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— Self-worth

Sandy Truong An Tran Ho

The chef, food stylist, and founder of Sandita’s who believes in therapy and is very grateful for it. Together, Sandy and Jayme cook a shrimp larb while chatting about mental health in the chef space, building a thick skin, and going to therapy for yourself and also for your staff.

Chef Sandy Truong An Tran Ho's knives in a sheet pan

How did you get your start and what did that look like for you? I just watched The Bear and heard that it’s pretty accurate. But obviously, I have no experience of being a chef. What does that look like for you?

The Bear is very accurate and it definitely brought on some anxiety for me. I cried watching. I didn’t start in food; I wanted to be an artist. I studied fine art and did my honors year, so that was a four-year degree. And then, when I finished, I became really jaded by the art world and found myself sitting in a gallery, waiting for someone to have a conversation with me. Meanwhile, when I was working in bars and restaurants to pay the bills, I’d walk in, and it would be completely opposite, where everyone had an opinion about what I looked like, how I cut, what I liked to eat, all of it. I was so attracted to that. I was attracted to anyone having an opinion or wanting to communicate and wanting to have a conversation about what I was doing versus making art and not having anyone converse over it.

Chef Sandy Truong An Tran Ho's art and cutting board on her kitchen counter

Give me more of an example of that. Was that something that was hard for you to hear?

Both. I was very much about learning how to properly cut and store things. I learned a lot of hard lessons in a very aggressive way from male mentors, male chefs, and other male cooks in my vicinity. It didn’t feel hard because it toughened my skin. And I was very competitive at that time. I was so hungry to get to the top and learn as much as I can and be better than them. So in a big way, it challenged me.

How was your self-worth during that time? And how has it evolved?

My self-worth during that time was not great. And it's definitely something that I'm still working through. And that's from being in the kitchen and never feeling worthy or good enough. Also, doublefold from the art world, where I never felt like my opinion mattered. What I was creating mattered, and now, over the years, I've come into more of my own and what I want to do, and the way that I want to do it. The way I want to run a kitchen and seeing the reaction to that in a positive way has encouraged me to continue forging that path for myself. It's probably the biggest thing that I have to work with every single day and it changes every day. There are days that it feels great because I am surrounded by incredible people who encourage me and inspire me and there are days where I feel like I'm just not good enough.

During the pandemic, it was really hard to grapple with what my worth was without cooking if the world's going to shut down and I don't get to cook and express myself in this way. If this is my craft and my art, then who am I? Specifically, through the pandemic, I started my company. I started my company before that, but I dove into it in a way that was taking the bull by its horns and unabashedly being myself with it. And I've found great success from it, which feels awesome.

Chef Sandy Truong An Tran Ho's kitchen table with candles and an oyster mushroom

I actually want to go back because you said that in the show The Bear, you cried. I'm wondering if you can unpack that a little bit.

I remember at that time in my life, there was no major goal to have a restaurant or anything. I was wanting to learn and really be the best and I didn't see beyond that. Within that scope, it was hard to have chefs scream at you all day and have people push you around and have men saying derogatory things to you, treat you like one of the bros, and then also not. They leave you out of things because you're a woman. Those were the feelings that came up.

Did you have to work on that? Did you even know that this was something that was affecting you? Or did you just think, this is how it is, I’m just going to go with the flow?

Definitely, the latter of this is just how it is. I’m going to have to go with the flow. And to be completely honest, I don’t even think that until maybe five, or six years ago, I understood the concept of mental health in the kitchen. It’s become a lot more prevalent of a concept in the world. A lot more people are talking about it and diving in.

Also, I go to therapy. That’s something that I am really proud of and feel really grateful to have the means to do. It’s not that it wasn’t discussed; there was just no name to it. There was no name for having a mental health situation. It was very much the latter of what you were saying of just deal with it. Move on, you’re wasting someone’s time. The majority of my time in the kitchen has been amazing. For me to run my own business in this way, I’ve been able to forge my own path with how to deal with mental health amongst myself and my staff. I started therapy when I started to have employees.

Chef Sandy Truong An Tran Ho's cooking books on her kitchen counter

Obviously, everyone goes to therapy for different reasons, but that's really amazing. I've never heard someone say that in that way.

This is what therapy is good for, encouraging your cooks to do well, even though you're watching the whole time.

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