While Nguyen has always been obsessed with food, it took redundancy in her marketing and PR roles last year for this love to develop into a full-time business.
She released her first food product, Chilli Oil on Everything, late last year.
Here, she shares her thoughts on how to get the best out of eating and drinking in Melbourne.
My local is Prahran Market – and I’m generally there every Tuesday doing my weekly shop and seeing what’s in season. If you’re ever there, you have to taste the Rolls Royce dip from Naheda’s Choice in the deli section. It’s a Parmigiano and black truffle dip that is a rite of passage for any visitor and will blow your mind.
My defining food moment in Melbourne is all the times I’ve travelled to a country and while I’m discovering all the delicacies and deliciousness it has to offer, I realise how much I miss and appreciate Melbourne’s coffee, incredible produce, wine, delis, grocery stores and incredible diversity of restaurants and bars. There honestly isn’t any other place in the world where you can eat or drink whatever you want, whenever you want with the options and diversity that Melbourne has.
I know I’m in Melbourne when I hear a tram ding, I touch on my Myki, I can smell good coffee and see a huge group of people lining up for some kind of food.
The best new thing I’ve found is this sexy photo of a cabbage dish on Etta’s menu, posted by chef Rosheen Kaul. It’s a wombok flower with garlic, white sesame, fried capers, chives, potatoes and I need to taste it. I will be politely forcing her to make it for me when I head back to Etta for lunch.
When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I’ll book a regional restaurant and stay the weekend in the area. My past favourites include Tedesca, Ten Minutes by Tractor and Brae. I’ve just booked Du Fermier in Trentham and Moonah in Connewarre for my next special-occasion eating and weekend stay.
When I want to dazzle friends from out of town I’ll take them on a jam-packed food and wine tour visiting all my favourite places. I would head to South Melbourne Market and have oysters for breakfast, maybe yum cha somewhere like Secret Kitchen, then walk around the city, then a pasta lunch somewhere like Tipo 00, then afternoon drinks somewhere like Kirk’s Wine Bar, then dinner at Cumulus and then after-dinner drinks at a basement bar like Bar Margaux or a rooftop like Siglo.
There’s no better value in Melbourne than the Pino’s Produce $30 fruit and vegetable box which you can pick up from Prahran Market or get delivered via their website. You’ll definitely receive a bounty of produce that’s more than you can get through in a week, which forces you to be creative with your meals like you’re in a MasterChef Mystery Box challenge. I love the value and have been buying from them for years. I even buy my fresh ingredients for my chilli oil business from them.
My favourite place to stock up on supplies is Prahran Market for my weekly shop. Also Vietnamese grocery shops like Minh Phat in Abbotsford and all the little stores on Victoria Street for special Vietnamese ingredients and produce. I grew up having to follow my parents around Dandenong Market and buying Vietnamese produce from Springvale every single weekend and now it’s something I love to do, just browsing the aisles of an Asian grocer or heading to a market and getting inspired by an unknown ingredient, or picking up something nostalgic from my childhood.
If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here, there would be two things:
I’d like to see more female-run-and-owned businesses and more women in positions like head chef, sommelier, restaurateur. We need more places like Shop Bao Ngoc, Anchovy, Warung Agus, Etta and Hope St Radio.
Also, I know it’s something we can’t change right now, but I do miss slow eating in a restaurant and bar hopping around town without having to make a whole plan out of it. I miss going out spontaneously and seeing where a road or night might take me. But for now for an evening with friends I’ll book two places for dinner and then ideally a bar or two and make a night out of it!
But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the intense passion we all have for food and wine that fuels us to grow it, cook it, eat it or seek out new places to try. It runs through our veins, as does good coffee.