Luke Nguyen in front of an orange Taste of Australia, Vietnam banner
Case study /
Promoting Australia

Luke: food diplomacy

Image: 
Nam Quan
HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM

From a young age, Luke Nguyen worked in his parents’ Vietnamese restaurant in Cabramatta in western Sydney. ‘Before going to school, I would go to the market in the morning and buy all the fresh herbs and fresh vegetables for the restaurant. I loved picking out the freshest, most premium produce.’

Born in Thailand after his family fled Vietnam by boat, Luke was just a year old when he arrived in Australia with his family. His parents set up a small restaurant where he learnt the fundamentals of Vietnamese cooking.

After finishing school Luke worked in some of Australia’s best restaurants and then, at the age of 19, he set off for Vietnam. ‘I travelled north and south and educated myself on regional Vietnamese cuisine and the culture, meeting local cooks, and jotting down recipes and interesting ingredients’, he says. On the back of that trip, he set up his first restaurant, then opened Red Lantern at 23, and has travelled to Vietnam every year since to keep learning. Today, Luke is a world-renowned restauranteur with bestselling cookbooks and a television cooking show shown in 160 countries.

If you say you’ve got the cheese from Australia, or you say the wine is from Australia, or this beef is from Australia, people have already got in their mind that it is premium.

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Luke Nguyen in kitchen, laughing holding a piece of watermelon with chefs in the background

Luke Nguyen.  Image credit: Nam Quan

Luke loves to promote ‘fresh and premium quality’ produce from Australia so it was an easy decision for him to become the Taste of Australia Ambassador in Vietnam. The month-long Taste of Australia campaign promotes Australian food, beverages, culinary education and cuisine, and is run by the Australian Government. Luke works closely with the teams at the Australian Embassy in Hanoi and Consulate-General in Ho Chi Minh City on events and activities that promote Australia’s culinary prowess. ‘We all have one goal, which is to promote Australia in Vietnam through food. We work together on a variety of great events, we hold wine dinners, we hold competitions, we have big barbecues and the Vietnamese love it’, he says.

Luke also wants to encourage Australian companies to do business in Vietnam. ‘There are great opportunities in Vietnam for Australian companies. Vietnam is really taking off. People in Vietnam want great produce and they’re willing to pay for it, and so the more Aussie products we have over here––safe, ethical and sustainable––the better.’ He enthusiastically recounts ‘We love our baguettes in Vietnam. Did you know 75% of the wheat that’s used for baguettes, comes from Australia?’

Luke has just opened his first restaurant in Vietnam. ‘I couldn’t do this 15 years ago, but now I’m confident I can produce the food I want. I’m taking Vietnamese cuisine and elevating it to the world stage, because of the products we get here now’, he says. ‘If you say you’ve got the cheese from Australia, or you say the wine is from Australia, or this beef is from Australia, people already have it in their mind that it is premium.’

Luke is passionate about what he does. ‘I love telling stories through food. I love wearing my Vietnamese–Australian badge. Australia has such a great reputation in Vietnam. Our food is known to be the best in the world. I love promoting that.’

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Luke Nguyen cooking at a local Vietnamese food cart surrounded by laughing local people

Luke cooking a traditional Vietnamese dish using Australian pork ribs using a local's street food cart.  Image credit: Suzanna Boyd