How Food Writer Deana Saukam Entertains on the Road

Also: the best dumplings we’ve EVER had.

By Jenn Rose Smith

Travel and food writer Deana Saukam is not an easy girl to pin down. When she isn’t hopping between Austin and Los Angeles, Deana (aka faim fatale) maintains an itinerary that would impress the most die hard traveler. She’s been around the world and back, and tasted EVERYTHING along the way. Thai-spiced grasshoppers, Parisian éclairs, Maldivian egg curry… there isn’t much she’s afraid to bite into. But of all her favorite foodie destinations, Cambodia is the one she can’t stop going back to. She’s passionate about Cambodian food, and deeply inspired by the idea of sharing this culture’s incredible cuisine with the rest of the world. She’s currently working on a Cambodian cookbook, but in the meantime she’s sharing her love of Cambodian cooking the old fashioned way — by inviting a few friends over for a home cooked meal.

We caught up with Deana in Austin at HOTELette, the discreet boutique hotel just off South Congress owned by our friend Allison Crawford. Deana, Allison, and their friend Rashanna Moss (owner of Pure Barre Austin) got together to make dumplings, talk travel, and share a few big laughs before Deana hit the road again. Scroll down to see how Deana entertains when she’s traveling (and for two mouth-watering Cambodian recipe ideas!)

photographed by wynn myers

What inspired today’s gathering?

Deana: I wanted to share Cambodian food with my friends. Over the past 3 years, I’ve spent a lot of time in Cambodia learning how to cook Cambodian food (I’m also working on a Cambodian cookbook) and since Alison and Rashanna had never eaten Cambodian food before, I decided to invite them over and cook Kuy Teav, Cambodian noodle soup, and also to teach them how to make scallop and garlic chive flower dumplings just for fun.

Allison Crawford, owner of HOTELette.

Allison: About a year ago, I was seated next to Deana at an intimate dinner party at the St. Cecilia and we instantly clicked. She and I both love France, noodles, and adventure travel so we were fast friends.  Deana is a soulful, fearless female and she’s always in a good mood. When Deana entertains, I know that it’s going to be a good time and we’ll eat fabulous food. Her passion for Cambodian food is inspiring and fascinating. I’m excited to witness her personal journey of showing the world the goodness and complexity of Cambodian cuisine.

What was the vision behind HOTELette Austin?

Allison: Like all my projects, I designed the house around the art and wanted HOTELette Austin to be a reflection of our vibrant city. The living room centers around a large nude painting by Montreal artist, Zoe Pawlak, and everything else fell into place from there. You’ll notice hints of pink throughout the house that all trace back to this artwork. I think it really captures the goal of HOTELette — to offer guests a personalized space that’s sexy, playful, fun and welcoming.

What do you love about what you do for a living?

Deana: Two of my favorite things in life are food and travel, and I love that my job is to travel and learn about different foods and cultures all around the world. Being able to incorporate these experiences into what I do everyday for a living is a dream come true.

What would we never find at one of your parties?

A shortage of Champagne.

Rashanna Moss, owner of Pure Barre Austin and Moderna Muse

Rashanna: Deana’s one of the most authentic people I know, and it reflects in her cooking. It’s colorful, vibrant, has a kick of spice and is unpredictable. That type of diversity is a breath of fresh air in Austin!

Describe your perfect party playlist:

Deana: A mix of fun, old and new. I love pop music (hi Miley, Selena and RiRi), as well as Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison, Serge Gainsbourg, Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, etc…. I also love me some Cardi B and SZA. I pretty much love everything.

What are your go to items to grab at the Asian Market in Austin?

  • Rice noodles (really all types of noodles are my go-to items)
  • Black vinegar
  • Fish sauce (red boat or 3 crabs are my fave brands)
  • Chili paste
  • Hi-Chew candies (cherry, mango and apple are my fave flavors)
  • Genmaicha Iced Green Tea

Do you reference any family traditions when you entertain?

Deana: If I’m cooking Cambodian food for a dinner party, then I am definitely evoking all of my family traditions when cooking and serving (my family is Cambodian). My parents were always joking and laughing in the kitchen and around the dinner table, so I guess making sure everyone is happy and laughing is a family tradition I reference when entertaining.

Your standard hostess outfit:

Deana: A beautiful, memorable dress or jumpsuit.

Go-to centerpiece solution:

Deana: Vivid fresh fruit, vegetables, or leafy foliage.

The taste you’re always craving:

Deana: I’m obsessed with garlic and onions, oh and obviously noodles and dumplings.

Biggest guest behavior pet peeve:

Deana: When guests are late – JK, I’m always late. So I totally understand being late! Um, biggest pet peeve would be if someone doesn’t show up but that hasn’t really happened before so…. Fingers crossed that everyone shows up who says they’re coming. 

Your must-have entertaining tools:

Deana: Sharp knives, beautiful pots and pans/ceramics, great lighting, a fun playlist, champagne, happy guests.

Stay tuned for a step by step recipe of Deana’s scallop and garlic chive flower dumplings with spicy chili-vinegar sauce coming soon!

Fresh prawns from the asian market.

The entertaining rule you never break:

Deana: Always wear something fun, memorable and festive for the occasion

Click here for Deana’s Kuy Teav Recipe!

Favorite after-dinner activity or game:

Deana: More champagne! I also really love that iphone game “heads up”.

Fill in the blank: “It’s not a party without __________.”