The Subjects

These are glimpses of only a few of the amazing people we talked to for The World in a Skillet.

Father Vien Thé Nguyen

Father Vien Thé Nguyen in his office at Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church in New Orleans, Louisiana

“Vietnamese are really an agricultural people, not just in the sense of an occupation but a mentality. We are tied to the land. We are tied to the community. For us — even though materialistically speaking there is more elsewhere — spiritually, psychologically, it’s not more. It’s less.”

Aracelli and Elizardo Sanz

Aracelli and Elizardo Sanz at Palomilla's Cuban Grill House in Marietta, Georgia

“A lot of people come here and say, ‘What is your best item?’ I tell them, ‘The whole menu!’ When you ask American people about Cuban food, it’s really weird. They don’t know about it. They try it at least one time, and almost everybody loves it.”

Moumen Hamwi

Moumen Hamwi slicing meat for gyros at Layla's in Little Rock, Arkansas

“So from seven o’clock in the morning, you have to make sure that the yogurt’s ready, the meat is chopped, whatever Mama needs. It’s not some simple meal! You have to have low heat, and you have to keep it stirred. So I remember those things. They are beautiful memories to carry.”

Elizabeth Kizito

Elizabeth Kizito models her signature sales technique at Kizito's Cookies in Louisville, Kentucky

“I got interested in making cookies because when I was in Africa, my father owned a bakery there. But we never really had cookies or chocolate chip cookies. Somebody gave me some when I came to America, and I liked them so much that I said, ‘I’m going to make myself some cookies.’ So I made chocolate chip cookies, and I ate them.”


Sugano at his eponymous restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky

“I started when I was seventeen years old, but in Japan I cooked for maybe five or seven years for the study. In springtime, what kind of fish come, or what kinds of vegetables are ready? In the summer, you need to know what kinds of shellfish or different fish are used.”

Jeung and Susane Donoho

Jeung and Susane Donoho at Arirang Garden Korean Restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky

“I think I started to cook early. I like to cook. I like something baking. I like to eat. I like to cook. In elementary school, I cooked the rice. But at the time there was no rice cooker, so we needed to cook the rice on charcoal,” Jeung says.
“Charcoal, like a fire?” Susane asks, surprised. “That doesn’t sound very easy.”

Karla and Vivian Montano

Karla and Vivian Montano at Luna Maya in Norfolk, Virginia

“I think initially for a lot of immigrants, going into a food-related business just seems natural because we all grew up eating home-cooked meals, and I guess the emphasis really is focused around the table and eating, so I think maybe that is something that really everybody knows how to do.” --Karla Montano

Sudha Moy Dutta

Sudha Moy Dutta demonstrates his rasgulla technique at Mithai House of Indian Desserts in Cary, North Carolina

“I saw my sister-in-law making different kinds of Indian desserts, and she really didn’t know how to make it. One day, I saw she was making gulab jamun from powdered milk, and I said, ‘What are you making?’ She said, ‘It’s gulab jamun.’ I said, ‘Why are you making it like that?’ ‘That’s the way I learned.’ ” Sudha laughs as he retells the story. “Then I said, ‘Well, that’s not the right way.’ She said, ‘You know any better way?’ I say, ‘I know a better way, but I never tried myself. But that’s not the way to make gulab jamun.’"

Laurent Desmet

Laurent Desmet in front of his mural of Brussels at Clementine Belgian Bistrot in Gretna, Louisiana

“You’re not going to believe me, but every day I had fresh vegetables. Even though they were working — and maybe it’s an advantage to parents working in the restaurant business — every day I had leeks or broccoli or fresh vegetables,” he says. “That means going to get them, washing them, and cooking them. It’s work, you know. The modern life doesn’t really allow everybody to do that. Now when I think about it, it’s really something amazing.”

Sherry Chen, Wu Lung Chen, and Xia Chun Chen

Sherry Chen, Wu Lung Chen, and Xia Chun Chen at Mr. Chen's in Hoover, Alabama \

“He got training, very serious training, in Taiwan. It’s not like most chefs, you know, where it’s only like three or five years. It’s very traditional, step by step. He got very serious, detailed training. It’s like the French chefs.” --Sherry Chen

Wally Joe

Wally Joe on the patio outside Brushmark Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee

“When we had the grocery store, my dad raised chicken and squabs and pheasants and quail in the backyard, and we always had a garden. I learned to slaughter a chicken when I was probably seven or eight years old, and for a young kid, I probably thought that was the coolest thing.” He also had the influence of his grandmother living in their home. “I learned to make traditional Chinese food alongside my grandmother and my mom. Really, at a young age, I had an interest in it.”

Mahir Ahmad

Mahir Ahmad shows his ink-stained finger on Iraqi elections day at Mazi Market in Nashville, Tennessee

“When we came here, we had neighbors across the street from us. They were like, maybe, eighty years old. They supported us, took us to the doctor, and stuff like this. So after the first time we went to the doctor, we went to Krystal. I didn’t know. I asked my mom, ‘Do you think we should eat this or not?’ And Krystal is my favorite burger now.”

Father Vien Thé NguyenAracelli and Elizardo SanzMoumen HamwiElizabeth KizitoSuganoJeung and Susane DonohoKarla and Vivian MontanoSudha Moy DuttaLaurent DesmetSherry Chen, Wu Lung Chen, and Xia Chun ChenWally JoeMahir Ahmad