The Kebab Philosopher

One Frenchman on a mission to clean up the fat in these Turkish sandwiches…

It’s a litle out of the way and, sure, the city is already speckled with dozens of carts around bearing names like Doner Kebab, Aladdin, Kebab Master and so on; but this one is different. It’s actually fresh and healthy. Imagine indulgence sans guilt.

“It’s difficult to explain my product to foreigners because for them kebab is the very definition of fat junk food,” explains Pierre Quentin, the proprietor of four-month-old KST Kebab (76 Lam Van Ben) in District 7. “[Usually] the meat is full of fat, the sauce is full of fat, and then you stuff the whole thing with french fries. I don’t want to do that. When you provide people with food you have a responsibility, and I take that very seriously.”

If those words sound shockingly honest from a fast food salesman, then you’ve never met Pierre in person. His concept stems from his inherent goodness. He wants to provide his customers with a cheap, healthy, tasty product, and he takes great strides to make it happen.

Normally, the chicken used for making kebabs is the fatty dark meat, stored in big boxes filled with spices and oil so that the ingredients will infuse the meat with that signature kebab flavor, but Pierre circumvents this process to make his chicken healthier and tastier.

“Our process doesn’t involve oil at all. We just use the lean part of the chicken breast and we apply our spices directly, so we are able to take oil out of the equation,” he explains.

He also makes the yogurt sauce himself by using fresh milk, using the heat from the sun. His project is intimately connected to the environment: depending on the weather, the consistency of his sauce will change.

“If it’s 45 degrees outside I will have a thicker yogurt sauce, but if it’s cooler, it’s thinner. Thank God it’s hot here most of the time!”

Pierre purposely set up shop outside the central Phu My Hung area because he wanted to attract Vietnamese clients as well, and achieves this by keeping his prices low (a standard kebab costs VND20,000).

He’s still in the process of trying to win the taste and minds of the locals. Many Vietnamese are resistant to this new wacky sandwich, and some of them are even starting to call it “strange food.”

The stranger story, however, is how this Frenchman started selling a Turkish sandwich.

D7 Feature-kebab Philosopher-Image by Quinn Ryan Mattingly-4
“When you provide people with food you have a responsibility, and I take that very seriously”

Streets of Dreams

Pierre flew from France to Vietnam as a tourist five years ago and found a job as a supply chain director for Big C, a large French supermarket chain. However, despite the success of his job, he began to notice the opportunity and dynamism of the street culture was beckoning him.

“Vietnam is still a village. Even the big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are still very human in scale: You can basically live in the street, eat in the street, shop in the street, and then you can find a motorbike taxi to take you home,” he explains. “There is always someone to help you if your bike breaks down or when you are hungry.”

Pierre was inspired by the opportunities he saw. “With no formal education or job training anyone can become a successful businessperson. Someone very poor can come from the countryside, buy some ingredients from a market, and sell something directly on the street. It’s complete freedom for entrepreneurship. It’s like the ‘Vietnamese Dream’.”

While others seek new ways to bring major franchises into Vietnam, he aims to do the opposite and preserve what he sees as central to Vietnamese life.

Even though Pierre didn’t go to culinary school, he had faith in the simplicity of the kebab formula: chicken, fresh vegetables, the right bread and the perfect sauce. The kebab is perfect for someone on the go. The Vietnamese like to eat sandwiches because they can be made quickly, and they don’t cost much. Pierre has confidence he can tap into that same market by providing new flavors.

He’s even cooking up savory crepes with eggs, cheese, and bacon (starting at VND20,000), an homage to his French heritage.

“I wanted to set up something where I could be a part of the street, be a part of this story,” he says. “Some people are quick to scoff at life on the streets by saying that the food is not healthy, the xe om is not safe, the hairdresser gave me a bad haircut or whatever. But I think the best way to experience Vietnamese society is to engage in life on the street.”

D7 Feature-kebab Philosopher-Image by Quinn Ryan Mattingly-6

So, with a serving of philosophy on the side, you can find Pierre living his Vietnamese dream out in District 7.

Images by QUINN RYAN MATTINGLY

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