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Photo Courtesy of Piggy Smalls

May 18, 2017

The Dynamic Duo: Andrew & Mama Le

Andrew Le is a busy man these days. As the head chef and founder of The Pig and the Lady and Piggy Smalls, Andrew has managed to fit a decade's worth of achievements and milestones into a few short years. In 2013, Andrew—with a mountain of help from his family and friends—opened his first restaurant, The Pig and the Lady, and the entire city soon began to swoon over his unique and light-hearted take on Vietnamese cuisine. Sometime after appearing on a myriad of international cooking shows and being dubbed Best New Restaurant by Honolulu Magazine, Andrew and his wife had a baby. All of this, in the span of a few years, is clearly enough to make a sane man made. So just how does he do it?

He has a lot of help from his Mama.

As it turns out, Chef Andrew's mother - affectionately known as Mama Le - has been integral to the success of the restaurants. According to Chef Andrew, from the very beginning, it was Mama Le who helped kindle his love of cooking. When the family immigrated to Hawai'i from Vietnam as refugees, Mama Le preserved the down-home recipes of their homeland, whipping up mouthwatering meals and supporting her family's lifelong love affair with all things food.

It was with this appreciation of his culinary heritage that led Chef Andrew to create The Pig and the Lady and eventually, Piggy Smalls at Ward Village. After graduating from high school, Chef Andrew attended the esteemed Culinary Institute of America and worked his way through some very prestigious kitchens, eventually finding himself a coveted role at Chef Mavro. As knowledgeable and steeped in high-end gourmet cuisine as anyone in the city, Chef Andrew was living the dream. But still, he yearned for something else. He had to start his own restaurant, built upon his mother's recipes and knowledge, melded with his own culinary know-how. Not long after, The Pig and the Lady was born, first as a pop up and then in a brick-and-mortar location. The success of these restaurants helped catapult how the world viewed Honolulu's food scene.

Before I started the Pig and the Lady, I took a look at where I was and where I wanted to be. At the end of the day, I really wanted to cook the kind of food that my mom made us growing up, but with a bit of my own personality mixed in. So, after talking with my mom, we started The Pig and the Lady. My mom is the lady, and I'm the pig. 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.

Chef Andrew Le

Working with Mama Le, Chef Andrew helped to rediscover some of the age-old techniques from his family in Vietnam. By blending his mother's knowledge and know-how with his own magic, great things happened, yielding one of the most popular restaurants in the state.

"My mom 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."

Take a look at the busy kitchens within Piggy Smalls or the Pig and the Lady and there's a good chance you'll find Mama Le in the mix, busily directing other chefs and ensuring that nothing leaves the kitchen that's not up to her standards. "My mom really is an amazing person," adds Chef Andrew, "and there's no way that we would be here today without her."

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Piggy Smalls

1200 Ala Moana Blvd.

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