Healthy, Happy Chef An Vo used to work in her family’s Asian grocery store, aptly named Thai-An after the vibrant entrepreneur and her brother. Learning about cooking from her mother, investigating the store’s items (like her mom’s famous banh-mi sandwiches!) and even enjoying the fresh Asian herbs her father grew in her back yard all play into her unique take on food. And, since she found she also loved American pastry and international cuisine, she started experimenting with fusing her background with other options in the kitchen. Now, private clients, class students and blog-readers alike are reaping the benefits, as she provides fresh, nutritious ideas and food, often with a vegan and gluten-free bent.
Growing up in the Miami area, Vo was always active, from tennis to drama club, and dance became a big part of her life early on. She performed traditional Vietnamese fan dance at holiday events like Asian New Year and also learned other genres like belly-dancing and hip-hop from friends. When she went to college, she decided to pursue her passion for performance. Afterward she moved to NYC where she nabbed an agent. But soon, when she started baking and cooking for industry colleagues, she found joy in food beyond what she experienced on stage.
Making the leap to the kitchen wasn’t immediate, but since making the switch, she’s become beloved for her friendly, calming vibes, delicious offerings and blend of Eastern and Western approaches. Read on for more!
SBS: How did the transition from stage to kitchen begin?
An Vo: I decided to pursue performing arts and dance in college at UCF, as it had grown to be my passion. During college, I often hosted dinner parties, baked for events and meal prepped for myself.
Upon graduation, I got an agent in New York and moved to the city. In an effort to stand out from the crowd, I would bake vegan and gluten-free desserts for my agent when they booked me auditions. Soon I was catering for the office, as well as for other actors, dancers and entertainers who wanted guilt-free desserts. After two years, I started my catering company.
SBS: When did you know you truly wanted to be a chef? What draws you to it?
AV: I knew I wanted to be a chef when I felt more joy from watching people eat my food than from the applause of an audience. I felt like I became part of people's soul and brought them happiness through food, which wasn't always the case with performance. Sometimes I got cast in roles that I didn't particularly identify with in real life, so I didn't feel like the real me was touching people. Food lets me be myself with my edible works of art, which combines all my childhood passions of painting, performance and creation.
SBS: How did you take the leap to becoming a professional chef?
AV: The change didn't happen overnight. Once I started my catering company, it was slow-growing until vegan and gluten-free food became popular. Until then, I still performed and worked odd jobs to make ends meet. There were so many challenges, from finding clients to navigating social media presence and web design. So, it was a happy surprise when vegan and gluten-free became a cool food trend!
SBS: What were tools and practices that helped you start your business?
AV: When I first started in 2009, I used to make everything by hand. Then finally, I made enough to get a pink KitchenAid mixer! Since then, I've relied on the kindness and generosity of my gentleman callers who would gift me kitchen equipment, knives and tools. No romance without finance, and they sure did support my culinary venture! Thank you, next.
SBS: How would you describe your services? What makes it different than others?
AV: I would describe my job as 'Asian mom services.' I basically took what my mom does out of the love in her heart and made it into a thriving business as a private chef cooking for households.
I provide genuine love in the form of food. I only work for people I like; it's the only way I can cook. The difference is, I care about what I'm putting into my client's body. My work becomes part of them, quite literally, and I always do my research when it comes to nutrition and food sourcing. I'm also known to be very Zen in the kitchen, bringing peaceful vibes and positive energy into their homes, as well as healthy food.
SBS: What's your approach to dealing with different health issues?
AV: I work with a wide range of different diets from all my various clients. With serious health issues, I rely on my client's physician to provide a list of recommended foods. I pair that information with holistic nutrition and eastern remedies. My goal is to have everyone be self-sufficient in the kitchen, like a home-economy class for millennials. You can get private cooking lessons from me personally or check out my food blog for tips, ideas and nutritional facts.
SBS: What are home kitchen essentials? What are three items that are easy and healthy to make?
AV: A good blender makes all the difference in a kitchen! You can easily make sauces, dressings, purees, soups and smoothies. I personally have a Ninja, but I used to have a Vitamix, and I'd highly recommend both.
SBS: What are your top tips for those new to cooking?
AV: Make sure you have a good, sharp knife; I have a Wusthof and Henckels. Also, check out a cute apron from my Etsy store, sewn with love by my mom:
SBS: What is your own wellness routine? How has it evolved?
AV: My own fitness journey had its ups and downs, like everyone else. As a lover of American desserts and French pastry, I did have my moments of over-indulgence. But I learned how to work out properly with a personal trainer, and with the help of Beachbody, I learned about portion control. I also try not to be so hard on myself. If I slip up one day, it doesn't mean I spiral out of control. I get back on the health wagon! I meal prep during the week and allow myself to indulge on the weekends. I bike everyday as a cyclist, exercise regularly under the direction of my personal trainer, Keith Simmons, and practice yoga at Yoga to the People.
Tea and acupuncture cures everything Do you participate in any forms now? Yes, Dr. Wu in Chinatown is the best! Why do you like the ones you've chosen? It’s helped me in so many ways!
SBS: What cooking trends do you love? Loathe?
AV: I really love that vegan is trendy, and I totally support plant-based cooking. There's none that I particularly loathe, but if someone is doing a fad diet, do the research first.
Detox Smoothie Recipe
Combine: Coconut water, banana, ginger, celery, turmeric and pineapple. Enjoy!
An's NYC Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Blossom
Splurge Restaurant: Morimoto
Fun Activity: Interactive art exhibits
Nightlife Spot: The Lost Lady, Joyface, Wayland, Loverboy, Mother of Pearl
Fitness Studio: My bedroom
Yoga Studio: Yoga to the People
Books: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Online Resources: https://www.healthline.com/
An's Sticky Be Mantra: I try to Be Bright with my smile, Be Mindful and Grateful with my heart, Be Calm in the kitchen under pressure, Be Bold in my style and Be Active every day.
The best, zaniest part of being An: My eccentric sense of style is notable, from my quirky food shirts to my vintage collection. I love fashion and always like to look different!