A Feast for All Seasons
Cooking Tips from Chef Sean Gartland of Feast Cooking School
The large mural spanning the entire space that contains MaMang in the Flint Farmers’ Market is your first glimpse into the artful cuisine of
Vietnam. The warm smell of star anise rising from a stock pot of broth for their freshly made Pho is your second clue as to the unique experience you are about have.
Chef and owner Tony Vu and his small staff have come onto the scene at the Market like a strong monsoon. Their large bowls of Pho, barbecued duck steamed buns, and traditional Bánh mì sandwiches are favorites for most of the regulars that pack their small lunch counter every market day. According to Vu about one-third of the customers who visit his space on any given market day are regular or returning customers. This is a testament to the power of offering a comfort food so heartwarming that you would swear his mother was back in the kitchen making it fresh every day.
Vu’s prowess in the kitchen is in large part the result of growing up in one of Flint’s only Vietnamese restaurants. His family owned and operated the Golden Seahorse for many years. “It was on Dort Highway and ran for about 10 years from the late 80s to 90s,” says Vu. “It was a combination of Vietnamese and Chinese food.” His parents immigrated to the Flint area in the late seventies to escape a war torn Vietnam and make a new home for their family in Michigan.
He got his start cooking professionally while running his food truck that was popular at the Flint Farmers’ Market for many years. Wraps and Rolls burst onto the scene and was immediately well received by locals looking for an authentic ethnic flavor. Their offerings of Thai Iced Tea, Bánh mì and Pho were sold out by 2pm most days.
When space at the Flint Farmers’ Market opened up Vu and his staff jumped at the opportunity to bring his unique cuisine to shoppers on a year round basis. Although small, his menu works on many levels. “It was set by my customers”, says Vu. “I was in such a hurry to open that I started out with a limited menu of my most popular items. When I tried to pull the bánh mì to rotate a different dish in, it caused a huge uproar. The whole business has grown around how to keep up with the demand for these items.”
His strong and loyal following is a testament to the quality of the food and the care involved it’s preparation. “The access to the Flint Food Works kitchen changed everything,” he says. “ I’m able to cook larger quantities with more efficiency and I set the groundwork for expanded operations.” The access to the Flint Farmers’ Market vendors also plays a key role in maintaining flavor and consistency. He adds, “during the spring and summer I source [ingredients] about 75% from the Market. During the winter it drops to about 30%.”
As any chef does, Vu always looks for inspiration and his own Vietnamese heritage offers so much in the way of regional exploration. He hopes to have the ability to add more items to his menu in the future and branch out into some seasonal specialties. “Other soups, such as Bun Xiu, a tomato based lump crab soup,” says Vu. “I also have cold noodle dishes, spring rolls, rice dishes, Vietnamese omelet’s, my mom’s sweet potato shrimp fritters…. The list is endless and I haven’t even gotten into desserts or drinks.” His plan to bring on Snow Ice, an ice cream-like dish that is shaved paper thin and served in ribbon like mounds, will bring a very unique offering to the Market in the future.
Beyond the Flint Farmers Market Vu hopes to one day expand into a full service restaurant which would allow him greater flexibility and the ability to branch out further and explore even more of what Vietnamese and Asian Fusion cuisine have to offer. He mentions, “Yes, I would love a restaurant downtown at this point, and my customers would too. I’m also looking at options to expand our capacity at the market.”
Courtesy of Feast Cooking School
Chili Lime Soba Noodles
8 Ounces of Soba Noodles
1 tea Ginger, freshly grated
1 Garlic clove, minced
2 tea Sriracha
1 Tbs. Soy Sauce
Juice and zest of 1 lime
1Tbs. Sesame Oil
1 Bunch of Scallions, diced small
1 Cup Cucumber, peeled seeded and julienne cut
½ Red Bell Pepper, diced small
1 Tbs. Fresh Basil, sliced thin
1 Tbs. Fresh Mint, sliced thin
Optional Garnish- Sesame Seeds.
● Cook soba noodles to according to the package instructions. Rinse the noodles well in cold water and drain until dry.
● Combine ginger, garlic, sriracha, soy sauce lime zest and juice and sesame oil in a large bowl.
● Combine noodles, vegetables and herbs in the sauce and toss well. Garnish with sesame seeds.