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Born in South Vietnam, in the village of An Hoa near Saigon, Xinh Dwelley worked on her family’s rice farm as a child. During her teenage years she began picking up odd jobs for the US Army including brush clearing for the mess hall, dish washing, bussing tables, kitchen prep and finally cooking American food for an entire battalion. The American food cried out for a little something extra so Xinh, who had never cooked before, began to improvise with spices. From the beginning Xinh had a knack in the kitchen. Before long officers were coming to the enlisted men’s mess hall for Xinh’s food. Her kitchen became known as the Best Mess in Vietnam. Before she was 20, Xinh felt in her heart that she had found her natural talent…making people happy with her food.
Xinh married a G.I., had a baby boy and, leaving behind her beloved family in 1970, moved near Olympia, WA where she sold egg rolls on Saturdays at the Olympia Farmer’s Market and landed a job as an oyster shucker.
Her first attempts at oyster shucking were slow and painful, but Xinh persevered and increased in speed and skill. She got fast—very fast. She entered the West Coast Oyster Shucking Championship and won…and then won again and again, her last win in 1992. Xinh says, "When you win five times, it's time to stop."
Xinh began winning cooking competitions with her delicious Oyster Stew, her now legendary Curried Mussels (Seattle Times “Best Bite of 2005”) and other delicious dishes featuring the shellfish of South Puget Sound. Her employers at Taylor Shellfish Farms invited her to prepare meals for Taylor management and, soon after, visiting VIP buyers were as taken with Xinh’s warm, engaging smile, winsome personality and enthusiasm, as they were with her food.
Xinh shared with her bosses her dream of opening her own restaurant someday. They took her seriously and when a location on Railroad Avenue in downtown Shelton became available in 1996, Xinh’s Clam and Oyster House was born. “My dream came true”, says Xinh.
Xinh’s food is neither Vietnamese nor American, but rather cooking from the heart as she expresses the flavor memories of her homeland with the shellfish grown in nearby waters. Imbued with her special warmth and wit, Xinh’s food is known to her many loyal fans, simply and uniquely, as “Xinh’s food”. Some call it “Xinhful”. Xinh has indeed found her natural talent… making people happy with her food. If you haven’t tried Xinh’s Clam & Oyster House yet, you are in for a treat.