Edmonton-based Master Chef Canada contender rethinks the classic ingredients for a staple of her childhood
Mai Nguyen had a rough time getting into cooking, though now it seems she’s hit her stride.
The Edmonton-based chef, now 29, had little in the way of guidance in her early culinary adventures, and can recall at a young age trying to bake cookies, only to have the makeshift batter coat the pan she used—she’s still not much of a baker, she admits.
Her family had few cookbooks, and she made her earnest first attempts before the Internet and its battery of recipes and food blogs were readily available.
“I made up a bunch of recipes that didn’t work out,” she says. “Whenever my mom was cooking I would hang out in the kitchen.”
Years later, her parents pushed her to study science at the University of Alberta, like her sister, but her interests still rested in the kitchen. After her second year of general sciences, she decided to double major in food science and technology and nutrition.
In 2016, she contended in the Food Network’s Master Chef Canada, placing in the top four of the season, which aired spring of last year.
It was difficult, she says, working through the show’s various challenges mostly alone, but ultimately rewarding.
“It was extremely stressful. Probably every single day there were tears. Not even just from me, from everyone,” she says.
“You’re cut off from your family, you don’t have your phone or computer, you just had each other and the crew.”
Nguyen currently works part-time at both Biera and Prairie Noodle Shop, where she will host a dumpling-based pop-up event on March 25, starting at noon. She’s held one similar event, along with Master Chef co-star Jordan Levin of Winnipeg, but this time she’s going it alone, which gives her more freedom.
Her love of cooking comes from recreations, she says, taking something she loves and putting new twists on it. In the case of dumplings, of which she’s eaten many, this meant painstakingly learning the folds necessary to encase the fillings off YouTube, a self-taught effort she made three years back.
While Nguyen dreams of setting up her own dumpling bar— featuring dumpling-based tapas, paired with cocktails—she knows that’s a ways off.
For now, she’s experimenting with the medium, having recreated classical Chinese dumplings—pork, shrimp, green onions—and branching out to use less traditional ingredients like chorizo, French onion soup, and raw fixings like shaved radish and uncooked tuna.
“To me, a ravioli is a dumpling; a pierogi is a dumpling. I want to expand people’s horizons,” she says.
Sun, Mar. 25, 12 pm to 8 pm
Prairie Noodle Shop
Price of food varies