October 4, 2011

Food Interview #4: Frederic of Le Saigon

“This is my mother and father’s place. They’ve always wanted a business and it finally came together in 1999,” Frederic explains as we sit in café style chairs and petit tables outside Le Saigon, his family’s Vietnamese restaurant tucked into a pass off of Santa Monica Blvd.

“It started as just the three of us but as the business grew, we were able to expand and get more help. It’s a lot of work, especially with the prep.”  Vietnamese food deals with a lot of fresh produce that must be made the same day so it is at top quality. “Those are the little things that people take for granted,” says Frederic.

Being the son of Le Saigon’s owners, Frederic knows every part of the business and does everything from cooking to seating guests to taking orders. It’s truly a family adventure.

“It gave our family something that was ours, you know. And once you get a taste of that, you do whatever it takes.” Frederic knows that when working for yourself, no one else will ever do a better job than you would. Le Saigon is a place this family takes great pride in.

Being one of the first Vietnamese restaurants to open in LA on the west side, it has survived the economic downturn with consistent food and great customer service. Not to mention a refreshingly positive attitude. “It’s a cycle and you have to make it through,” explains Frederic.

His dedication to the business was evident in every mannerism and every smile. He welcomed me with a pot of oolong tea and fluidly took a take-out order as we chatted. Through our conversation I was able to learn how special this place truly is.

It turns out Le Saigon is a time capsule. When asked if this was traditional of a restaurant one might find in Vietnam, Frederic said that “it’s how my parents remember Vietnam from when they left. Vietnam has grown since that time and it’s not the same country anymore. It’s a reflection of that time.” This kind of restaurant does not exist in Vietnam even though it serves Vietnamese food.

Too many factors influenced it then and even more do now. Having grown up in France and traveled extensively, Frederic himself is a fusion of character and experience. In fact, his entire family has French names, taking into account the big influence France had on Vietnam in the past. These are traits that he brings into his cooking. Being in LA also gives him opportunities to bring native California produce into his food. “It’s sort of like fusion, in a sense.”

As a returning customer, I can say that this is truly comfort food if there ever was any. It’s what you crave when you’re sick, it’s what you want when you’re meeting friends, it’s what you want when it’s cold out. Le Saigon has more to offer than just a bowl of steaming hot soup, it gives you a chance to experience a special family evolution.

Visit www.lesaigoncuisine.com for menus and hours.

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