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Meet Hando Youssouf - Chef-founder of Vietnam Away in New York

When gastronomy, reflexology, and Vietnamese martial Arts come together around a philosophy of well-being, there is a better understanding about the world around us and challenges arise in order to transform them into opportunities.

Photo: Cécile Delepière

"We must realize that what happens is an opportunity for change.

We must seize this chance.”

The self-taught Hando Youssouf, of Indian-Chinese-Vietnamese origin and born and raised in the suburbs of Paris, has travelled the world. After working in Denmark, he and his brothers opened the most famous Parisian restaurants: Paris Hanoi and The Little Hanoi, featuring inventive cuisine rooted in Vietnamese tradition. Fascinated by martial arts, Hando learned the art of Vô Vietnam from the master Nguyen Duc Moc whom he describes as a beacon in his life. This practice, combined with Vietnamese reflexology, in which he was also trained, represent the fundamentals of a philosophy in which food is a way to nourish the body and soul. Hando and his family moved to New York in 2019 with a new project in mind: creating a space where he could bring people together around his values about integrated living: reflexology, martial art, gastronomy, & art de vivre. As Hando says, “Even if the road isn't always as I planned, I’m still on that road with the same overwhelming desire to thrive in New York City by doing what I love.” The wisdom gained from his past experiences gives Hando the tools needed to face life and always move forward. With an existence being unquestionably turned towards the future and well-being, Hando seeks to pass on these values to his students through martial arts lessons and cooking classes.

Today, through the consulting company he created, Vietnam Away, Hando explores opportunities to launch his concept in the United States.

Welcome Hando to Chefs for Impact!

By Hando Youssouf as told to Chefs for Impact

How did you keep yourself busy the past few months?

“I've started to do home meal delivery services in Brooklyn and Manhattan. This consumption pattern has inevitably taken on a new dimension in the last few months. I was able to meet new clients, support the local community, and bring culinary diversity into people’s homes. Like everyone else, it's not what I had planned, but I had to adapt to the situation and look ahead.”

How is your philosophy helping you navigate through these unprecedented times?

"A project that is close to my heart is to gather people around food and bring well-being to them. I want to teach them how to eat well and become aware of their bodies through physical activities, such as martial arts and relaxation. I wish to bring an opening of consciousness and the ability to take a step back from what we live now. We won't get anything without making efforts or changing old habits, and that's what remains the most difficult to do. You have to be able to get out of your comfort zone and enter into another function mode.

We don't eat just to fill our stomach; we nourish our body with energy. The Martial arts help to fluidity these energies and eliminate blockages that we are not aware of and could suffocate us. It is an art that leads you to reflection and introspection, allowing you to understand how your body works as a whole with its complexity. It allows you to learn about yourself deep inside and eliminate tensions. It's a way of being and a way to apprehend the unknown, as well as a way to master one's fear. Our lifestyle must reflect this balance, be in tune with oneself, and be happy. At the end of the day, we are not victims but actors as we program our lives. In the end, every problem must lead to a solution. It allows one to rise, and from this experience, one comes out stronger.”

Photo: Cécile Delepière

Do you think this crisis is raising a collective awareness for change?

"Awareness has been there for some time, but this crisis reinforces the fact that consumption behaviors must change. The norm must become: local seasonal sourcing, reuse of containers, just-in-time purchasing rather than overstocking, waste reduction, not buying from large structures to support local producers who have ideas and who make an impact.

We all come from different cultures, backgrounds, and formats. Whatever one’s background is, everyone can redraw the lines at one’s own level. Some lucky people became aware of these good practices at a very young age, while others, who have never experienced this, find it is very difficult to integrate.”

What are your tips for a more sustainable gastronomy?

"Eat healthy! Be inventive and consume less animal protein. I'm not particularly vegan but animal farming is a disaster for the planet and for your health. It’s expensive, consumes too much energy, and introduces toxins in your body. Meat consumption must be reasoned. It is also imperative to reduce the consumption of sugar, salt and fat, which are all addictive. The same goes for flavor enhancers such as mono sodium, otherwise known as glutamate, which is widely used in Asian cuisines. It is important to buy healthy products and make it as simple as possible by playing with spices and flavors.

I do workshops and teach cooking and martial arts classes in Greenpoint, where I try to get these messages across. But it’s going to take some time because it’s hard to change the habits when people have palettes that are used to these types of tastes. Most importantly and where it all begins: I explain how to respect oneself, to be able to respect others and the planet on which we live.”

What is next for Vietnam Away?

“What's happening right now is a big red flag. We mustn't fall back into the trap of overconsumption and continue to go forward with blinkers on. Those who are already aware and who have some mastery of the subject have a duty to share and encourage a positive change. They can educate and raise awareness without blaming those who have not had the chance to be warned before. If you can reach people’s hearts, that's when things can change.

Whenever possible, I would like to create a place where I feel good and where I can transmit my values and beliefs. A place that looks like me, where I can blossom and transmit what I love to do the most in the world. I aspire to create environments where people feel serene and peaceful as well as stimulated and challenged too, to better surpass themselves.

The road is not the one I had imagined when I left France, but I'm still on the road!”

Photo: Cécile Delepière



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