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The Stuff of Legends. This is the story of fortunes lost and fortunes found, of fate and the phenomenal power of family along with the extraordinary strength of one woman, Helene An, who rescued her family from despair and loss to create a restaurant empire that is now operated by her daughters, the third generation. It all begins in the unfolding drama and lost civilization that was Indochina, a world once known for its exotic beauty, legendary elegance and French glamour; it was in this world that Helene An spent her childhood, indeed she enjoyed the title of Princess as her father, his father and grandfather held the royal title of Vice Consul to the Vietnamese Emperor. In 1975 Helene An, now a mother of three young daughters, Hannah, Elizabeth and Monique, and wife of air force pilot Danny An-answered the door of her Saigon mansion and was given an hour to flee the oncoming Communist army.
With no time to pack, her husband out of the country, and her three children in tow, this once privileged daughter of royalty left her entire life behind, all she had ever known and loved. Joining her husband, an Air-Force Colonel in the Philippines, the An family headed to a new world, to start a new life in the United States. Certainly, when Helene and her family arrived in San Francisco it seemed they had lost everything. Everything except for each other…and the secret recipes that this brave and enterprising young mother had treasured since childhood. Raised in the bosom of Vietnam's royal family, Helene's father regularly entertained dignitaries from all around the world, with opulent dinners prepared by the family's three chefs, one Vietnamese, one Chinese and the third French. The menus created by these chefs became the inspiration for the Fusion cuisine that Helene introduced in San Francisco, in 1975. Indeed, Michael Bauer, restaurant critic, San Francisco, proclaimed Helene the mother of Fusion cuisine in the U.S.
As a young girl, Helene spent many happy hours in the kitchen, observing with passion and interest the three chefs. And so Helene learned from an early age how to create menus, manage a kitchen and entertain in a style that was spectacular in its elegance and simplicity. It was this authenticity and graceful "at home" ambiance that Helene has always insisted that her restaurants reflect, intent that each guest truly feel as if they are dining at her family's home. Thanh Long, the An Family's first restaurant had been open for four years, when the family arrived in San Francisco in 1975. As fate would have it, Helene's mother-in-law, Diana An, had already opened Thanh Long, when she visited the city for the first time in 1971. She had impetuously purchased a 20-seat burger joint, thinking that her life as mistress of a large home, responsible for nightly entertaining, amply prepared her for the role of restaurant owner, albeit an absentee one.
When Helene and Danny along with Diana and her husband arrived in San Francisco, this small diner became the key to the An family survival and later launched the An family restaurant empire. Helene along with Diana toiled 18 hour days, seven days a week, these once sheltered women of privilege giving no thought to their former lives of luxury, now faced with providing their families well-being and future in their new country. Thanh Long's success was overnight - it didn't take Michael Bauer, restaurant critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, long to discover Helene's unique cuisine and to welcome Thanh Long as San Francisco's first Vietnamese restaurant. The Mom and Pop establishment soon incorporated Helene's secret family recipes featuring the now famous Garlic Noodles and Roasted Garlic Crab. Crowding the restaurant every night were restaurant goers who were happy to wait in line for hours to experience the An family's Secret Kitchen dishes, Helene's loving recreations of the elegant, exotic cuisine of her youth.
When Helene realized the success of her special dishes she decided to build a small kitchen within the main kitchen, where only family members would be allowed, thus protecting the integrity of her precious culinary legacy. And thus the An family Secret Kitchen was born. Thanh Long's success was followed in 1991 by Crustacean Restaurant, declared by Mr. Bauer as San Francisco's first Fusion restaurant. And in 1997 the An women opened Crustacean Beverly Hills, one of Los Angeles' hottest restaurant, reported by USA Today as the top spot for celebrity watching. The restaurant was soon named by Esquire Magazine as one of the country best 10 restaurants and has been featured in People Magazine, Wall Street Journal, InStyle Magazine, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food & Wine as well as on CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC and the Oprah Show.
Today the An family restaurant empire is a multi-million dollar business. Diana An, still active in the kitchen and now a robust 85 years old, continues to marvel that her 20-seat diner has launched what has become a burgeoning hospitality and retail business. Now, Diana, Helene and her five daughters are taking this exciting family legacy to the next step. To share the glamour, elegance and lifestyle of French Colonial Vietnam, these remarkable women are bringing their heritage, culture and traditions to life with The An Family Collection that includes a food line and home décor.
And in what is perhaps their finest and certainly most gratifying accomplishment, Helene's daughters, Hannah, Elizabeth, Monique, Jacqueline and Catherine have recently committed to the establishment of the An Family Foundation whose goal will be the preservation of Vietnamese artistic traditions and the support of young Vietnamese artists.
The An Family, an inspiring story of riches to rags and riches again, anxious to assume the role of unofficial Ambassadress' sharing the beauty and wonder of Vietnam, past and future while passionately working to insure that their country's vast and rich culture and artistic traditions are not lost.
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