"I think when most people hear 'fish sauce' they think, 'Oh no, yuck!' But back home, we eat it all the time," he told us when we caught up with him at Mayo Clinic Hospital, Methodist Campus, just steps away from his cooking station in the cafeteria. "Here in America, we eat cheese on just about everything. But back in my home country, I would say 95 percent of the people use fish sauce when they cook."
Bui is hoping to change some opinions about fish sauce when he serves as one of six guest chefs who are part of this week's Mayo Clinic Festival of Cultures event in Rochester. Bui, a former restaurant owner who has cooked for Mayo patients and their families for the past six years, will be serving a regional Vietnamese beef noodle salad called bun bo xao on Thursday, Nov. 20, in the Methodist Campus cafeteria. "It's really good and really healthy," he says. "It's served with romaine lettuce, flank steak, crushed peanuts, shredded carrots, and dried onion. And then, of course, fish sauce."
Bui says he's excited about sharing the dish during the Festival of Cultures. Everyone back home in Vietnam "loves this dish," he says, because of its nutritional value, a point that's not lost on him. "For me, and everybody else here in the hospital, we're here for the patients," he says. "So whatever I can do to prepare a good dish of food that everybody can enjoy is something I take great pride in."
But before anyone can enjoy Bui's bun bo xao, they're going to need to stop eating the Egyptian baklava and moussaka being prepared by one of Bui's Food Services colleagues, Maha Ezzat, another guest chef during the Festival of Cultures. She will take her turn wearing the white Guest Chef hat on Wednesday, Nov. 19. While she tells us she's both "excited and scared" about cooking for a large group, Maha couldn't be more thrilled about sharing her love of cooking food from her homeland. And that's something she's done often throughout her 18 years at Mayo. She enjoys bringing Egyptian favorites to share with her colleagues, occasionally cooking them for a larger crowd in the cafeteria, and inviting family and friends into her home to break bread together.
A quick word of caution, though. If you get Bui or Maha talking about their homelands, be prepared for your next conversation to be with your travel agent, because they both love the history and culture of their home countries almost as much as they love their native food. Don't say we didn't warn you.
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