This is a story of three generations of strong willed Vietnamese women who rose from heartbreaking and devastating loss of home and country to building a multi-million dollar food and hospitality conglomerate. It is a story about their unquestionable power of determination and endurance in the process of survival. It is a story about a family who not only survived, but successfully reestablished their new lives in a foreign country and in doing so,
found within themselves a commitment to a heritage and a passion for a tradition, a “Culinary Tradition” which is now the core of the An Family Story. Chef Helene’s imaginative cooking techniques and creative use of immunity-enhancing herbs and spices flourish into healthy, flavorful dishes. Helene’s garlic noodles are still her bestseller at the Crustacean restaurants. Esquire wrote, “And beware—the whole roasted Dungeness crab and garlic noodles could make you cry.”
I prefer flavors and tastes that are simple, refined, and light. My culinary approach is based on the principles of Eastern medicine, rich in anti-oxidants and healthy herbs, made from the finest ingredients, used only when they’re in season and at their freshest. I am uncompromising when it comes to taste and health and I insist that my cuisine not only taste good, but also be good for you. I refer to this balance as the “Yin and Yang of Cooking.” With this philosophy in mind, combined with my simple and elegant approach, I create a signature blend that has remained consistent for over 30 years, and this is the Crustacean culinary philosophy.
The An family allows only relatives in their secret kitchen when they’re preparing the roast Dungeness crab with garlic noodles at their Crustacean restaurants in Beverly Hills and San Francisco. However, we detect that the recipe involves gobs of garlic, some sugar in the deliciously addictive noodles and–despite this being a Vietnamese dish–butter and Parmesan cheese. Whatever the formula is, it works. The two restaurants sell about 600 crabs a day. So don a bib, dive in and get your fingers messy.
“DISH OF THE MONTH”
The family story reads like a Dickens novel. It abounds with excitement, romance, heartbreak, mystery and ultimately happiness. From riches to rags and back to riches, so their pendulum has swung. Faith in themselves, a stoic streak of optimism and a printer’s error resulted in the name “Thanh Long”. Rather than being the ‘Ascending Dragon’, founding An, Diana’s original name, a typo inadvertently created the “Green Dragon”. Recognizing that this was a symbol of good fortune and prosperity, Diana, with great foresight, decided to keep the name Thanh Long. Of course, the rest is history, and a sparkling one at that. Crustacean, San Francisco was born from this, followed later with the opening of as second Crustacean, in Beverly Hills.
Profiles in Innovation From menu to management, Crustacean’s Helene An makes business a family affair. As the daughter of a politically connected Vietnamese aristocrat, Helene An was being groomed to be a good wife and the consummate hostess. Instead, An, her husband and three daughters were forced to flee from the Communist regime in 1975. They arrived in San Francisco and were virtually penniless. An worked nights at Thanh Long, a small Italian deli owned by her mother-in-law. “Slowly, slowly, we introduced Vietnamese foods, like spring rolls and barbecue,” An says. “Very simple things I thought Americans would like to eat.” An’s gamble on her native cuisine struck a chord and Thanh Long was expanded several times, growing from twenty seats to two hundred to meet the demand. An met similar success in 1991 when she opened Crustacean, an upscale Vietnamese restaurant; a second Crustacean followed in 1997, this time in Beverly Hills..
“CREATING A CULINARY DYNASTY”
Chef Helene An, also known as “Mama An”,
cooks her popular ‘Shaken Beef’ dish at Thanh Long,
one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in San Francisco.
Check out the recipe.