Social media and the Internet have opened a whole new dimension to our world. There is almost nothing you can not find or do.
One who has taken advantage of these opportunities is Rochester's Justine Nguyen, who in a short period has become a cooking sensation on YouTube. At last count, she had 18,376 subscribers and 1.5 million views from all over the world.
There's more: She has more than 65,000 followers on Instagram, and the week we met, there had been 997,135 impressions, meaning her entries on Instagram were viewed that many times.
The reason for Nguyen's popularity and success seems obvious. Clearly, she is an expert at what she does, both the cooking and the presentation. Nguyen's specialty is Vietnamese cuisine. (She came from Vietnam as a small child, immigrated to Canada and has been in Rochester since 2010.) Food, its preparation and presentation, has always been a big part of her life.
"My mother had to feed a growing family, and she did so from scraps with whatever we could get or what was given to us, Spam being one thing," Hguyen said. "All my sisters and my brother are excellent cooks, and we credit our mother 's influence for that. In fact, my older sister was cooking for us when she was 10 and I would watch her, take notes and draw pictures of what she was doing."
As the family settled in Edmonton, her parents opened several restaurants in which all the family were involved, from the kitchen to the front of the house. Initially the family's strong entrepreneurial spirit led Nguyen into other businesses, including construction, subcontracting, flipping houses and even day spas. However, her main focus was always food.
"When I moved here, I really missed my mother's cooking and would call her for recipes," she said. "Then when I cooked her specialties for my friends they would ask for the recipes and wanted to learn about ingredients and techniques. That's when I decided I would post the recipe and show how it was done, and that is really how my business began."
Since 2012, she has made over 143 videos, all filmed in her kitchen, often with the assistance of husband Dennis Douda, a former WCCO-TV anchor. Nguyen is a natural, explaining steps involved in a particular dish clearly and concisely. The finished presentations are stunning.
With such a large audience are there viewer favorites? She mentions spring rolls, lemon grass chicken, Vietnamese crab soup, plum sauce and a new entry, Cajun Seafood Boil. "That was a dish we had in Minneapolis recently and she came home and put it together. She has the uncanny ability to taste something and then replicate the ingredients and flavors almost exactly," Douda said.
She also often points out the healthy aspects of Vietnamese dishes.
"There is a big focus on everything being fresh — the vegetables, the fish, the meats. If something isn't fresh, I won't use it. Dietary restrictions are easier to control with these kinds of ingredients and recipes. It's also easier to lose weight eating these types of food."
Is there a favorite kitchen tool she has to have? "Chopsticks! I use them for everything from stirring, mixing, eating and even to hold back my hair" — different sets of course. "They are really my multi-purpose tool."
What does she see in her future — maybe a restaurant? "Definitely not!"
But what she would eventually like is to develop is a product line of her own with sauces and spices. At the moment, she is working with several product sponsors and is developing a menu for a Minneapolis restaurant. A cookbook is something she also has in mind.
Her own TV show? Maybe. Stay tuned and remember her name.