned on me that my line of work was nothing special. If I wanted to stand out, I’d have to do something different because in this world, anyone can cook.

I felt unseen, blurred into the masses.

Day in day out, I went through the same motions of the kitchen. However, I discovered the rewards of my work was never far. Watching satiated faces leave to continue their days soon brought warmth & a sense of comfort to my being. My contribution may have been unseen, but it can be felt in the full stomachs of the departing guests. Despite the abundance of cooks, I soon realised how needed we all were, and my passion for cooking began to blossom.

My journey towards vegetarianism only began in 2016 when I met with an investor who saw a different perspective of our world. He told me our world is changing. Vietnamese people no longer live with rations; we have choices on what we want to eat. Because of this, there’s a growing movement of conscious consumers who eat to promote health & not to suppress hunger. He told me to research the vegetarian world. I took his advice & ran with it, learning all facets of every vegetable & practicing with any recipe I saw. During this time, Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine was just a byproduct of our society’s Buddhist values. It’s simple & accessible. I wanted to pave my own path in it. I wanted to do more with vegetables.

I had the fortune of encountering Shamballa during its conception. Jade Tran, the founder of Shamballa, gave me the chance & space to pour my heart & soul into exploring my creativity while critiquing the nuances of my work. We collaborated our knowledge: my understanding of vegetables with her experienced vegetarian palate. Soon, Shamballa’s vast menu & unique flavours were born.

Now, I cook to bring people peace from hunger.I wish to share the fruits of my journey with you.

You can find my cooking classes at our upcoming Shamballa location in Da Nang. Join me & enlighten yourself about the wonderful world of vegetables.