HOUSTON – Located in Katy Asian Town, Yelo is a celebration of Southeast Asian food, specializing in craft banh mi sandwiches, spring rolls, vermicelli bowls and specialty coffee. The color yellow inspires, uplifts, illuminates and offers hope, happiness, cheerfulness and fun. Through that lens, Chef-Owner Alex Au-Yeung and Executive Chef Cuc Lam share the delicious and bold flavors of Southeast Asian cuisines, using fresh, local ingredients and presenting both traditional and inspired preparations such as the Pho-rench Dip banh mi, a banh mi stuffed with Au-Yeung’s famous Malaysian beef rendang and another that converts Lam’s mother’s char siu xiu mai recipe into a critically acclaimed sandwich.
As a first-generation American raised in southern Mississippi, Cuc Lam’s early food memories are set against a similar backdrop to that of many Asian immigrants: cooking as a family. Lam learned to cook by watching her mother and aunts picking herbs, chopping vegetables and making sauces. Engrained in her from a young age was the idea that food was a communal act. The daughter of hard-working refugees, she grew up as a latchkey kid and quickly learned self-reliance by cooking rice, ramen and scrambled eggs for her younger sister and herself and, later on, preparing nourishing meals for her own family.
Developing a repertoire of Vietnamese, Cajun and Southern cuisine came easily living near the Gulf Coast, with its abundance of fish, seafood and fresh garden herbs and vegetables. She carried those skills with her to Houston, where she worked as an English middle school teacher until transitioning to a career in the energy sector. A flexible schedule meant her Fridays were free to spend shopping and prepping for Saturday pop-up dinners she hosted in her home for fellow food lovers. Early media attention created a buzz for Lam’s dinners and cooking classes, and for years she continued to host sold-out events every other weekend, feeding thousands of guests. After being laid off from her desk job in 2011, Lam opened Three Sheets, a neighborhood dive bar and grill. For two years—even after securing another full-time job—Lam created unique daily specials each night, which allowed her to experiment with new recipes and learn about the operational side of hospitality. In 2018, Lam signed on as managing partner to open and operate a fast-casual Asian eatery called Sing in the Heights, executing her vision and receiving praise from critics and diners. Unfortunately, conflicting priorities led Lam to leave the concept and return to hosting pop-ups at home and at local venues. After leaving Sing, Lam worked alongside several well-known local chefs on new concepts at two of Houston’s hip new food halls. At Bravery Hall, she helped open Atlas Diner with Richard Knight (Feast, Hunky Dory) and The Blind Goat by Christine Ha (Master Chef Champion); at Politan Row, she supported friend Evelyn Garcia (Decatur, Chopped Champion) to launch KIN.
Now, after teaming up with chef and restaurateur Alex Au-Yeung (Phat Eatery) on YELO, Lam serves as the banh mi shop’s executive chef, developing a menu that celebrates the beloved Vietnamese sandwich. In addition to traditional versions, Lam and Au-Yeung play with creative fillings, introducing specialty sandwiches that explore the flavors of Southeast Asian cultures. As a result, the Houston Chronicle named Lam as one of Houston’s Top Women Chefs of Color and CultureMap recognizing her as one of 11 Rising Star Chefs for 2021. In addition to her work in the kitchen, Lam is a talented writer. She has contributed to Houston Press and Houston Food Finder, serving as a restaurant critic and covering the local dining scene. Lam has settled in her adopted city of Houston and enjoys recording recipes to share with her son on her food blog, “Just Cuc It.”