Dinh-The Vietnamese French Chef

     My surrogate father during our stay in Saigon was a man named Dinh. He was hired as our cook. Little did my parents know that he was a chef trained  in France. He told me as I stood by his side watching him cook he and his family had come from Hanoi in North Vietnam. As a young man he was hired as a kitchen helper in the kitchen of a French General (he was probably in his fifties when he came to work for us) who was in Vietnam for the French Indochina War which was said to have begun in French Indochina on 19 December 1946 and to have lasted until 1 August 1954. We came to Saigon in 1963. Fighting between French forces and their Viet Minh opponents in the South dates from September 1945 on. Dinh was noticed in his employers kitchen as a young man with an aptitude for cooking and loyalty. He was sent to the South of France for one year to study French Cuisine, probably in Marseille. When he returned he was made the Chef de Cuisine and married his childhood sweetheart.  He was able to procure employment for his young wife on the General’s staff as well. They lived in the generals compound and started a family. When the French were ousted from North Vietnam Dinh and his growing family were forced to flee south. His services were not valued by the North Vietnamese military and branded him as somewhat of a traitor. Life was very difficult for the family once they fled and finally being employed by a lowly US Army officer had him feeling more optimistic about the future. He would come to work before I woke up in the morning and would leave after dinner had been served.

He was gentle, patient and very funny. He appeared to enjoy my company as I became his official shadow. One of the first things he taught me was how to make pat a Chou, the dough necessary to make cream puffs.

The puff without the crème would mean very little. So I also learned at his side how to make the pastry cream filling and the chocolate sauce to finish this delicious pastry. He allowed me to turn the dough as it moved away from the sides of the pan and turned just the right color, load the pastry cream into the piping bag and stir the chocolate sauce look for the perfect sheen.

Dinh’s Cream Puff is a hollow round of crisp choux pastry split in half, filled with pastry cream , and drizzled with chocolate. Delicious. And only about 160 calories per serving, if you don’t go heavy on the filling and chocolate sauce.

Pat a Chou for cream puffs

Recipe adapted from Alton Brown‘s recipe on the Food Network website.


  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 stick butter (6 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar plus 1/8 teaspoon salt (for sweet)
  • 5 3/4 ounces flour
  • 1 cup eggs, about 4 large eggs and 2 whites


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

  • Boil water, butter, and salt or sugar.
  • Add flour and remove from heat.
  • Work mixture together and return to heat.
  • Work the dough until all flour is mixed in and dough forms a ball.
  • Transfer mixture into bowl of a standing mixer and let cool for 3 or 4 minutes.
  • With mixer on stir or lowest speeds add eggs, 1 at a time, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before adding the next. This step can be done manually to good effect.
  • Once all eggs are added and the mixture is smooth put dough into piping bag fitted with a round tip.
  • Pipe immediately into 2″  ball size shapes, 2 inches apart onto parchment  or Silpat lined  sheet pans.
  • Cook for 10 minutes@ 425 degrees, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes or until golden brown.
  • Once cream puffs are removed  from the oven pierce the puffs 2/3 up the side with a fork to release steam. (This spot will be used  for filling the puff once cooled).

Pastry Cream Recipe

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Chill : 1 hour


  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8  cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, warm the milk over low heat until it is just hot enough to steam. While the milk is warming, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, flour, and cornstarch until the mixture is completely smooth.

This is an important step. Prepping all of your ingredients in advance is one very good tip for success at this stage. Also move slowly and methodically. Once the milk is steaming, add half of it, whisking constantly, to the egg mixture. Add the milk and eggs back into the hot milk, continue stirring, and heat it for 1-2 minutes, until the custard reaches 170 Farenheit on a digital thermometer and is very thick. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract, and chill before filling pastry.

 Chocolate Sauce

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup  light corn syrup
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
2 ounces organic bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, sugar, corn syrup and cocoa powder.

2. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it’s just begun to simmer and boil, remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until melted.

Serving: You should let the Chocolate Sauce stand for a few hours before serving, which will give it time to thicken a bit.

Drizzle each filled cream puff  or Profiterole with generous portion of chocolate and serve immediately.


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