Vietnamese Canadian Chef Patrick Do’s journey behind the creation of Do Chay restaurant
The story opens with Yen Do, the entrepreneurial brains behind three well-known Vietnamese restaurants where locals flock to satisfy their cravings at: Green Lemongrass, Broken Rice, and Pho Thai Hoa. Yen started her family’s restaurant business in 1987 – just a year before her son Patrick was born. Still running them to this day, it’s no wonder that the young Vietnamese Canadian Chef Patrick Do would ultimately break into and find success in the restaurant industry as the visionary behind Do Chay restaurant.
Yen recalls how as a child, Patrick would help his parents with their restaurant menu. He would also try to decipher the ingredients of each dish by taste. One could say that Chef Do’s penchant for cooking and entrepreneurship began here. But in reality, his passion for cooking didn’t start until much later in life.
A storyteller at heart
Growing up, Patrick saw how hard his parents worked and noted how “tough and unrelenting” the food industry could be. He spent the early part of his twenties distancing himself from that part of life by moving to LA. It was there that he initially pursued a career in writing.
“I always considered myself a storyteller…writing was the one medium where it was pure creation. There’s no boundaries and limits placed on anything… I enjoyed the pure act of creation and that’s the kind of approach I try to take with cooking as well.”
A self-taught cook, Patrick credits his education, cooking techniques and recipes to his mom.
“She was the one who taught me everything,” he fondly recalls, “…when I first started in the kitchen, she would pull me aside and show me how to do a dish.”
Years later, the young entrepreneur surprised his mother by finally venturing into cooking. He quickly became aware of the amount of time and work that came with prepping food. With this realization also came a deep appreciation for culinary nuance. Whether it was nailing down just the right ingredients to make the perfect fish sauce, or understanding what it means when a recipe calls for a “pinch of salt.”
That discernment and skill is integral to the uniqueness of Do Chay (in Vietnamese, the phrase literally translates to “vegetarian things”). The restaurant quickly gained recognition from local Vancouverites for its vegan and vegetarian options. Do Chay also earned the respect of the Vietnamese community – a feat that the Vietnamese Canadian chef regards as the proudest accomplishment of his life, despite his lifelong struggle to connect with his Vietnamese heritage.
Feeling out of place
“I didn’t identify [with] being Asian for the first 23 years of my life,” Chef Do admits. “… I didn’t feel any sense of connection to being Vietnamese and a lot of that is because when I was a kid, I was a lot bigger.”
Being thin and petite is a revered beauty standard in Vietnamese culture. As a teenager, he often felt self-conscious and out of place as he was insulted and teased about his towering 5’11” stature by other Vietnamese people.
While it comes from a tough love mentality that’s inherent in Vietnamese culture, it was also something that he began to miss when he was in LA.
“Coming back, I tried to embrace the Vietnamese side of my culture and find my roots… the thing I discovered is that it’s somewhere in between,” the chef reflects. “You’re just not Vietnamese or Canadian, you’re a little bit of everything and you’re a product of all of those things and I try to take that with me in my cooking.”
A turning point – the creation of Do Chay
Before Do Chay, there was House Special – Patrick’s first restaurant, which served modern upscale Vietnamese fare including duck confit frybread and Hanoi Pork on Vermicelli, while not straying from fan favourites like Pho and spring rolls.
“It was midnight on my birthday,” Patrick recalls, “I was deboning quail carcasses and was so unhappy.” He ended up cutting his finger — a pivotal moment where he decided he didn’t want to cook meat anymore.
This moment became “the genesis of Do Chay.”
This time around, it was important for the Vietnamese Canadian chef that Do Chay wasn’t just a restaurant, but a place that made people happy through great food. This was a fundamental approach that he adopted from his mother – and the lesson paid off.
Since 2020, Vancouver Magazine’s annual Restaurant Awards has nominated Do Chay consecutively for three accolades. The restaurant has received plaques for “Best New Restaurant” and “Best Vegetarian,” with a third nomination for “Best Vietnamese Restaurant” — a life accomplishment that the Vietnamese Canadian chef is most proud of.
“I would trade those two [plaques] for the piece of paper that said we were the third best Vietnamese restaurant in the city,” he beamed, “because that was a goal that I didn’t think was possible. The community – Vietnamese people – embraced it. I’ve never experienced a community coming together in that way before.”
It’s an accomplishment that he wouldn’t trade for anything else.
The story continues
Despite so many accolades achieved over a short period of time, Chef Do remains humble about his success. For the Vietnamese Canadian entrepreneur, the feeling of being accepted and welcomed with open arms by the Vietnamese community is invaluable.
“I feel content but I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished everything that I want to do,” Patrick reflects. “I’m hopeful that down the line I can pass something really significant down to the next generation – and that’s really all I want to do.
Based on how his story is unfolding, it’s clear that he’s well on his way to paving the way for future generations to come.
To see more episodes of the Making It documentary, visit our YouTube. Episodes releasing weekly starting May 4, 2022.
Cold Tea Collective proudly presents Making It, While Making a Difference, celebrating Asian Canadians who are following their dreams while uplifting their communities. This production was created with the support of TELUS STORYHIVE.
Thank you to the staff of Do Chay Restaurant for their support in making this video.
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