We had the good fortune of connecting with Sandy Ho and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sandy, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
My food is my story. And the food I cook is deeply personal – everything from sourcing (or foraging), to the relationship I have with my farmers and the continual uncovering of my Vietnamese heritage through nostalgic experiences with new and old friends.
Without my unique story and all the people who are a part of it, I don’t know if the connection to my audience would mean the same. As long as I can keep changing, learning and growing alongside curious minds with experiences that resonate, I’ll feel successful.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m a chef and food stylist with a background in Fine Arts. I have been cooking my entire life and as a child was witness to the romance my parents had with food. This was infectious in our family; eating together and sharing food was and still is one of the most sacred times in any day for me. My parents are the biggest inspirations to the way I care for the people I love – with food, always with food.
In my early 20s I was working in a stable restaurant job whilst still dabbling in making art and was very ready to take a leap of faith. I was yearning to learn more about food however didn’t find the trajectory of moving from one kitchen to the next very inspiring. So I booked a cabin on a sailing trip in the Pontine islands of Italy with NY based company The Sailing Collective. And my life really took a turn, I spent all week cooking for my new friends on this trip and eventually spent the next 2 and a half years working with this sailing company as their on board chef. I met people from all around the world, worked with farmers, discovered invaluable experiences in cooking with locals, saw places that I couldn’t have even dreamed of seeing. These trips taught me so much about resilience, resourcefulness and connection. It taught me about people and about myself.
During these years, I split my time between NY and Barcelona, NY for winter sailing in the Caribbean and Barcelona for summer sailing in the mediterranean. As much as I loved this lifestyle, I was very much craving home. I missed a real place to unpack my bags, to have community and to cook in my own kitchen. While I was home visiting Australia after my last sailing trip, a friend I met on a sailing trip reached out and offered me a chef position at his pop up in Santa Monica. I went back and forth on the idea for a moment, really questioning whether it was conducive to my plans of finding a home. I decided to take the opportunity and have never looked back. I landed in Venice, California and spent the following two weeks cooking, visiting the farmers market and feeling inspired by the palette of produce here. It became clear that this is where I wanted to be.
That was about 4 years ago now and here I am today with Sandita’s, a collective expression of my experiences.
Before our Rainbow Dumplings went viral and well before the pandemic, Sandita’s began as a backyard dinner series. A series that explored home cooking with an open door and a wood burning fire. A place to share food with strangers, old friends and loved ones. A long table featuring dishes from my family recipes alongside fresh Californian produce and lovingly crafted sauces for passing down the table. This dinner was fun! we always had music blasting and we always had room for one more!
However when Covid-19 prevented these ongoing dinners, I continued to cook and pivoted to delivery. Week after week, I would have dumplings on the menu. I experimented with natural food powders, juices and called in my artist background to find ways of bringing joy in a time where there were so many unknowns.
The Sandita’s Rainbow Dumplings are truly a labor of love and what got me through a pandemic. The fillings are nostalgic of my childhood and of my travels and change seasonally in support of local farmers. Every part of these hand made gems are joy and love and nostalgia.
While Rainbow Dumplings remain a customer favorite, I’m also gearing up for Sandita’s next chapter. This Summer and beyond, Sandita’s will be offering menus that reflect the bold, fresh, spicy and unctuous flavors of my Vietnamese heritage. We’re talking, whole grilled fish with pineapple peanut sauce, sticky rice, hand salads, my Mum’s best Ca Ri Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Curry) and of course those Rainbow Dumplings!
Another facet of Sandita’s is our strong mission to remain community-oriented. We donate a portion of our sales each month to organizations that help support our community via food sovereignty work, sustainability, education and community outreach. This month, to honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month we will be donating to Center for the Pacific Asian Family, a local organization that builds healthy and safe spaces within the Asian and Pacific Islander communities against domestic violence and sexual assault.
Alongside this, we are always looking for ways to support our peers; to uplift and share the work of our friends in the food and wine space.
Every month we partner with local winemakers, taste their favorite vintage and create a unique Rainbow Dumpling pairing. This is part of our ongoing “Dumpling & Wine Club”. Each Dumpling & Wine bundle features a pack of 12 Rainbow Dumplings, a bottle of wine and a hand-dyed napkin. We’ve recently collaborated with Lorenza Rose and Good Boy Wine. And are very excited to announce our May collaboration which will feature a bottle of Helen’s Wine!
I’m truly proud of the business that I’ve built, not every day is perfect or easy. In fact, most days require that I’m pulled in many different directions! Whilst still maintaining growth for Sandita’s, I continue working as a private chef and food stylist. So overcoming the challenge of balance is an everyday choice for me.
And through it all I’ve learnt and continue to learn the power of listening to my intuition, staying still in moments of victory and the importance of community. After spending many many years exploring the world on my own solo journey, I realize none of it means a thing without the time to love on the people who encourage, share and love you for who you are. And I’ll never take that for granted.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Dinner at Anajak on a Tuesday – best food in town, some of the kindest and most generous food people I know. Unapologetic spice and fish sauce and always a party with RnB jams!
A road trip to Ojai – visiting all my favourite farmers: a walk through Jim Churchill’s Citrus Orchard, Earthtrine Farm and dinner with one of my favourite people and chefs Chase Elder.
Wednesday morning at the farmers market in Santa Monica – mainly to say hello to Alex Weiser and take all his potatoes
Beach picnic in Malibu – stay till late after sunset, friends coming and going all day long, lots home made snacks and food
A drive up to Tuna Canyon – I’ll cook something with Seatopia fish out the back of my car, we’ll watch sunset
Visit Wine and Eggs Shop – for weekend wine, cheese and really anything in that shop
Brunch at Gjusta – likely hungover and needing the meatball sandwich, any of the flatbreads and a large plate of the chopped Italian salad
Wine with friends at my house – a playlist of boppy love songs that make life feel peachy
Orange wine all week long, food with soul, spice and fish sauce, new music and old classics and anywhere by the water 🙂
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The Sandita’s team: Gavin Runzel, Becca Chairin, Kellie Kawamoto
This tiny but mighty team, work so hard everyday to help me bring Sandita’s to life. They mean so much to me and I’m so lucky to share Sandita’s success with them.
My parents: Thi Ngoc Dung Tran and Thanh Van Ho
They’ve taught me everything I know and continue teach me about love everyday.
Other: @ssanditas for Rainbow Dumplings and other joyful creations
Last photo – one of my back turned in the kitchen – Gary Askew @glaskewii All other photos are taken by me.