Alumnus works as an engineer by day and a food writer by night
Inspired by Indiana Jones’ life of “action, adventure, cool historical artifacts and saving damsels in distress,” Ricky Ly, ’08, grew up wanting to be an archaeologist. But, instead of discovering ancient civilizations, he’s helping to construct new ones, as a professional engineer for Stantec Consulting Engineers Inc. And, instead of saving lives, he’s also teaching everyone how to savor flavors, as a food blogger and author.
Unlike Indiana Jones, however, Ly doesn’t mind snakes. Snake fruit, that is, which happens to be the strangest food he’s ever eaten. Also known as salak, this strange piece of produce is from Bali, Indonesia, and has scales like a snake on the outside, with white, fleshy fruit on the inside.
“It reminded me of Lychee fruit, but less sweet,” he says. “The creepiest part was peeling the skin off. Shivers!”
Ly says being a foodie has always been in his blood, stemming from his father owning a restaurant and having family in the business, and from his Vietnamese/Chinese heritage.
“I also enjoy using both the left and right sides of my brain, and writing helps me get that part out,” he explains. “I started writing for the Central Florida Future while at UCF, and then began my blog after graduation.”
His blog, TastyChomps.com, and book, “The Food Lovers’ Guide to Orlando,” help fellow foodies discover new restaurants and dishes, as well as learn about little-known places.
Because of his connection to local food culture, Ly, and his wife, May (Wong), ’07, were recently chosen to participate in a segment about Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival for ABC’s “The Chew,” which aired Oct. 9 (watch the segment). The couple spent a full day at the park with a camera crew, taking a chocolate boot camp class with famed chocolatier Erika Davis and walking around the World Showcase trying different dishes.
On a typical day, Ly tries to write a post or two every evening, before heading to bed. That’s after spending his day as a civil engineer, improving his community.
“One thing about civil engineering is seeing your designs and plans come to life after construction,” he explains. “It’s awesome knowing that you helped create [a] road or drainage system. It’s like leaving a legacy behind.”
Ly chose UCF because of its strong reputation and record as a great engineering school. Plus, his family is from West Palm Beach, so Orlando was the perfect place in case he needed to be home for a weekend. He decided to major in engineering because he loved math and science throughout grade school, and really liked the idea that his work could help better our society and community.
As a student at UCF, Ly stayed busy. He served as an SGA senator, representing the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and held the office of vice chair for the Financial Allocations for Organizations committee. Later, he served as a member of the Hollinger/Berkowitz administration, as the director of SGA Multicultural Affairs. He also served as president of the Vietnamese-American Student Association, was founder of the Asian Pacific-American Coalition and was a founding brother of the Pi Delta Psi Fraternity.
As an alumnus, he serves on the UCF Alumni Association’s Government Relations committee, and served on the UCF Multicultural Academic Support Services alumni panel. As a community member, he served on the board for WMFE’s Community Advisory Board, and is currently on the board for the City of Orlando’s Families, Parks and Recreation, as well as chair of the Florida Water Environment Association’s Integrated Water Resources committee.
Ly advises current engineering students to make the most of their time and resources while at UCF. “Get an internship, go to your professor’s office hours, join an engineering society in your major and talk to your college department advisor.”
And, he speaks from experience. His first internship was at the Florida Department of Transportation, which, he says taught him so much about the importance of professionalism and work ethic that he still uses each day.
“My professors and classmates have all been integral to my career development, from the design coursework to networking in the engineering community,” he says. “UCF helped shape who I am today in almost every possible way.”
Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Fresh sushi from Japan. There’s got to be something in the rice, fish and seaweed that give the Japanese some of the longest lifespans in the world, right?
Q. Best meal of your life so far?
A. Sitting just outside of the famed Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan — a little sushi shop with some of the freshest sushi I’ve had in my life.
Q. What would you like your last meal to be?
A. It doesn’t matter as long as I’m surrounded by family and friends.
Q. Favorite condiment?
A. Harissa, a hot Chili pepper sauce from North Africa
Q. Favorite comfort food?
A. A hot bowl of shio butter ramen with sliced pork and bamboo shoots from Hanamizuki Japanese restaurant on International Drive in Orlando
Q. Favorite snack?
A. I enjoy fresh popcorn. I hear it’s low in calories.
Q. Favorite celebrity chef, and why?
A. Although he’s not a chef anymore, Anthony Bourdain would head the list, not only for his taste in street food from around the world, but also for his heart and mind for the people and cultures that he visits. I really enjoy his “Parts Unknown” show on CNN, and was lucky to meet him recently when he came to Orlando for a talk. Another celebrity chef I admire would have to be David Chang of New York’s Momofuku restaurant group. I loved his PBS series, “Mind of a Chef.” He’s truly an innovative chef.
Q. Best food festival in Central Florida?
A. Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, for sure. I also love the Taste of the Nation event that brings together many of the local Orlando restaurants to benefit the Coalition for the Homeless and Second Harvest Food Bank.
Q. What was your favorite country and/or food at this year’s Food & Wine Festival?
A. Although not necessarily a country per se, my favorite food marketplace was the Farm Fresh marketplace showcasing local and seasonal ingredients. I particularly enjoyed the pepper-bacon hash with sweet corn, potatoes, hollandaise sauce and pickled jalapeño, and the yard bird, a crispy, crunchy chicken thigh with braised collard greens. I also enjoyed the scallop topped with bacon and creamed spinach from Scotland, and the filet mignon with wild mushrooms from Canada.
Q. If someone wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?
A. “Life of Limitless Potential”
Q. Something you learned in the past week?
A. Just got back from Mexico, and discovered that the Mayans built an ancient astronomical observatory at Chichen Itza used to map out the stars, centuries before Galileo on the other side of the world. Also, yu’um bootik means “thank you” in Mayan.
Read more stories about alumni at ucfalumnitoday.com.