Simon says: it is time for a new menu

Taher Chef Simon Barrow tests new recipes from his trip to Korea and Vietnam

An elderly Vietnamese woman lifts a clear glass teaming with some strange concoction. She offers it to him simon-picswith a smile. He and his friends stare at the five-gallon bucket next to her, containing whiskey and what appear to be two panda bear paws. They ask what it is for. Are they supposed to drink this? Or possibly use it to disinfect their toothbrushes? They decide to drink it, after all, trying new foods is the reason they came to Vietnam in the first place. He takes a sip, his throat burning as the acrid drink slides down his throat. Apparently its use is mainly medicinal.

Along with panda paw whiskey, buncha, a noodle and pork dish and bahmi, a Vietnamese sandwich were all new cuisines Executive Chef Simon Barrow tasted on his recent trips to Korea and Vietnam.

Barrow travelled through the countryside of Hanoi, Vietnam for five days and Seoul, Korea for three, going out of the way to find new recipes for the St. Paul Academy and Summit School kitchen. “Taher, the company I work for, has a group they call the Chef ‘s Council,” Barrow said. This group travels all over the world. “It was a huge honor to go along with these guys,” Barrow said.

Barrow was one of these lucky few, and he joined the owner of Taher and other chefs in a week-long expedition, learning about the culture and cuisine. “What we do is we try all the different food, experience the culture and cuisine and then we come back and try to recreate all these recipes,” Barrow said.

Students can look forward to seeing these new recipes in the SPA kitchen. Barrow hopes to add buncha, bahnmi, and pho, a noodle soup, to the lunch menu. He also improved recipes he has already tried here, including beef bugogi and kimchi. Barrow brought back knowledge of the area as well. “Bahnmi is on a French baguette,” he said, “the French were a huge influence on the Vietnamese people. They were there for over a hundred years. It’s interesting to see French influence in Vietnamese cooking.”

During his time in Korea and Vietnam, Barrow was intent on immersing himself in the culture. “We like to go off the beaten track, to places where there are no tourists at all. We’re not going to eat at McDonald’s, we’re going to eat what the Vietnamese people eat,” he said.

Even though Korea and Vietnam are relatively close compared to Minnesota, halfway across the globe, Barrow explains that their cultures are distinctly different. In Korea, “everything’s built up more.” Korea is more westernized with restaurants, supermarkets and a city feel. In Vietnam, life is quieter, simpler, with more storefronts and a notable lack of supermarkets. He adds that traffic laws in Vietnam were rarely obeyed: “Everybody’s on a scooter, weaving in and out of traffic, it was nuts.”

This trip increased Barrow’s appreciation for Vietnamese and Korean cuisine, and he hopes to bring that enthusiasm back to SPA. “I learned a lot about the culture and a lot about the food,” he said. So be on the lookout for new foods on the lunch menu, they bring with them stories and experiences from around the world.

Stir Fried Noodles with Bean Sprouts:

1 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil

1 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh


1 Small Yellow Onions,

Thinly sliced

Fresh Ground Black Pepper

4 Garlic Cloves, Minced

1 Cup Fresh Bean Sprouts

6 oz. Clear Noodles, Soaked

for 30 minutes in hot water,

drained and cut into 3 inch


1/2 cup chicken stock (or

vegetable stock to keep it


1 Tbsp Soy Sauce

2 Green Onions, Sliced Thin

1. Heat the oil over high heat

in a sauté pan, add the yellow

onion and garlic and sauté

for about 2 minutes, until the

edges start to turn brown.

2. Add the bean sprouts and

stir fry another 30 seconds.

Add the noodles and stir fry

for 1 minute.

3. Add the stock and soy

sauce, and toss to combine.

4. Remove from heat and stir

in the green onions.

5. Serve on a platter and

garnish with the chopped

cilantro and fresh ground