Unspeakable Taste with A Silent Chef

Visiting a vegan restaurant run by a Chef who has taken a permanent vow of silence.

Santa Ana, California. I’m on a trip from Las Vegas with my girlfriend at the time, now my really good friend. We would drive down to California from Las Vegas about once every 2 months to go pickup Chè, a type of Vietnamese dessert that is traditionally dairy-free that uses coconut cream instead of regular milk. As a vegan, this place was heaven to me. I’ve yet to find anything that compares to it and still dream about it till this day.

But this was just the start of our trip, a sweet start at that. We were on a mission to dine at my favorite restaurant of all time, Âu Lạc, in Fountain Valley. On our way there we stopped by a Vietnamese mall that sold Nuoc Rau Ma, a Vietnamese pennywort drink I was in love with at the time(still am, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere, so I try not to think about it.). She opted for the fresh pressed sugarcane juice with freshly squeezed tangerine, another Vietnamese staple.

Reaching the Promised Land

Two $10/hr full-body massages at “Angel Foot” and 50 minutes of driving later, we finally make it to the promised land, Âu Lạc. They open their doors 11:33am-3:33pm for lunch and then again from 5:33pm-9:33pm for dinner… a sign about what we were about to get into. We sit down, upon looking at the exotically worded menu, I am reminded of the feeling I felt when i first moved to the U.S. from Mexico, a feeling related to not knowing what value to attribute to words.

Pho Noodle Soup at Au Lac

Pho Noodle Soup (Photo: Âu Lạc)

The staff was very much helpful in my decision making, and when the food finally arrived, I became overwhelmed with awe and curiosity; I was smelling and poking at the dish whenever I got the chance. Every bite brought layers upon layers of new experience and stimulation to my taste buds. A few minutes into this experience, and out comes an Asian-looking man dressed in what I recognized as Chef’s clothing.

Silent appreciation.

The Chef stuck his hands out and switched from a thumbs up to a thumbs down while holding the equivalent of a question mark as his facial expression. We immediately responded with a huge thumbs up, a smile and rubbed our bellies while explaining how delicious and unique this flavor filled experience he made possible was for us. The chef listened, not only with his ears, but with his face, you could tell he was paying attention to us, experiencing every word just at mindfully as we experienced every taste in his dish. Then, with a huge smile on his face, he bowed and without saying a word, walked away.

Not a single word came out of the Chef’s mouth the whole time he visited us, yet he communicated everything he needed to communicate with us. Soon after, I learned more about the Chef from the staff. His name is Chef Ito, he had taken a bout of silence several years ago and had not said a word. ‘Speech is war’ to Chef Ito, and so wants to be in tune with God twenty-four hours a day”. Amazing.

Chef Ito lets his food speak for him

Photo: Âu Lạc

I had heard of blind people who develop higher sensibility to sound in order to fill the sensational void that comes about with their loss of vision. I wondered, maybe this Chef by giving up a major means of expression, verbal communication, has spent years fortifying a different and more unique means of communication, flavor!

Spicy healing, long-lasting friendship.

If this is the case then he has surely done a good job of it. Six years and one move to NYC later, his restaurant remains my favorite restaurant to this date. After our meal, on our way out, we noticed there was a menu of tinctures and while looking through these, Chef Ito came out from the kitchen and gestured a “hello” in his friendly manner. Chef Ito used gestures to walk us through the effects of each of the tinctures. I mentioned I was having difficulties with my sinuses and immediately he brought out a chili pepper based tincture, he warned through his gestures that it would be spicy, spicy beyond any spiciness I had ever experienced. He held the tincture up to me as if making an offering, and I nodded a “yes”.. He opened his mouth wide, suggesting I do the same, I then tilted my head back, opened my mouth and in he dropped a few drops of what was the spiciest substance I had ever consumed.

I started tearing up, my face turned red… I could feel my sinuses clearing up and after standing my ground against the overwhelming spiciness that ensued, I could finally breathe again! Chef Ito and I became friends. We’ve kept in touch on social media and although he is not much for words he does wonders with emojis. I can’t wait to visit the newer Au Lac location in LA!

Where to Go

Âu Lạc
16563 Brookhurst St
 Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Âu Lạc LA
10 W 1st St
 Los Angeles, CA 90012

This vegan also likes NYC’s vegan favorites.