UO Interviews: Company of Khanh

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We visited Khanh Hoang of Company of Khanh at one of her pop-up dinners hosted in her hometown of Long Beach, CA. We learned about what inspired her to begin hosting culinary events in her community and why highlighting diversity and ethnic cuisines is so important to her. Khanh will host a Stew Social in collabration with A Good Carrot at Space Ninety 8 on October 27th. 

Can you introduce yourself please: tell us more about who you are, where you’re from, and what you do? 
I came to the United States as a refugee and have the intentions of someday designing menus for hospitals and schools to be more inclusive of the communities that are ultimately the future of America. I am a nurse with a passion for hosting dinner parties to bring people of all backgrounds together for a flavorful meal with good music. My menus are often inspired by the diverse people I come across from working in the hospital and the restaurant industry. My food is not fancy at all; it’s real and often hearty.

What inspired you to start hosting pop-up dinners in your community?
I discovered Turkish cuisine while visiting my family in Hamburg, Germany about 2 years ago. Afterwards, I made it a mission to go to Turkey and experience the culture and food directly. Of course I fell madly in love. The hot air balloon ride, visiting underground cities, food tours, drunken nights with locals that became our friends inspired me to share my new food inspiration. Turkish cuisine is not readily available in Southern California, unfortunately! I wanted people to be introduced to it so I came up with a menu and gathered my friends to help me execute it. At the same time, I also discovered that there are a lot of people that want to attend a good dinner party. Of course, what a great way to get people to meet and make new friends. So I made a commitment to host at least one pop-up a season and it just grew from there.

You specialize in highlighting a diverse roster of cultural cuisines at each of your events. Why is this important to you? 
Every immigrant and refugee that arrived in America has had to work hard to be a part of this country. Sadly, it takes a few generations for everyone to understand or even recognize their cultures. I endeavor to make each pop-up event new and different, challenging myself and my team, to recognize and honor the different flavors of the people that arrived. I want to emphasize that what we are eating today is not even close to what our grandparents ate back then. In the past, people migrated for trade or arrived in new countries for different reasons with all their familiar ingredients. Today’s globalizing world has made even more ingredients available, and I attempt to discover them all when I explore the markets in different communities. To me, food is constantly progressing and, in many ways, it’s hard to confine and expect to remain constant through generations. The main idea of the dish is always there, but there are usually additions or takeaways, even in techniques. We don’t expect art to stay the same, so food should be allowed to evolve too. My food is never meant to be considered “authentic” because it would not be fair. Through it all, I just want to help keep cultural foods alive and respected.
 

Is there a type of cuisine that you have yet to cook but want to explore?
I attended an Azerbaijani pop-up, by Feride Buyuran, and loved all the food she made. She explained that her country has influences from Persia and Russia. I love when cultural flavors fuse so well. So I would love to explore more of that cuisine in the near future.

Do you have a favorite or stand out Company of Khanh event?  What made it special?
I made Brazilian feijoada with traditional farofa for a South American inspired pop-up dinner. A guest informed me that she attended because it was on the menu and that she is Brazilian and owns a cooking school. No pressure, right? I was so nervous leading up the service. Once everything was plated and sent out to the guests, I stepped outside to get some fresh air. She found me in the alley and gave me a long hug because the dish reminded her of “home.” As a chef herself, she explained that every family makes feijoada differently. That my feijoada was wonderful because all the elements that make it good is there, and she can taste the love in my cooking. It was the BEST compliment that I could ever ask for, I almost cried as she walked back to her seat. I strive to make sure that “love” is always an element to my dinner parties. People should feel connected to their food and the energy of the people around them.

What do you love most about what you do?
As a nurse, I wish so often that I can cook and feed people rather than give them pills all day. The “nursing” foundation makes cooking fun and rewarding to me because I enjoy thinking about all the associated health factors. Honestly, I have a calling and a passion that I hope will merge into a career someday. What is there not to love?

What is your favorite city for food?
Los Angeles, despite some shortcomings, is more diverse than a lot of places and I am grateful to live in this wonderful area. It is here that I was able to discover so many flavors.

Since you will be visiting NYC from the west coast, are there any go-to food spots that you frequent in NYC?
My time, this time, is very limited but I hope to visit Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant in Harlem called Red Rooster. He’s been an inspiration to me since my mentor, Sylvia Fuller, introduced me to his book, “The Soul of a New Cuisine.”

What projects do you have on the horizon?
I am currently planning a pop-up in San Miguel de Allende and Hamburg. If anyone has other requests, I’d love to explore options and a design a menu that fits the needs of the surrounding community. Also, I love collaborating and supporting women from all industries. My collaboration with Aliye Aydin of A Good Carrot has been such a pleasure that I hope to explore more relationships that can grow into a unique friendship like ours.

What can one hope to experience at the event at Space Ninety 8 on October 27th?
My collaborator, Aliye Aydin of A Good Carrot, and I hope to provide new flavors and a mellow evening with friends, new and old. 

Join us for a Stew Social hosted by Company of Khanh and A Good Carrot on Friday, October 27th from 7-9pm. Read more about it HERE and RSVP HERE

Photos: Sheewa Salehi