Tuesday 2 December 2014

INTERVIEW WITH DAN HONG – the Super Fly Chef on why chocolate tastes good with blue cheese and what Kim and Kanye eat on tour.

The city of Sydney adores and glorifies it's diverse and wonderful chefs, but one name keeps rising to the surface.... Dan Hong. In an exclusive interview, The Food Dept's editor, Anne Marie Cummins, talks to the chef behind some of the coolest restaurants, Mrs G's, El Loco and Mr Wongs. The chef with the colourful collection of trainers, reveals the future trends in food and what he has learnt from entrepreneur, Justin Hemmes.

Your prawn toasts were the only dish to sell out at the Good Food month’s Asia town, I missed out, what’s your secret?
Asia town was great but my dish was so popular. We ran out so quickly, everyone took multiple portions of mine at the beginning. I can’t help it if my dish is the most popular, but it was fun, a great day and a really good space.

With so many great chefs at one venue, who inspired you most and what dish did you love the most?
I really enjoyed Ramen Ikkyu, chef, Harunobu Inukai was awesome. I thought Chase Kojima from Sokyo did an awesome Okonomiyaki. Obviously David Thompson is the master, and his stir-fry was great with the fried egg. Anything with a fried egg on top is delicious.

Your mum owned and operated restaurants. What inspired you to be a chef, was there a moment when you thought, I want to be a chef ?  
There wasn’t a moment to be honest, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do and my mum suggested I become a chef. I grew up around restaurants, but I never thought of being a chef. I really enjoyed cooking at home and my mum suggested I become a chef. My passion really came when I became an apprentice, learning new things from chefs above me.

Which cooking school did you attend?
The Hotel School at the Intercontinental, which doesn’t run a cooking course any more. Usually apprentices go to Tafe once a week and work full time. I was lucky to do school for 6 months full time. I did all my theory first and then went and worked in restaurants. That’s how I came to work in so many restaurants.

What inspires you when you are creating a new recipe?
Everywhere, could be going to another restaurant, eating street food overseas, eating on the street in China town, or going to my mum’s house for dinner. I’m really inspired by everything I eat.

Am I right in thinking you spend your holidays in Asia looking out for new food experiences?
I go to Asia quite a bit, I go to Indonesia at least once a year, as my wife is Indonesian and we visit her family. We are going to Hong Kong in December. I went to China this year, that was really cool.

You have bridged the gap between playing with food and making it look cool. Is that what you set out to do?
Well no, I just wanted the book to be different. A lot of cookbooks can be the same to be honest. I wanted mine to stand out, not only with the material and the design, but also with the cover as well. So I hope it does stand out.

Yes it does stand out. It ties in well with the sneaker thing you have going on.
Yes it all ties together. I wanted it to be a fun book for people to read, but also to actually try out the recipes. That’s why I have those Hong hats, even though I think the recipes are quite simple, they can be made simpler by reading those Hong hats.

What’s the weirdest flavour combination in the book?
There’s a dish that has pig’s ear and tripe, but that’s not really a weird combination. There’s nothing too weird in the book because, I have tried all these weird combinations at Mrs. G’s. And even though I might like them, the general public don’t, so they don’t make it onto the menu.

So can you tell us what weird flavour combination do you think tastes really great?
I like blue cheese and chocolate together. One time I did a flourless chocolate cake with blue cheese ice cream, I used gorgonzola and I thought it was delicious. But it was a bit too weird.

It’s a dream for many chefs to work with Justin Hemmes. What have you learnt from him?
That he knows what diners in Sydney want. He has a midas touch when it comes to knowing what people want and being ahead of the game in terms of restaurants, style, atmosphere and vibe.

So you must know what people want to eat?
I don’t know what people want! I’m just lucky that people like my food.

The public has an insatiable appetite for new food, new flavours. What trends do you see in the near future?
I think Middle Eastern and Turkish cuisine are next. They are popular now but the next step is to make an up market restaurant, with a good wine list and great vibe.

What are you craving right now?
A sandwich or a banh mi, (vietnamese pork roll.) See recipe below.

What did Kim and Kanya order when they came to your restaurant?
They had chicken wings, a few dim sum, some pork dumplings, chicken dumplings, pork ribs, fried rice. Kanya came twice, which was pretty cool, I guess he liked the chicken wings!

Hang over cure?
Mc Donald’s breakfast.

What do you like to cook at home?
I don’t cook at home. My wife cooks at home. But sometimes I cook on the bbq. I like to let the produce speak for itself and cook very simple things. Last time I cooked some wagu rump on the bbq with some nice fat asparagus. I served the steak with wasabi mayonnaise.

Can you reveal any secret foodie locations in Sydney?
Is anything secret anymore? Out in Western Sydney for people who don’t go out West. Fairfield, Canley vale and Cabramatta have the most authentic South East Asian food you can eat. I love going to Fairfield for Laotian food. I think Laotian food is an untapped cuisine that people don’t really know about. But you gotta love the funk to enjoy Laotian food. It’s like Thai food, but with using things like fermented crab.

Biggest mistake?
Is always not remembering to taste as you cook. It’s something so simple that can be the difference between a good and a great chef. As chefs, we can often forget this, and it’s doesn’t matter how beautiful your dish looks, it all comes down to the flavour. It’s the reason why people keep coming back to your restaurant.

See below for recipes from Mr Hong.
Dan Hong's cook book "Mr Hong" is available from Murdoch books. Go to the food dept facebook page for your chance to win a copy. Thank you to Murdoch books.

