Returning the Flavor

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Photo Courtesy of Chef Jack Lee

Chef Jack Lee brings joy – and American cooking – to the lost children of Vietnam.

Known in Hollywood for his culinary expertise and within Vietnam as the host and judge of numerous top cooking shows, Celebrity Chef Jack Lee is now taking on his third charity Toy Drive – a mission of love that goes beyond gourmet kitchens and star-studded dining tables to bring smiles to the faces of orphaned children in Vietnam.

Photo Courtesy of Chef Jack Lee

“I got separated from my mom during the war,” says Chef Jack at a special brunch for volunteers, sponsored by Mạ Quán restaurant. “During that time, cooking was what kept me alive and kept me thinking of my family, back to the happy times. So I feel I can relate to these kids who’ve lost their parents. That’s why I want to give back, why every year when I come back to Vietnam from the States, I want to bring a little joy to these kids.”

Photo Courtesy of Chef Jack Lee

While Chef Jack’s professional work journey has involved transforming Asian street food into haute cuisine for the likes of Angelina Jolie and Oprah Winfrey, his private life has focused on touching hearts and changing lives in more profound ways. Since his return to Vietnam in 2014, he has dedicated a significant part of his life to charitable work, partnering with organizations such as CMI’s heart transplant initiative and KOTO’s career training for homeless children to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.

This year’s toy drive saw Chef Jack and his team visiting several Vietnamese orphanages armed with toys and the ingredients to cook a hearty meal – good old American fried chicken with a side of mac n’ cheese – aiming to bring a touch of happiness and memories of care for these children.

Photo Courtesy of Chef Jack Lee

Supported by friends from the US and Vietnam (including Wonderland Toys, Aviva Pharmacy and The Cotton & Silk, among others), the event was a testament to the power of community and care in social impact. With core funding raised through the efforts of Chef Jack’s daughter, Angela Lee, this year the team was able to extend their reach to more orphanages, delivering not only toys but also an American culinary experience uncommon in such settings. The menu – a novelty for kids used to more traditional Vietnamese fare – was met with considerable excitement by the children.

Photo Courtesy of Chef Jack Lee

“The kids in Vietnam love cheese!” laughs Chef Jack. “You make cheese and macaroni with a little bit of bacon and chicken, and they’ll down it! At these orphanages, they usually only eat rice and veggies, but we wanted to throw in something with a little Western style as a treat.”

The drive is not just about the toys or the meals, but the connection and the message it conveys. Jack’s commitment to his charity work is also a lesson in humility and the impact of individual actions.

“I don’t want it to be too big – I’m not here to ‘save Vietnam’, this is all just to bring a little happiness to children,” says Chef Jack. “It’s like that line from the movie Bruce Almighty, ‘one act of random kindness at a time’, to help the community and to help the kids in Vietnam. So that’s where I’m coming from.”

Photo Courtesy of Chef Jack Lee

As the toy drive continues to grow each year with plans to secure more sponsorship and support, Jack Lee’s efforts to return a little joy to the country of his birth stand as a call to action for others to join hands in making a difference. Jack Lee’s work is a testament to the chef’s belief in the power of food and kindness to heal and unite – a journey of returning the favor, one meal and one toy at a time.


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