Meet Sandy Ho, a Los Angeles based chef creating flavorful, colorful and sustainable dishes and desserts. Once upon a time we ordered her gorgeous cake for a celebration, and after inhaling it, we realized we needed to learn more about how she became the brightly beautiful culinary goddess she is today.
Could you give us an idea of how you landed where you are today?
I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney Australia and cooked from a very young age. It is a rite of passage for a young Vietnamese girl to be in the kitchen with her mother - to learn how to cook and taste - it just so happens that my mum is one of the greatest cooks I know.
When I finished high school, I wanted to study Fine Arts. I was obsessed with using my hands to create. So I felt like the natural path was becoming an artist. I graduated with a fine arts degree and decided to move to Melbourne and dive into an art practice. I was juggling bar and restaurant work alongside running a gallery space and finding time to make art. In the end, being in the kitchen and making food for people prevailed.
Fast forward 4 years: I was the head chef at a not-for-profit restaurant, itching for new inspiration. I decided to go on a sailing trip in the south of Italy and I never looked back. I started working as a chef onboard and in my spare time would visit new places, do pop-up dinners, and collaborate with farmers and food makers around the world. I saw everything and still wanted to see more! Two years ago I made the decision to move to LA for a home base close to the water, to the rest of the world, and with an easy flight home. So now I’m here, I create food experiences for all sorts of events, for private clients, for my loved ones, and for myself. I started Sandita’s, a backyard dinner series in my home a few months before Covid which has been a huge labour of love and a way to express my own flavours. I love the farmers markets in California and I’m obsessed with weekend escapes to Ojai. And quarantine has very much reconnected me to an art practice I realize is in everything I do.
What is some of the inspiration behind your unique color palette seen throughout your dishes?
Nature - always nature. I’ll see how a petal on a flower has all its own nuances in colour and texture and I’ll save that into my bank of memories that I’ll draw from later. Or I’ll spend hours looking at a freshly cut blood orange or a juicy summer tomato. All of that in it simplicity and complexity is my biggest inspiration.
Can you describe a favorite part of connecting with the sources of your ingredients?
I think anyone who cooks for another knows the importance of human connection. It’s a conersation I have all the time about loving to and learning to take care of people. That’s my favourite part. That no matter who you are, when you feel taken care of, you can only respond with love. And I deeply feel that from and for my farmers and anyone who’s growing and harvesting food for us.
What is a special memory where someone taught you how to create a dish?
A memory from my mum. Not so much a dish but a sauce that is incredibly special to me - Vietnamese fish dipping sauce or Nuoc Mam Cham. Garlic, chili, lime, sugar, fish sauce, water - seems pretty easy but mum taught me that there is no recipe for this sauce. The recipe HAS to be unique to YOU. And it becomes unique to you when you spend years and years tasting and adjusting and tasting and adjusting, over and over again.
We spent a lot of time in the kitchen together and she had me taste everything. I didn’t know it then but I’m forever grateful for it now.
Tell us a story from the seas, lol
Haha! So many stories!! However what comes to mind are remnants of memories like swimming in the bioluminescence in the middle of Razzoli Islands off of Corsica at midnight after a lot of rum. Or climbing up a light house on the Island of Vis in Croatia. Another memory is the smell of an all-day roasting pork shoulder with miso and Greek figs at 10pm after a night in town. Oh! And drinking mushroom shakes in Thailand that left us giggling so hard all night.
So many stories, so many memories.. I’ll save more for when I can have everyone over for Sanditas in my backyard!