Only a handful of chefs in Los Angeles achieve the elusive status of celebrity. Chef Helene An is one of them, and with good reason. She’s built the House of AN, an incredible gastronomic empire centered around her Vietnamese fusion cuisine that now boasts multiple restaurants in Northern and Southern California, including the star-frequented Crustacean Beverly Hills, as well as a catering company and a cookbook.
It all started as a labor of love for her children. An and her family fled Vietnam during the war in 1975 and settled in San Francisco, where she helped her mother-in-law run an Italian diner. It was there that she began introducing Asian fusion dishes, including her now-famous garlic noodles.
This year, nearly 45 years later, the Smithsonian honored her with the well-deserved Pioneer Award in Culinary Arts for introducing Vietnamese food to America.
“It represents the culture and Asian-American immigrants in this country,” An says of the award. “It shows how far we have come. It’s something I will treasure forever.”
Accolades aside, it’s her family that she’s most proud of. Her five daughters and granddaughter all play key roles in running the family business, and it’s one of her greatest joys to see them all work together.
“Our differences help us push one another,” says Catherine An, one of Helene’s daughters and the founder of Tiato and An Catering. “In many ways, it’s helped us build the unique brand we have today, which appeals to a very broad audience.”
After almost five decades of wowing patrons with her inventive recipes, Helene An is ready to retire. “I want to have some time for myself, my husband, and my grandchildren,” she says. But she’s not hanging up her chef’s hat without one last hurrah.
This October, she debuts Da Lat Rose, the first Vietnamese tasting-menu restaurant in the country, located right above Crustacean Beverly Hills. Named after her beloved hometown in Vietnam, the concept feels like a full-circle moment and a fitting choice for her final project. “It will be rooted in more traditional, ethnic Vietnamese flavors, yet reinterpreted in a modern way,” An says.
Although the master chef will no longer be at the helm, the An empire isn’t going anywhere. Her daughters and granddaughter will continue to take it to new heights. “We want to continue celebrating what my mother has started,” Catherine An says.