Not quite a year ago I was in Hanoi, Vietnam with the Le family of the Pig and the Lady. Ten days after they opened Piggy Smalls, Pig's little brother restaurant at Ward Centre, Andrew Le, the chef, had flown to Ho Chi Minh City to shoot an episode of the locally made PBS series "Family Ingredients." Mama Le, brother Alex and sister Allison joined the crew in Hanoi.
It was the first time they were together in the city where Mama Le was born. It was in Hanoi where her family developed its recipe for northern-style pho and it was Hanoi they fled when she was 4 years old and the Communists came to power. Mama Le's visit to the house she left more than 60 years earlier, her reunion with the cousin who was left behind, and her kids meeting relatives they never knew they had were powerful moments seared in my memory.
All this happened after "Family Ingredients" finished shooting the episode that reunited Andrew with the roots of his mother's pho. Still, I saw the power of the search for flavors and meaning that runs through each show. I saw it over plates of pho ga tron, fresh chicken tossed with noodles and herbs, on plastic stools in an alley; over bowls of tangy-sweet bun cha vermicelli with sizzling grilled pork at a hole-in-the-wall that President Obama visited; over coconut-scented xoi gac red sticky rice that Mama Le bought again and again. Mama was searching for the flavors of her childhood, her kids were tasting the origins of the dishes they grew up eating in Hawaii, and in the midst of all this, in a once-grand family home now divided into 10 crowded apartments, they understood for the first time this part of who they are.
Food can bring family stories alive in deep and unexpected ways. The show's producer, Heather Giugni, told me the stories aren't just for the families featured, but for pretty much everyone who grew up eating in Hawaii. They're about searching and eating and discovering. Reconnecting and understanding. That's why I like the show (and why more than 170 PBS affiliates across the U.S. aired season one). Plus it's delicious.
Season two of "Family Ingredients" premieres tonight on PBS Hawaii at 7:30 p.m. It starts with singer Jack Johnson visiting his dad's old stomping grounds in California, goes to the Philippines with Maui chef Sheldon Simeon and follows more locals rediscovering their family dishes. Andrew Le's story airs in two parts, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Here's a sneak peek.
Wednesday, Oct. 11 Episode: Jack Johnson, CaliforniaFeatured dish: Smoked fish Jack Johnson’s dad was part of the first wave of California surfers who embraced the huge swells and laid-back vibes of Oahu’s North Shore. The show takes Johnson to Northern California, where he finds memories of his dad in smoked fish from a tiny shop overlooking the ocean.
Wednesday, Oct. 18 Episode: Sheldon Simeon, PhilippinesScreening at: Mahina and Sun’sFeatured dish: Adobo Sheldon Simeon, whose elevated spins on the Filipino dishes of his childhood got judges’ attention on two seasons of “Top Chef,” had never set foot in the Philippines until this episode. It screens at Mahina and Sun’s the same night Simeon, series host and Mahina chef-owner Ed Kenney and Natalie Aczon announce the winner of a pork adobo contest; the winning recipe will be featured on Mahina and Sun’s menu.
Wednesday, Oct. 25 Episode: Valerie Kaneshiro, WisconsinScreening at: Mud Hen WaterFeatured dish: Fiddlehead fern Kauai farmer Valerie Kaneshiro, part-Japanese and part-Native American, left the reservation where she was born when her parents divorced. Far away in Hawaii, she grew up missing half her heritage. Her first visit back is powerful.
Friday, Oct. 27Collaboration Dinner: Ed Kenney with visiting chef Tashia Hart, featuring indigenous foodLocation: Kaimuki Superette (two seatings) The Sioux Chef’s Tashia Hart, an indigenous food advocate and forager featured in this episode, collaborates with Kenney on a five-course dinner inspired by Native American culture and cuisine. Tickets at familyingredients.com.
Wednesday, Nov. 1 Episode: Andrew Le, Part 1 (Ho Chi Minh City)Screening at: The Pig and the Lady (upstairs) The story of how Le’s parents fled their country at the end of the Vietnam War, ended up in Hawaii and found themselves with a wildly successful family restaurant and a James Beard award-nominated son inspired by the flavors of Vietnam. The episode screens at a cocktail hour with dishes including pho. Tickets at familyingredients.com.
Wednesday, Nov. 8 Episode: Andrew Le, Part 2 (Hanoi)Screening at: Mud Hen WaterFeatured dish: Pho Le, his mom and Ed Kenney go pho-crazy in the city where the noodle soup was born.
Wednesday, Nov. 15 Episode: Anela Evans, LanaiScreening at: Mud Hen WaterFeatured dish: Venison lau lau Hula dancer and sustainable hunter Anela Evans keeps alive the memory of her father by championing the land.
Series info and schedule of screenings, events, ticket links and recipes at familyingredients.com.
— Homepage photo by Renea Veneri Stewart, Family Ingredients