Welcome to our new podcast, Place Settings. This season, we’re traveling across the U.S. to meet the chefs, farmers, makers, and creatives who are transforming the food space through their unique connection to a place. Tune in each week, as our editors chat with a food innovator whose personal journey is as compelling as what they’re putting on the plate.
Since opening Bạn Bè last year, Doris Hồ-Kane has sparked a fast-growing following. As New York City’s first Vietnamese American bakery, the small-but-ambitious space is dedicated to celebrating Vietnamese food and community. Her wildly popular butter cookie tin (a riff on the classic Danish offering, featuring ingredients like tamarind, ube, and sesame) quickly garnered a 10,000-person waiting list when it started popping up in Instagram feeds. Now, customers line up for her glowing green pandan-coconut waffles and agar jellies in the shape of cherry blossoms.
As photogenic as they are, Hồ-Kane’s delicious creations also hold deeper meaning. They tell the story of her experience as a child of refugees. They hint at her longtime love of punk music and her DIY approach. They also open a dialogue about representation and creative expression.
Hồ-Kane explores those same themes in her archive project 17.21 Women—a collection she started as a teen and now shares on Instagram (and in a forthcoming book) to spotlight remarkable Asian and Pacific Islander women throughout history. With her food, her art, and the space they share at Bạn Bè, Hồ-Kane is offering a unique kind of nourishment and inspiration. Here are a few more highlights from our host and executive editor Alex Redgrave’s conversation with her:
On Her Family Opening a Restaurant as a Child
“I think a lot of immigrant kids can relate to food rejection—going to school and parents packing lunches that might not seem familiar in texture, appearance, or smell. So for people to come into our [family restaurant in Dallas] seeking out our food—and that they were actually enjoying it and experiencing our culture through nourishment—I felt really proud. [...] I slowly began to accept myself more as a Vietnamese person and not just think about our traumas and how we got there. It was time for me to focus on our joy and accomplishments.”
On Dreaming in Culinary Color
“The way I pull in fashion design, textile design, and art into this bakery and my archive work is that everything is very visual. When I'm making food, I always think about the palette first, and then I base it off of a dream I have of what it should look like: the blue sky I saw the other day or even a kid's shoe that was this shade of pink I loved with a hint of orange. I'll think about all of our foods that can make those colors—like saffron, turmeric, pandan, taro root. I start out with colors, and then I go from there.”
On Balancing Personal Expression and Representation
“When you're recognized as the first Vietnamese American Bakery in New York City, there's a lot of expectation that comes with it. And then from there, a lot of gatekeeping. Even within the Vietnamese community, people are like, ‘I don't remember Grandma making that.’ And, you know, it's not exactly what Grandma made, but it's me as a Vietnamese being creating something from my own vision and from my own personal experiences. The most important thing for me is for people to know that there is not one way to be Vietnamese, there's not one way to be Vietnamese American. [...] If you don't put anything personal into your work, I don't know that there's a purpose for it to be out in the world.”
You can listen to the rest of this Place Settings conversation—and catch each new weekly episode—on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
Special thanks to Wisconsin Cheese for supporting this season.