Qui Tran of Mai Lee (8396 Music Memorial Drive, Brentwood; 314-645-2835), doesn't place himself among the St. Louis chefs he so admires.
"I respect those guys and love them to death," he told me when we sat down earlier this week. "I can't do what they do. I'm a self-taught cook. I learned from my mother. They create stuff. I just imitate stuff."
Anyone who has eaten at Mai Lee -- and that's more than a few of you, if the daily crowds at St. Louis' first Vietnamese restaurant are any indication -- would disagree. Tran's food is a tribute to his mother, who founded the restaurant in University City in late 1984, but if you know nothing of Mai Lee's remarkable history, you will still find it delicious.
Here Tran shares the recipe for one of Mai Lee's essential condiments, peanut sauce.
makes 4 cups
peanuts, toasted and crushed ½ cup sugar ½ cup vinegar 1¼ cup hoisin sauce 1 cup water 2 tablespoons sambal
1. Mix vinegar and sugar together until the sugar dissolves.
2. Pour in the hoisin, water and sambal.
3. Stir it all together and add the toasted crushed peanuts on top