Helene An is the matriarch of the House of An and oversees the family's five restaurants and catering company. Thanh Long, the first An family restaurant, opened in San Francisco in 1971. By 1996 the second Crustacean opened in Beverly Hills. The most recent additions are AnQi by Crustacean at the South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa and Tiato Market Garden Cafe in Santa Monica, named for An's favorite herb....
Latest ingredient obsession? The tiato herb, absolutely! We named our newest restaurant Tiato for it -- it's a Vietnamese herb that is in the mint family. I use it in practically all of my dishes: in marinades; I cook all my fish with it; and in fried dishes because it counters the frying technique by cutting the fat and aiding in digestion. Tiato is good for colds, heartburn and the skin -- just crush tiato leaves in warm water and drink. I even created a tiato ice cream and macaron!
What's coming next on your menu? We have just introduced a new dinner menu at AnQi at South Coast Plaza. Seafood is popular -- furikake Asian catfish with summer truffles; porcini-crusted Alaskan halibut with carrot “dashi”; char-grilled black tiger prawns -- they are enormous but tender and full of flavor.
The one piece of kitchen equipment that you can't live without, other than your knives? Chopsticks -- I have a huge collection from around the world and you can use them in many ways. The perfect chopstick allows you to handle the most fragile and tiniest herb or spice to finish a dish.
What's your favorite breakfast? Ever since I've been a child I've enjoyed pho for breakfast; I alternate between chicken and beef. It gives me energy for the whole day. In our restaurants -- and at home -- I use my sister's recipe. I've never found a better one.
What chef has influenced you most? I grew up in French colonial Vietnam and even as a young girl I was passionate about food. My parents entertained nightly and I would often sneak into the kitchen and observe our three chefs at work -- a Chinese, Vietnamese and French — which reflected the cultural and culinary traditions of Indochine at the time. When I arrived in San Francisco in the early '70s, I learned about the American palate and began adding the recipes of my youth to my repertoire of dishes, fusing Asian and Western flavors.