“The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” returns this Sunday for its second season with a new castmate: Jennie Nguyen.
Nguyen is the first Vietnamese cast member in the entire “Real Housewives” franchise. The season preview shows her proudly wearing a pink ao dai, a traditional garment, to an event. Her Instagram is filled with Vietnamese dishes like shaking beef, banh beo (rice cakes) and mi vit quay (duck noodle soup).
But beyond the fashion and food, Nguyen says she’s as a loving wife and mother. She has three children with her husband Duy: Atlas (16), Triton (12) and Karlyn (10).
Nguyen sat down with TheWrap’s deputy editor Lawrence Yee ahead of the season premiere to talk about joining the show. (Note: this interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity).
TheWrap: You share your immigrant story in the first episode. How long have you lived in Salt Lake City?
Nguyen: I was raised in Long Beach, California, for about 20 years, and then I moved to Utah for about 22 years now. I’m still here!
Is there a large Vietnamese population in Salt Lake City?
There is not a large Vietnamese community in Utah whatsoever … about 10,000 to 20,000 people. Where I grew up in California it’s huge. Here, not so much here. Living here in a pretty much all white community, you just have to fit in trying to live your life and not to get trapped in the whole stereotyping or discrimination. You see that everywhere, but you try not to focus on that. Because when you focus on that, you become that. We just want to live our life.
How does it feel being the first Vietnamese housewife?
I feel I need to represent my culture. Although I grew up in America, I still have my culture and my ancestry ingrained in me. I don’t want my kids to forget where we came from. Although we are Asian American, and I love love my country, we are unique that we inherit two cultures. And I want my kids to carry that on. I love the Vietnamese culture. I love the food. I love the people. I love the way we discipline our kids in our culture, then I want to incorporate the two cultures in my children.
Your children have such unique names. Are they inspired by Greek mythology?
So my husband is a chiropractor. Atlas is the first one vertebrae on your cervical.
Triton is also a Greek name. We live on a Greek street. And so we figured you know what, we’re just gonna go with the Greek theme here and name all my children on Greek mythology?
Is Karlyn a Greek name?
Well, that’s what my husband said. So I’m gonna go for it. I think you might need to look that up.
I’m not sure it is?
If you can confirm that, that will be great. Then I can prove him wrong. [Laughs]
We meet your family in the first episode and your daughter definitely steals the show!
She’s such a ham. She did so many commercials for Overstock when she was very little; she loves being on and she’s very comfortable. My middle child is a little skeptical because he’s like, “Oh, I don’t know how this is gonna go.” And, of course, I thought teenagers would be like, “Oh my gosh, this is so weird.” But they’re such team players.
You post a lot of delicious food photos on your Instagram. Are you a good cook?
I am a great cook! I love to cook. I try to cook every day for my children. The thing with me is I will look up a recipe. And then I’m like, let’s see what I can do differently to change that. And that’s my personality; I always want to make it better. And if it doesn’t turn, well, I will do it five or six times just to master it. And my children are like, “Mom, we are going to be so fat, because you’re making us eat all this food.” Yes, I love to post food photos. I have a YouTube channel regarding cooking!
Were you formally trained?
I’m self-taught. I actually didn’t like cooking when I was little. And then when I got married, my husband was like, “I really want a home-cooked meal.” I said, “You buy me all these pots and pans, then I will learn how to cook.” Then I watched the Food Network and YouTube and that’s how I learned to cook.
Much of the show is centered on religion. Are you Mormon?
I’m actually Catholic. I do have a lot of friends that are LDS. We don’t talk about our religion, we just get along. Religion is what we believe and what we worship. We don’t need to mix that in our friendship; I respect their religion, they respect mine.
You come on the show as a friend of Lisa Barlow’s and not knowing the other women. Who surprised you the most?
I did not have a relationship with them. So every single one of them really surprised me in different ways. Like Jen [Shah], you think maybe she’s a certain way. … But no, that’s actually really her. There’s no filter. This is Jen. That’s what surprised me because I was prejudging [them]. And now when I’m on the show, it’s like, no, this is us. This is us in real life. There’s no acting here. This is true emotion. This is true drama.
Watch the drama unfold when the “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” premieres this Sunday on Bravo.