Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 2: Kim Ly of Café Shoppe Talks Thai Pirates, Plunder, Hitting Icebergs and Coming to America

Kim Ly is owner and chef of Café Shoppe -- not to mention, a total charmer with the customers. See part one of our chef chat here. The food is awesome at Cafe Shoppe, but the place is worth a visit just to hear Ly's coming-to-America story....

EOW: Tell us how you got here!

KL: I'll tell you, but it's a long story! We traveled in a boat to get to here. We landed at an island for about six months...Bidong. It's close to Cambodia. Nobody was there, it was just a few people were there. They were trying to make a campus there for people who were refugees or immigrants.

EOW: This was on your way to America?

KL: Yes. We got caught by pirates too. They pulled our boat out, stranded us, tried to kill us. We had to exchange them with whatever we had in our boat. My father had some gold that we carried with us; he used it as money to exchange for our living.

EOW: Wait, what? What kind of pirates?

KL: Thailand pirates. The bad ones. But we were very fortunate that we had something for them to exchange. Actually, the bad ones almost got us. They would take and rape people and stuff like that. But our boat was very close to the island, so the men there trying to get people in, but making sure they were not pirates. They looked at us and thought we were pirates -- but they saw a lot of children. It was 200 people in our boat. My father was the captain of the boat. Our boat got hit by an iceberg down there and our boat started sinking, and that's when the pirates start chasing us, getting closer. But we were trying to get the engine running. Finally, we got close. That's when the people in the island pulled our boat out and tried to get us, and the pirates went away.

EOW: And then?

KL: They said we can't let you in. There's no food or nothing here. We said we don't have food, but we have gold. We'd rather exchange you for gold. They give us some food -- some ramen noodles and sardines in a can.

EOW: How long did you stay on that island?

KL: Six to eight months. My oldest brother came here as a refugee and made it to the United Houston. He stayed here for four years and got the papers to sponsor us. That's how we were able to get to America, but we had to travel in our own way. We thought we're not going to make it to America.

EOW: How did you make it?

KL: There was an American embassy on this island...we had to stay there until they got all the paperwork. Then once they had all the paperwork, they said, "Okay, you're going to the boat and we're going to take you to Malaysia. You're going to stay in Malaysia for about a week...then fly to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to America."

We flew to America, and the first state we stayed in was Alaska. We found out what the weather "cold" was like. It was all snow. We stayed there a couple of days only, then went straight to Houston, Texas.

EOW: And you've been here...

KL:...ever since then. I was only eight years old at that time.

EOW: When did you start cooking professionally once you got here?

KL: Just six, seven years ago. My mom was a very good cook. She never liked us to get in the kitchen; she always liked us to stay out of the kitchen and she cooks. But every now and then I'd sneak in there and watch her cook. That's when I learned quite a bit - the authentic, the traditional way. When you come to eat in a restaurant nowadays, I find there's not a lot of authentic. But it has reversed now. American people are starting to adapt the authentic food now.

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Tomorrow: to banh mi, and beyond!

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Mandy Oaklander
Contact: Mandy Oaklander