Philippe Trinh Takes A Journey To His Vietnamese Heritage Through Food | Vietcetera
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Feb 10, 2023
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Philippe Trinh Takes A Journey To His Vietnamese Heritage Through Food

As a first-generation Vietnamese American, Philippe Trinh says food connects him to his parents — their heritage, culture, and what it means to be Vietnamese.
Philippe Trinh Takes A Journey To His Vietnamese Heritage Through Food

Philippe Trinh is a first-generation Vietnamese American and the son of Vietnamese Phouc Nguyen and Laotian Gianh Hoang Trinh. | Source: Philippe Trinh

An outdoorsy, passionate about art and the fashion scene, and a former vegetarian (but plans to get back to it) — not the usual combination you would expect from a now-lover of food and the art of preparing it.

Philippe Trinh is a first-generation Vietnamese American and the son of Vietnamese Giang Trinh and Laotian Phouc Nguyen (Trinh). Like most immigrant children, Philippe grew up favoring hamburgers over fish at school. However, his parents made sure he could appreciate home-cooked meals for dinner. Looking back, Philippe realized eating together not only nourished his physical body but also built an unbreakable bond with his family.

When the pandemic wreaked havoc on the lives of many and even cost him his job in New York City, Philippe found a silver lining in isolation. “Working in fashion consumed my entire life,” he said. “Before the pandemic forced us to stay home, I didn’t have time for personal hobbies, cooking elaborate meals, or talking to my parents about a recipe I wanted to cook for the weekend.”

Philippe Trinh and his family | Sourc: Philippe Trinh

To him, food is an outlet for him to talk about his parents' past, learn about their family and upbringing, connect with their culture, and learn about the history of the foods that were placed on their dinner table.

Connecting with his heritage

While Philippe is presently based in Kingston, one of Upstate New York’s most up-and-coming cities, his parents settled in Kansas before moving to the same state as he was during the pandemic.

Being a lover of nature and its beauty, Philippe is expected to also love traveling and going places. However, he’s only been to Vietnam once, sometime in the mid-2000s. And as cliche as it may sound, there is nothing like returning home.

Philippe says he cannot recall a specific memory during that trip but he vividly remembers how it felt. “There was an immediate strong connection to the country,” he said. “It was a familiar feeling of belonging, something I never really felt as an American citizen in the US in any of our homes or neighborhoods. I felt connected to all the strangers in the streets, who all had similar skin tones, eyes, and straight black hair. I felt grounded within my feet and safe among the mass sea of people. I’ve never felt as comfortable in my skin and confident about what others thought of me as I did in Vietnam.”

Even before setting foot in Vietnam, he was already well-connected with his heritage, at least through his taste. Philippe can’t go anywhere or cook anything without a good fish sauce. Talking about cooking, finding fresh Vietnamese herbs was a tough job, so he did what every Vietnamese would do — plant in the backyard and grow fresh herbs and spices.

Recreating childhood comfort food

Thit Heo Quay is Philippe’s ultimate favorite Vietnamese food and if you asked him about five years ago to recreate his father’s recipe, there was no way he’d perfect it. But don’t dare him now, unless you want a slice of those savory pork belly fat.

On a serious note, because he cares about his parents’ legacy so much, he learned a new language of love — food and cooking. “What also scared me was the thought of losing one of my parents’ greatest sources of pride, home cooking,” he said. “Those childhood meals were so comforting and nourishing to my soul, especially when I needed them the most or when I was sick. These childhood foods were a bridge to my past and my cultural background. Those meals also came knowledge and stories about a forgotten world that I didn’t know much about — the story of where my parents came from, their foods, and their family traditions.”

He and his siblings aren’t proud of this, but they didn’t have a single recipe written down until recently. But they want to change it; Philippe himself wants to change it. “Just recently we came across my mom’s recipe journal from when she was a teenager in Laos, the only thing she managed to escape with while fleeing her war-torn country,” he said. “Now I’m on this amazing food journey to preserve all my childhood favorites.”

Whiskey and Booch was born during the dark pandemic days. In 2020, his little sister came up from NYC to stay with him and his partner for a few months. “During her stay, I realized that we were both craving the same foods from our childhood,” he told the story. “So I began working with my parents to recreate some of our ultimate childhood comfort foods. I asked my parents for their recipes, tips, and family secrets on creating and cooking these meals. One of the first dishes I made was chicken pho because I knew it would make my sister feel at home. But I wasn’t prepared for the impact that experience would have on me.” That brought him back to 25 years ago, with his two younger sisters sitting at their dining table in Kansas.

He added: “I could see both of our parents bustling around the warm kitchen cutting up fresh cilantro, mint, and limes. I viscerally recognized the scent of my parents’ comforting chicken broth. That little whiff sent chills up my spine and changed everything.” Then he asked himself, how could food spark that much joy and transport you to such a vivid moment in your past?

That was when he knew he was onto something much bigger than just cooking. “It was my culinary journey to learn more about where I’m from, my parents’ stories, and their precious recipes,” Philippe said. “Since I was very familiar with building and developing brands, I wanted to do something extra special to honor my parents, immediate and extended family, and our stories. That is how Whiskey and Booch was born—out of my love for food, drink, family, and culture.”

A cookbook in the works

When asked about his proudest moment, Philippe said, “working with my partner to launch a beverage company whose products are now sold in over 14 US states!” Philippe is a huge fermenter and also a Master Food Preserver, and his partner, Julian Lesser, is an artist who co-founded the digital marketing agency called Northern Seekers.

Philippe Trinh and his partner, Julian Lesser. | Source: Philippe Trinh

He’s been fermenting various things for a very long time, thanks to his father, who taught him the process. Philippe’s so good at it that his friends call him ‘booch’ because he loves making sour kombucha, kimchi, and basically anything fermented or pickled. Thus, his Instagram handle “Whiskey & Booch” — two of his favorite things, drinks and (Vietnamese) food.

Right now Philippe is not anymore actively practicing a vegetarian lifestyle, but his goal is to get back to it. As for Whiskey & Booch, he revealed he’s currently on phase one of his plan, which is to recreate all of his favorite dishes from childhood and the foods his parents loved the most. “I want to learn how to make them authentically — exactly how my parents made them. Then I can proceed to phase two, which will entail trying to modify these dishes and create vegetarian versions that are still true to the original recipe. That way, my plant-based friends can enjoy real Vietnamese food too.”

While his love for food and cooking is overwhelming, Philippe doesn’t have the desire to run a restaurant. Instead, he wants to eventually have a personalized cookbook — use his photos, and style and tell stories about the dish. To him, it’s like a life goal, “so I can indefinitely preserve and honor my parents’ stories and recipes with the same eyes and hands they helped bring into this world. I’m hoping the project will help to share these family recipes in their authentic form while also featuring a vegetarian-friendly version of the recipe.”

Philippe and his father, Giang Trinh | Source: Philippe Trinh

As for a goal for himself, Philippe is very much interested in collaborating with renowned Vietnamese Australian chef Luke Nguyen. He admires Luke’s passion, and although his journey started a little late, he believes they’re both heading toward the same direction.

Moving forward, Philippe hopes that through Whiskey & Booch, people will be inspired to try something different. To him, Vietnamese cuisine is a magical balance of flavors. “It’s refreshing with the medley of tastes from all the fresh herbs and aromatic spices. So many people love to cook but are afraid to try cooking an unfamiliar cuisine. I hope that through my website and Instagram, people can be inspired to see the beauty in a different culture and cuisine.”