A family’s incredible journey from escaping Vietnam to opening a restaurant in Hawai’i.
In 1975, after decades of grueling combat operations in Southeast Asia, the Vietnam War was nearing a close. America had withdrawn its forces from the war-torn country, and the North Vietnamese Army was moving in to take the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon.
Chaos filled the city. Fearing retribution from the north, thousands of South Vietnamese who aided the Americans during the war were desperately trying to flee the country. Raymond Le, who had worked as a translator for the American army during the war, and his pregnant wife—affectionately referred to as “Mama Le”—were some of the lucky ones to escape. With Saigon falling, the couple was able to board a plane bound for Arkansas, where they planned to start anew in America.
But fate had another plan for the Le family, and it didn’t include Arkansas. En route to the United States, Raymond’s wife went into labor over the Pacific, and the plane was forced to land in Hawai‘i. On the ground in Honolulu, Mama Le was rushed to Tripler Army Hospital where she gave birth to her first son, Anderson, followed by Andrew, Alex, and Allison.
Although the siblings quickly assimilated to the United States, they kept a connection to their Vietnamese heritage through the food that Mama Le created each night. It was through this passion for cuisine that the first seeds of what would eventually become The Pig And The Lady pop-up restaurant were sewn.
“My family definitely has an interesting story to tell,” says Andrew Le, founder and head chef of The Pig and the Lady. “For our family, food has always been a big part of who we are. It’s helped to define our identity. My mom is an amazing cook, and she’s one of the primary reasons that I was so attracted to food and why I became a chef.”
After high school, Andrew attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He moved back to Honolulu after graduating and found himself in the fast-paced kitchen of Chef Mavro. Five years later, wanting to steer his own destiny, Andrew decided that there would never be a better opportunity to find his voice, and the fifth Le baby was born, this time in the form of a restaurant.
Mixing authentic Vietnamese street cuisine with the gourmet palate that Andrew developed at CIA and Mavro, The Pig and the Lady has become a regular at farmers markets across O‘ahu. He also host special one-night-only coursed dinners centering on themes like “natto” or “beef seven ways.”
On the Vietnamese front, a typical menu may range from innovative takes on bahn mi (a Vietnamese-style sandwich) to bun mang moc (a noodle-based soup filled with pork sausage, spare ribs, bamboo, and shiitake mushrooms). On the more contemporary side, he’ll offer up a slow-poached egg with watercress, shimeji mushrooms, and a stuffed tomato, and for dessert, a black sesame gelato with furikake brioche and roasted banana.
“My mom, who is an amazing cook, has always been hugely influential in my life,” says Andrew. “She’s a driving force behind the Pig and the Lady and brings a really authentic style of Vietnamese cuisine to the table. There’s so much more to Vietnamese food than spring rolls and pho, and she’s able to widen people’s understanding of the food. From the French influences to the old world cuisine of the countryside, there’s just so much diversity in the food. So we’re taking her expertise, blending it with mine, and the results have been really amazing.”
And the Le family journey continues on with plans to open up a permanent restaurant in Chinatown later this year. “Chinatown has such a rich history,” says Andrew.
“The architecture, the food, the ambiance—it’s real, it’s unapologetic, and it really speaks to me. If you liked what we’ve done in the past, you’re going to love what we’re doing with our brick-and-mortar space.”
At a recent natto-inspired pop-up dinner.
The Pig and the Lady pops up at farmers markets every Wednesday at Blaisdell, Thursday in Kailua, and Saturday at Kapiolani Community College, as well as every other Saturday at Taste in Kaka‘ako. For more information, visit thepigandthelady.com.