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Between raising her son and moving between multiple business ventures, Cuc Lam simply did not have time to pursue her passion for cooking in any formal sense. Finding the opportunity to showcase her homestyle Thai-Vietnamese cuisine around Houston had not always been so easy. Once a middle school English teacher, then an IT systems engineer in the oil and gas industry, this Mississippi-born, Chinese-Vietnamese home cook found a new way to blend her love for food with her love of community.
“I just pick up the phone, or get on Facebook, find the person and ask – and they are more than willing to give me a chance,” she explained. “I was laid off, and I thought this was my chance to do what I really love to do.”
Cuc had already begun her popular blog JustCucIt as a personal journal to keep recipes for her son who had moved away for college. With her newfound free time and more than two decades of experience cooking for her family, she decided to embark on a new adventure. Cuc became a private chef on Feastly, a website that connects food enthusiasts and diners with local chefs in their area. By opening her home and hosting private dinners, Cuc began to connect with the food community around her—and connect she did. Fast forward to two years later and Cuc is fully engaged with the food-centric communities Houston has become the known for.
Cuc also writes as a freelancer for the Houston Press. She amassed a large following on both sides of the kitchen line. Drawing inspiration from the dishes and flavors she finds most comforting, Cuc has carved out a niche for herself as a pop-up chef at local bars and event spaces with the help of organizations like Houston’s Aces of Taste, which hosts private chef experiences for local foodies in the know.
As of 2017, Cuc has hosted over 75 dinners and fed nearly 1000 strangers in about two years time.
“A lot of the time you are getting people from different walks of life that would never have sat across the table from one another and through their shared love of food have bonded… have shared a unique experience – and that’s what the essence of a pop-up is,” she said. “I was telling my son the other day that I think for the first time in my life, I am truly, truly happy.”