Welcome to my website. I am the author of ‘Vietnamese – Simple Vietnamese Food To Cook At Home’. I am a photographer and film maker. You can book into my supper club, Vietnamese cooking classes, buy my book, check out my photography and lots more here.
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I first met my friend Beni in New York in 1998. My friend Anja Siemens and I were at Central St Martins in our second year but ran off to Manhattan for a real education and became production assistants (coffee makers). At the time, I had fallen in love with the Assistant Director of the short film. Beni was the Director Of Photography and he fell in love at first sight with my friend, Anja.
They are now married, after traveling and living in London, they decided to move to Berlin to raise their wonderful son, Lavi. It was Beni’s 40th birthday last week and I flew over to see them for a big garden celebration.
The weather was perfect. I helped Anja & Beni with some of the food planning and as a special request from Beni, I made Bo La Lot – the lemongrass beef and peanut stuffing rolled in betel leaves.
Many friends gathered from all over the place. Anja & Beni hired tables for the garden, making a long connection of some of their friends and family together and Beni barbecued all the meats and kebabs (like men so love to do), then ate all alone on a lone table. It was hilarious!
Beni on a lone table enjoying the food
It is so often that the hosts are usually starving as they have to look after everybody on the day – but this is what making a party is about – its more about making sure everyone has a good time and that is enough to make you smile and be happy on your special day. its already so great that people come to be with you!
They were amazing and prepped all the food over night. The secret to a good party is to have all this ready, make food that can sustain this and to spend the actual day just tying up the strings and having a good time and not panic over a hot stove.
Beni is a great guy. A fantastic father and husband to my friend. I love this family to bits and feel so privileged and proud to be their friend as I respect them in every way.
They have their own place in Berlin of which they helped to design. I am told that life in Berlin is of a very good quality and you can live very well on little money. Over the years, Anja and Beni, through their amazing works as photographers, film makers, cinematographer and film cutter have travelled many places in the world and have collected some wonderful things for their home.
Even Lavi’s toys are unique and Anja displays things like the theatres of great interiors magazines and somehow manages to keep it all looking neat and tidy. Every time I go to her place, its like walking into a great picture and I can forever look and look and always see something new, something with a story, something with a feeling. What a great way to educate and bring up a child.
This is a couple who are for me, a perfect match, a wonderful family and they are all about togetherness. No matter what life throws at them, home, family and their love for each other are always the most important things in the world.
Beni in purple gloves
A short story about Beni – he is about 6’5 tall. He has a strong German accent.
One summer’s day before Lavi was born, we all went to Locarno together to a valley to swim in the river streams and hang on the cliffs and rocks of the mountains in between. We were there for the Locarno film festival – one of us must have had a film screening on there – most likely, it was Beni who had shot something and it was shown on the main plaza.
Anyway, I was skinny back then and all dressed up in a little bikini with my little snorkelling gear, laying back and taking sun on the rocks which were about 30 metres above the water. I had no choice but to listen to Anja go on and on about how Beni should get off from the edge of the rocks because it was dangerous. She really didn’t like it that he was so close to the edge and stood chatting away aimlessly with his arms resting behind the smalls of his back.
“I am not going to jump in,” replied Beni, relaxed as always, “I am still wearing my glasses.” “But Beni, please get away from the edge! Its so dangerous!” Whines Anja with fear dripping off each word. “Ok! Ok!” Says Beni like he has just been told off by his mum. And in that split second, as he turned his body to move away from the edge, Beni slipped and fell off the 30 metre high rock. The witness of this and the silence that followed stood still in extreme slow motion until all you could hear, (from me) in a sort of whisper, was, “Huhhh!” and then “Splash!” as Beni eventually fell into the water.
Anja and I looked at each other, in shock, but in her eyes, it was like her own life had flashed before her as she ran to the edge, screaming, “Bennnnnnnnniiiiiiiiiiiii.”
Anja ran as fast as she could somehow down to the river, screaming and crying for her husband. While another guy, a friend of Beni’s dove into the river to try to save him.
Beni was fine. As he fell, he passed a big rock that stuck out and was able to push himself out and into the water. “I’m OK” he yells from the water, his friend following, “I just lost my glasses that is all.”
Phew. For a while, they used my snorkel glasses to find Beni’s glasses and eventually, they did. So we all went up again to get our things and go back to the film festival. Beni picked up the bags and the car keys fell off, slid down the rocks and fell into the water. And the story went on, this time looking for the car keys.
As Beni stood waiting for his friend to find the keys, a spectator stopped to observe. “What are you looking for?” He said to Beni. “My car keys fell in.” “Ah!! Well thats not so bad, earlier, some guy fell into the water!! Imagine! He could’ve been killed!” “Er… yeah, that was me! I fell in.”
To this day, I am still laughing till I cry at this story. I get pains in my belly and everything! I love Anja & Beni so much. Happy Birthday Beni! x