Thanh Truong is an upstanding guy – and a fruiterer. For the man best known as “the Fruit Nerd”, the two go hand in hand. Being a fruiterer is “an honourable profession”, Truong says. “We don’t wear a tie, we don’t wear a suit, but we nourish people.”
A former national supply manager for Coles and current director of his family’s wholesale fresh food business, Truong has appeared on TV shows including SBS’s The Chefs’ Line and Channel Seven’s Plate of Origin – as well as being the ABC’s unofficial fruit correspondent.
In his Fruit Nerd persona, Truong beamingly delivers fruit and veg knowledge over social media in one of his 50 fruit-patterned shirts. And while his Instagram only started to explode over the past few years, Truong’s been in the fruit industry his whole life.
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He’s the son of fruiterers, and the grandson of medicinal herbalists. As with many second-generation Australians, Truong fostered a connection to his parents through food, he says. Beyond “practically living in the fruit shop”, his childhood memories are dominated by fruity anecdotes: his dad’s truck smelling of cigarettes and mangoes, his mother proposing parent-child peace treaties over sliced apples.
“My mum used to cut me so much fruit,” Truong tells Broadsheet. “I remember it so vividly. She would core apples, cut half the skin off and slice them into perfect little wedges. I think there’s a huge unspoken theme in migrant culture where kids don’t communicate well with our parents, and so [parents would] often say sorry or thank you by cutting fruit.”
Having followed his Vietnamese parents into the family business, Truong is taking a different tack in a profession that mostly functions unseen in early morning darkness.
His parents are proud of his national profile. At least, he hopes so. But for his father in particular – who arrived in Australia with nothing after nearly 20 months in a UN refugee camp – the decision to stick with fruit over white-collar careerism is slightly baffling.
“[My parents] have worked so hard, and migrant families work really hard, so that we don’t have to work hard. It’s such a weird thing … They don’t want us to be labourers, they want us to be educated and be lawyers,” says Truong, who has brothers in the legal profession and sisters in banking.
“But [through my platform], I just want to show my father and all of my uncles and aunties that the profession they do is really honourable, that what they do is important. They have inadvertently changed the lives of so many Australians by offering them different types of produce, demanding better quality.”
As well as demanding respect for fruiterers, Truong is teaching Australians to respect fruit through social media and through his new book, Don’t Buy Fruit & Veg Without Me! – essentially a dictionary of fruit and vegetable tips, tricks and recipes.
By promoting fruit literacy, Truong wants to save us from a future of blindly knocking on melons in the supermarket and squeezing (read: bruising) avocadoes. We’re also using fruit bowls wrong, apparently, and that’s something he’d like us to address asap.
Once we understand fruit more, we’ll grow to respect it, Truong says. We should be looking at fruit the same way we look at wine: considering terroir, the tastes of different regions and the characteristics of distinct varietals. The contrast in taste between two blueberries can be as pronounced as that between a sav blanc and a pinot gris, he says.
Through his book – and his infectious passion for all things fruit and veg – Truong is hoping to change hearts and minds. Once that’s done, he says, “strawberries and cherries will have the glamour that Penfolds has”.
This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.