The family who created Deep Fried Pho, which is among the five savory finalists at Texas State Fair’s 2023 Big Tex Choice Awards, is being accused of stealing the dish from a Vietnamese restaurant.
About the dish: Michelle Le’s Deep Fried Pho is a combination of the traditional Vietnamese comfort food and the southern tradition of fried food in which pho ingredients are rolled up, fried and served with sides of pho broth, lime, jalapeños, cilantro, hoisin sauce and sriracha. The dish is among the competition’s 10 contenders that will be advancing before a panel of celebrity judges on Aug. 27 to compete for one of three winning titles: “Best Taste – Savory,” “Best Taste – Sweet” and “Most Creative.”
The accusation: Although Le’s dish was previously celebrated and praised by media outlets and members of the community, it soon became the target of criticism by social media influencer Tim Lee (@tim_vs_food), who accused Le of copying the idea from the Dallas-based Vietnamese restaurant Cris and John. The accusation was immediately refuted by Le, who claimed that fried pho was inspired by her father-in-law’s pho and her husband’s favorite food.
“We’re not out to take anyone’s customers or steal ideas,” Le said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “We’re just a Vietnamese family out at the State Fair of Texas.”
Cris and John’s response: In a now-deleted post shared by Cris and John’s Instagram account, the business’ owners — Cristina and John Pham — explained that State Fair of Texas reps had visited their restaurant earlier this year to invite them to become fair concessionaires. “They said we were exactly what they were looking for this year,” the post read, according to D Magazine.
However, the Phams declined, citing religious reasons that would require them to close their booth on Saturdays, during which the fair is the busiest. When the finalists were announced, the business owners were surprised by the similarities between the Deep Fried Pho and their Phorrito dish, suggesting that the State Fair organizers had wanted the dish badly so they found another vendor to make it.
Social media users insinuated that the fair organizers might have asked Le to recreate the dish in order to eliminate the opportunity for the Phams to enter their own dish in the Big Tex Choice Awards.
The State Fair’s explanation: However, Karissa Condoianis, senior vice president for public relations for the State Fair of Texas, refuted the claims. She said that only those who have been a concessionaire for at least one year at the fair are eligible to enter the food competition.
Condoianis also admitted to speaking with the Phams, saying that it is common practice for the fair to seek out diverse foods to represent more cultures. She also noted that it was Cris and John’s Bao Bun Tacos that they were interested in, not the Phorrito.
An agreement: The Le and Pham families have since discussed the issue and agreed to take down their social media posts. The Phams emphasized uplifting minority-owned businesses and not wanting to spread hate. Le’s Deep Fried Pho will be available for sale at the Texas State Fair, which runs from Sept. 29 through Oct. 22.