Mum’s the word for creative caterer who’s staying true to her heritage


In 2017, she launched An Choi serving Vietnamese street food from a customised wooden cart outside Café Fez in Myrtleford. The opportunity came about after a conversation with the owner’s daughter.

“It was a pop-up arrangement four days a week,” says Ms Nguyen-Orchiston. “The owners were very supportive and mentored me along the way. Their attitude was that this was beneficial for both businesses.”

Selling out in just three days, Ms Nguyen-Orchiston discovered an eager market for traditional Asian cuisine. Still, it’s been a steep learning curve as a first-time business owner and her advice to newcomers would be to “start small”.

Before An Choi, she tested the waters by teaching Vietnamese cooking classes at Quercus, a community centre in nearby Beechworth.

With a thriving business, Ms Nguyen-Orchiston swapped her wooden cart for a marquee which enabled her to travel freely to local pubs, festivals and events throughout Victoria’s north east. The next chapter is operating her very own restaurant in Myrtleford.

Ms Nguyen-Orchiston admits she’s gregarious by nature, and perhaps much of her success can be attributed to her knack for creating opportunities as well as community support.

“I’ve found people want you to be successful,” she says. “So if you say I’ve got this idea, people are like ‘how can we help you?’ Also connect to community groups. Talk to anybody in the food industry.”

By connecting with others, she discovered that both the RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) and Food Safety Supervisor courses were offered in Myrtleford. She’s also been attending a government initiative called “Startup Shakeup” which encourages innovation and entrepreneurship. It’s here that she met a mentor who is going to help her create a retail range of sauces and marinades.

Of course, nothing goes off without a hitch. Ms Nguyen-Orchiston laughs when she talks about the time she left her new plant-based containers in the sun and they melted. She’s also changing her recipes to be gluten free as she’s found that about 30 per cent of her customers are gluten intolerant. Customer feedback has been an important factor in shaping her business.

Franca Norris, the regional guide for Maeve O’Meara’s High Country Safari, is not at all surprised by Ms Nguyen-Orchiston’s success. Ms Norris has lived in Myrtleford all her life and believes that an increase in tourism and specialty producers have enabled businesses like An Choi to be financially viable.

Ms Norris is first-generation Italian and her family have been foraging for wild mushrooms for many generations. Her mushroom expertise has enabled her to forge relationships with local chefs and tour operators. She believes opportunities abound in the region, especially for those who has something authentic to offer.

“Ann has remained true to her culture and traditional food,” says Ms Norris. “Locals relate to her and support her hard work.”

Drawing on her culture, it’s as simple as this for Ms Nguyen-Orchiston: “Whenever I make a dish I always think, would my mum approve of this? If she would be happy with me serving this, then that’s OK.”

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