Tram Mai Dishes on the Valley and Her Mom’s Spring Rolls
You probably know Tram Mai as the amiable former co-anchor of the morning news on KPNX Channel 12. It was a position she held from 2003 until this past January, when she graduated to hosting an afternoon lifestyle show called Valley Dish.
The premise of Valley Dish is simple: Engage the viewer with family-friendly local news, events and happenings. And prepare a meal that viewers can cook along with from start to finish during the 30-minute show. As Tram Mai says, “The show does mealtime in real time.” On average, at least half the show is taken up with cooking and/or talking about food and restaurants.
How did Mai feel about going from anchoring hard news to hosting a lifestyle show?
“I’ve wanted to be on television since I was a little girl. My goal was to anchor the news in a major TV market. I realized that dream when I came to Phoenix. I loved what I was doing but this show gives me an opportunity to try out other things.”
Mai says she’s always been “passionate about food” but she had little time to pursue that passion because of work constraints. When she was the news co-anchor, her alarm went off at 2 a.m. Although Mai was usually home by mid-morning, getting up that early left her with little energy to feed her passion for food. Opportunities for socializing and investigating the restaurant scene were limited by an unusually early bedtime. She satisfied her yearning to learn more about food by watching the Food Network and reading cookbooks.
All that has changed since she took over her new post. Now she has the chance to be an active participant instead of just an observer.
Most days Mai arrives at the station about 9 a.m. First she checks e-mail, and then does some writing and editing before calling the guest chef for the day. The show is live and pretty much unscripted.
“Like the time I picked up the hot pot without an oven mitt,” she says. “You can’t write a script for that!”
Mai still gets to do some news and research and write stories, but what she really loves about her new job is that she gets to cook—sometimes alongside the Valley’s best-known chefs. One of the perks is learning how to cook the recipes demonstrated by the chefs.
“My in-laws were just here for a visit. We took them to a few local restaurants but I was happy to cook for them now that I have some really good recipes from the show,” says Mai.
Mai has been married to Steve Kraus, owner of Press Coffee at City North, since 2008. They describe themselves as homebodies who enjoy cooking together. Now that Tram’s schedule allows her the time to shop for ingredients and prepare a meal when she gets home from work, they say they prefer doing that to going out.
She gravitates towards Italian food, especially meatballs and spaghetti and lasagna. Mai’s even learned to make a “mean marinara sauce” since she started enhancing her cooking repertoire. “I’m much more confident in the kitchen since I started the show. I’ve learned a lot from the chefs and from the home cooks who’ve prepared meals on the show. I have learned the most from Linda Hopkins, owner of Les Petites Gourmettes, whom I call for advice all the time,” says Mai.
With her newfound confidence and newly acquired skills, Mai and her husband enthusiastically cook for their friends. Mai’s specialty (see recipe) is a dish based on her mother’s Vietnamese spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce. She’s tweaked it a little and is still working on the peanut sauce (although I think it’s already the best peanut sauce I’ve ever tasted).
The spring rolls are de rigueur when guests come over. Tram preps all the veggies, cooks the shrimp and pork and mixes up the peanut sauce in advance. That’s when the preparation becomes participatory as she invites guests into the kitchen to roll their own spring rolls.
Tram’s career moves had taken her to Ohio and Florida before coming to the Valley. One of the reasons Tram was so happy to get the job here in Phoenix was so she could be closer to California and her family.
What does her mother cook for her when she goes home to California? “Pho, but with chicken. And her spring rolls, of course. And a tofu dish with ground pork and eggplant. I’m the only daughter but I might as well be the only child the way my mother treats me when I go home.”
Mai doesn’t consider herself to be an intuitive cook so she relies on recipes. Her favorite cookbook authors are Giada de Laurentis, Rachael Ray and, when she’s feeling particularly adventurous, Ina Garten. In fact, those three along with Paula Deen, Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri are the Food Network stars she’d most like to invite to dinner.
Although Tram and Steve haven’t been in their home long, they have an herb garden already producing the herbs Mai needs for her famous spring rolls as well as her “mean” marinara sauce. In their previous garden they grew watermelon, zucchini, peppers and lettuce and they intend to plant more in this garden as soon as the soil is ready.
If you’re a home cook dreaming of your 15 minutes of fame, get in touch with Tram Mai through the show’s website. Be sure to let us know if you’re chosen to be on the show. You can also follow Mai’s adventures on Twitter.