Sesame Dinette joins three generations in a pan-Asian kitchen

In a strip mall on the Long Beach strip, halfway between a laundromat and a drugstore, three generations of Nguyen women stacking talented Vietnamese spring rolls have long since disappeared from space and almost disappeared. disappeared at any time.

The matriarch of the family, Judy Mai Nguyen, does it all with full, elegant makeup and a commanding look, just as she does every day during her 35 years of work, creating recipes. , cook and manage in acclaimed restaurants such as Brodard and Crustacean. Here, the women chop green papaya for a bright and cheerful dry beef salad, and serve a vegetarian “duck” pho that mimics a bird with braised bean pods. They sliced ​​carrots and cucumbers for a special dish, some filled with pork, others with peeled crab.

The casual Vietnamese restaurant is a testament to Nguyen’s culinary prowess, and to her family’s persistence in saving space at the restaurant she closed during the pandemic. “I was sad to suddenly do that,” Nguyen said. “I almost gave up.”

With the help of her daughter and granddaughter, she reopened about a year after closing the store, which is bustling from late morning to late afternoon. On Fridays and Saturdays, her niece, Kiera Sivrican, joins her in the kitchen to prepare, cook and create recipes, while Wednesday through Saturday the owner and operator of the restaurant. Sesame DinetteLinda Sivrican, the owner of the perfumery restaurant, can be found taking orders and managing food merchandise, pop-up stores and overseeing the general flow of the restaurant helped save her mother’s business. her – and is delivering a new generation of AAPI chefs and creating a place to shine.

Sivrican opened Sesame Dinette in April as a sibling concept to her Chinatown super home – Sesame LA – and a hail-mary to take over her mother’s own restaurant, which opened a month before the pandemic and also closed quickly.

Nguyen had been trying to fulfill catering orders for a while and even started preparing takeout for her daughter’s new corner store in Chinatown, but when the Department of Health LA County Public is notifying the family that they can no longer sell perishable items in Sesame LA. , Sivrican saw the words on the wall: Her mother will have to turn.

An overhead photo of Sesame Dinette's two summer vegetarian shrimp rolls with tamarind sauce on one side.

Sesame Dinette’s kitchen team is led by Ms. Judy Mai Nguyen, in addition to Nguyen’s friends from local Buddhist temples. Above, shrimp spring rolls with tamarind dipping sauce.

(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

She knows her commitment to her long-term Long Beach lease and the thousands of dollars her mother and stepfather have poured into their Retro Saigon Bistro, buying kitchen equipment from previous owners, and investing in it. the operation. During its short existence, it provided income and activity not only to the Wei family but also to the friends of the kings from the local Buddhist temples, who worked there on various occasions. day of the week.

“I think if I renamed it Sesame LA at least some awareness might help,” Sivrican said. “I thought, ‘Why not, just try, let’s do it.’ I am completely confident with my cooking skills; Our main concern is how to manage the front and back of the house, and that leads to very random decisions about it. [format]. ”

She painted the mustard yellow walls a crisp, clean white and modernized the decor. At the end of the dining room is now a small stack of shelves, strewn with jars of locally produced black sesame and bottles of crunchy chili salt and spices and other items made by members of the AAPI community for sampling. available at Sesame LA.

The restaurant’s streamlined menu runs from lunchtime to early evening, changing slightly each week with a focus on classic yet innovative Eurasian dishes, albeit with a lot of heritage. Vietnam of the Nguyen Dynasty and decades of professional experience with cuisine. No beer or wine permits and no waiters – all built for the comfort of the cooks, mainly composed of Ms. Nguyen and her friends from Truc Lam Buddhist Center and Pho Linh pagoda, all in their 70s and 80s.

They arrive at around 9am to cook through the lunch service, then leave around 4pm, preparing the next day for summer rolls and pho and banh mi before work runs out. Meanwhile, a new generation of chefs, such as Kala’s Avanthi Dev and coffee roaster Dominic Lee Teece, occupy a corner of the dining room.

A new space for AAPI entrepreneurs

Similar to Sesame LA, Dinette expands on the supportive and uplifting ethos of the AAPI makers in a 250 square meter corner. But in Long Beach, a residency program for potential chefs and other innovators creates a space to experiment and showcase their food alongside the Sesame Dinette menu.

Kala, the show’s first pop-up, gave Dev – formerly of the Destroyer and Vespertine – a place to sell exotic, unique and sustainability-driven pastries and steamed savory treats conduct in space. Instead of cheddar crackers, she makes fluffy versions with green garlic and biscuits; Classic French financiers infused a blend of cashews, almonds, and cardamom to resemble barfi, an Indian sweet she loved. She substitutes whey from her fresh yogurt for a savory cheese frosting for her seasonal tea cakes. She made a tonic from her leftover jam liquid.

Currently, Sesame Dinette is the only place where Dev’s cooking talent is regularly found.

A photo of Kala's tea cake with cream cheese topping, blood orange slices and periwinkle leaves.

Pop-up Kala has been serving cakes, tonics and other treats from a corner of Sesame Dinette since April, offering items like seasonal fruit tea cakes topped with cream cheese.

(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

The opening of both Sesame outposts was not only useful to the many generations of chefs who had been introduced there; it has also helped Sivrican grow.

Being a perfumer, she says, is much lonelier than her new business as a restaurateur. Although she runs Capsule Parfumerie with her husband, Mike, much of her creative process has been spent on her own.

“I used to joke around the first month I opened Sesame [LA], I have talked to more people than I have in the past 10 years as a perfumer. There were many people who passed by; I’ve met a lot of good friends, new friends – in my 40s, to be able to have really meaningful friendships because of Sesame LA, I’m so grateful for that.. ”

She hopes she can continue to build that community in Long Beach through pop-ups and special dinners, and by curating the restaurant’s pantry items to fit needs. of the abundant Cambodian people in the region. While growing the community, she is also growing her family closer. Even her stepfather joined the fight. He plays a regular Dinette baker who becomes an occasional baker, as he spends more time in the kitchen and learns how to make bread and donuts for fun.

“I feel very happy,” said Judy Mai Nguyen. “That’s why I woke up and went back to a career that I love. [Sivrican] very, very creative, and she is a very busy and hardworking employee; I can not believe it. When I was young, I worked a lot but I don’t like zip here, zip there. To do that is not easy.”

Sometimes it’s a battle of wits.

Once, when asked for advice on one of her mother’s dishes, Sivrican tasted it and said, “Okay, good but a little sweet”, before her mother tried it herself, she screwed up. “That’s your mouth.” (Others later tried it and echoed Sivrican’s sentiments, at which point Nguyen admitted it was perhaps a little too sweet.)

“I said, ‘Hey, you don’t cook,'” Nguyen said with a laugh. “”You don’t know.”

But Sivrican is learning more and more, and so is her daughter. Seeing all three move in and out of the space together with ease and love, it’s hard to imagine a better chef mentor for all of them.

Sesame Dinette

1750 Pacific Ave., Unit B, Long Beach. Open 11:30 am to 5:30 pm, Wednesday through Saturday. Sesame Dinette joins three generations in a pan-Asian kitchen

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