Vietnamese food is growing in popularity throughout the First Coast, from ma-and-pop Pho restaurants to boba tea spots with bahn mi and other traditional foods. But Chef Mimi Lan took the cuisine to another level at her VIGLO pop-up dinner, Oct. 20, at Matthew’s Restaurant, combining Viet delicacies with a French twist and partnering with Matthew’s two chefs, Alexander Yim and Antondella di Benedetto, to transform the dinner into a culinary experience.
VIGLO, or Vietnamese with Global Influences, is a pop-up dinner series Lan created after 16 years of running a marketing firm in Texas. She found inspiration through cooking and quit her job to become a chef and entrepreneur.
“We’re meeting two friends from Ponte Vedra who invited us tonight,” said dinner guest, Michelle Day, during the welcoming cocktail hour. “I’m looking forward to the Peking duck. It sounds so interesting, and this cocktail, as well. The dragon fruit is phenomenal.”
This was Smith’s first time working with Lan, along with the collaborating chefs. Before, they knew Lan as a guest.
“She was just a sweet lady that came in and then a couple years ago, she started her VIGLO dinners, so this was a different experience,” said Chef Alexander Yim, who helped create the second course, a foie gras congee with sides like century egg, salmon floss, and fermented green peppercorn.
“Congee is specific to China and Chef Alex is Chinese, so he was able to put some influence in that,” said Chef Antonella di Benedetto, who was responsible for the dessert course. “Chef Alex and I know more international cuisines and Chef Mimi specifically does Vietnamese,” he said, “so we were able to add our input to it. We let her take the lead and it’s nice. For her to showcase her talent, her flavor, it’s a good experience and we’re happy for her.”
“She has a lot of great ideas and wants to introduce people around the world to Vietnamese food in an elevated, more refined, dining level,” Yim said.
Lan’s signature dish is her truffle dumplings, stuffed with mushroom medley, vegetable coulis, roasted bone marrow and shaved black truffle. Served in Zhong truffle broth with a pink prawn rice cracker, it was an ode to her heritage with a French touch.
“In Hoi An, the most famous dish is white rose dumplings,” she said. “These dishes are basic Vietnamese comfort foods that come in many variations and can be found anywhere in Vietnam. I elevated them using French ingredients to fit the theme.”
For the final course, Lan and di Benedetto served three pastel-colored macarons, each a different flavor, Vietnamese coffee, Thai tea and matcha green tea, elegantly plated, served with tapioca pearls with coconut and pandan sauce.
Dinner guests gave the chefs and Matthew’s staff a round of applause after the dinner.
“It’s not often that you have the opportunity to do this,” Lance Day, Michelle’s husband said.
“We’d totally do this again,” Michelle said. “Matthew’s always does an amazing job bringing culture, fun and new experiences.”
Email Mimi Lan at mimi@TasteCurator.com to learn about the next VIGLO pop-up dinner.