Germaine welcomed brother Albert after he arrived at Dulles International Airport in Virginia. Photo by Dick Swanson
There were other times when the immigrants forgot that they weren’t back home. A few weeks after their arrival, Pressman gave Germaine the use of her house while she was gone for a month on vacation. The brothers moved in temporarily.
Germaine stopped by to visit one day. “I saw one brother working in the garden and didn’t think about it,” she says. It was a typical way to repay a favor in Vietnam. “But when I got inside, they were painting her kitchen and fixing all the windows.” No one had asked Sandy if she wanted her kitchen painted.
“We also gave the cat a bath,” Rene said. Cats weren’t considered pets in Vietnam. To Germaine’s brothers, it was no different than hosing down a goat or a horse.
“That cat was never the same,” Pressman says now as she laughs at the memory.
Adjusting to life in America hadn’t been easy for Germaine, either. “I couldn’t get good Chinese food here,” she says. Worse, the MSG sprinkled everywhere gave her painful allergic reactions.
Dick and Germaine visiting Hanoi. Photo by David Hume Kennerly
In 1976, she began conducting cooking classes in her home. At one point she taught six days a week, boasting a roster of nearly 400 students.
Friends and fans urged her to open a restaurant. “We had dozens of investors,” Dick says. Some came up with a few hundred dollars, others loaned thousands.
In September 1978, Germaine’s, the Washington, D.C., area’s first Pan-Asian restaurant, opened in Georgetown. Almost immediately, it became the District’s coolest dining destination.
“There was nothing like it in D.C. back then,” says New York Times food columnist Marian Burros, who was thrilled when Germaine allowed her to use three of her recipes in The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook. “I’ve never, before or since, had spring rolls as good as Germaine’s,” says Burros,
a Bethesda resident.
Germaine cooking in her restaurant kitchen. Photo by Dick Swanson
The restaurant served as the unofficial headquarters for many of D.C.’s power elite. Regulars included ABC anchorman Peter Jennings and actors Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson. Germaine even remembers Mick Jagger eating there one muggy summer night in 1978.
Former White House Press Secretary Jim Brady ate there regularly in the years after he was shot during the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981. “He loved the place,” says Burros, who often joined him for dinner, “and wouldn’t even let the long stairs stop him from coming every time we got together.”
Celebrated in the pages of Bon Appétit and Gourmet magazines, Germaine’s earned another stamp of culinary approval when Julia Child dropped by one night in 1979 to learn how to make Germaine’s Peking duck.
UNTIL IT WAS SOLD in 1998, the restaurant employed all of Germaine’s family members at one time or another—providing stability, and helping each of them earn a paycheck and assimilate to life in America.
The family having lunch at home in Bethesda, (left to right): Dang Thi Tuyet (Gemaine’s mother), Gabrielle, Albert, Lien Chi (Rene’s wife), Germaine, Dick, Rene, Bernard and Long
Philip was a busboy, and eventually a manager. Bernard was an assistant manager before becoming a manager at Germaine’s second location in downtown Washington. For a time, Germaine’s mother worked in the kitchen one day a week, overseeing food before it went out to tables. Rene handled the bookkeeping, and then managed Germaine’s Deli, another eatery Germaine owned downtown.