Grilled Corn with Lime and Parmesan
Serves 4–6

Seasoned cream
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) Japanese mayonnaise
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) sour cream
1½ tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons shichimi togarashi

Whisk all of the seasoned cream ingredients together in a bowl until combined. Set aside in the fridge.
6 cobs of corn, each one cut into three pieces
2 limes, halved
1 bunch coriander (cilantro), leaves only
100 g (3½ oz) wedge of parmesan, for grating

Steam or boil the pieces of corn until tender. Put on a hot chargrill pan or barbecue and cook, turning three or four times, until the kernels are a little bit charred. Remove from the grill and stab one end of each piece of corn with a short cocktail skewer that has little handles.
Liberally brush each piece of corn with the seasoned cream and arrange them on a platter.
Squeeze some fresh lime juice over the top, making sure each piece of corn gets some.
Scatter with coriander and then use a microplane to grate a liberal amount of parmesan over the top. Eat.

For more delicious recipes try this

Fijian-Style Sashimi of Trevally
A dish influenced by one of my best friends, fellow chef, Louis Tikaram. Louis has a Fijian background and he once told me about one of Fiji’s national dishes, called kokoda, which incorporates coconut milk into a ceviche mix. This is my take on kokoda (pronounced kokonda), which infuses some of my Vietnamese heritage into the dish. When I asked Louis what he thought about me doing that, he said: ‘Sounds tasty.’ And that’s what the food at Ms G’s is all about: tasty.
Serves 2

80 ml (2½ fl oz/1⁄3 cup) nuoc cham (Essentials,
page 244)
55 ml (1¾ fl oz) coconut cream
1 tablespoon ót tuóng (Essentials, page 244)
juice of ½ lime

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a bowl until well combined.

The Rest 
200 g (7 oz) piece of sashimi-grade trevally, skinned
and boned
1 small long red chilli, thinly sliced
4 cherry tomatoes, quartered
70 g (2½ oz) young coconut flesh, cut into thin strips
50 g (1¾ oz) salted cucumber (Essentials, page 241)
15 coriander (cilantro) leaves
1 red Asian shallot, thinly sliced

Slice the trevally into thin strips. Transfer the fish to a bowl with the remaining ingredients.Spoon about 100 ml (3½ fl oz) of the dressing over the fish and mix well. Don’t worry if there looks like a lot of dressing, it starts to ‘cook’ the fish as you’re eating it, which is how it’s meant to be. Serve in bowls and enjoy immediately. 

For more delicious recipes try this

Mini Pork Banh Mi
I love banh mi – it’s food from my heritage and I wanted to put it on the menu. We decided to make Ms G’s banh mi smaller so that diners could fit in other dishes as well. In my eyes, banh mi is up there with the most iconic sandwiches of the world. It’s the perfect balance of richness, acidity, texture, freshness and spice. In short, everything you could ever want in a sandwich.
Serves 8

The Pork
6 litres (210 fl oz/24 cups) Chinese masterstock (Essentials, page 234)
1.5 kg (3 lb 5 oz) pork belly, rib bones removed, skin on

Pour the masterstock into a stockpot and carefully add the pork belly. Bring to the boil. As soon as it’s reached boiling point, turn the heat down and simmer for 3–4 hours or until the pork belly is tender.
Line a roasting tin (large enough to fit the pork belly) with baking paper. Carefully lift the pork belly from the stock, being mindful to keep everything in one piece (not easy to do, since the pork is very soft at this point).
Put the pork in the tin, skin side down. Cover with another piece of baking paper then a baking tray.
Weight the tray with heavy objects such as tins of tomatoes then leave it overnight (unrefrigerated) to press the pork belly.

The Rest
1 loaf of chà lua (Vietnamese pork loaf)
vegetable oil, for frying
8 small, soft white rolls

Pork liver pâté (Essentials, page 243)
6 salted cucumbers (Essentials, page 241)

Pickled daikon and carrot (see Pickling liquid recipe, Essentials, page 241)
1 bunch coriander (cilantro), leaves only
Sriracha mayonnaise (Essentials, page 240)

Using a meat slicer or a very sharp knife, slice the chà lua as thinly as possible. Set aside. Cut the pork belly into pieces about 1.5 cm (5⁄8 inch) thick and about the same length as the rolls.
Fill a large heavy-based saucepan one-third full with oil and heat to 170°C (325°F) or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden in 20 seconds. Carefully drop in the pork belly pieces and fry until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Cut the white rolls in half. Spread the bases generously with pork liver pâté. Top with a few slices of chà lua, then add the fried pork, followed in order by the salted cucumbers, pickled daikons and carrots, a few coriander leaves, and, finally,

HONG HACK This dish is meant to be fun and to be shared, so make it your own. If you’re stuck for time, a side of roasted pork from your favourite Chinese BBQ restaurant will work fine.

For some more pork

Lotus Ice Cream Sundae with Raspberries and Honeycomb

This dish became my signature dessert when I was at Lotus and it had a loyal and devoted following. At the time, everyone in Sydney was trying really hard to do something molecular and Alex Stupak-esque with desserts. While I admired the American chef’s inventive creations, I wanted to do something fun and tasty with real texture, and something my customers could relate to.
Serves 6

Chocolate Fudge
340 g (11¾ oz) caster (superfine) sugar
70 g (2½ oz) liquid glucose
35 g (1¼ oz) cocoa powder
325 g (11½ oz) dark chocolate, cut into small pieces
75 g (2½ oz) unsalted butter
15 g (½ oz) xanthan gum
Fill a large saucepan with 390 ml (13½ fl oz) water.
Add the sugar, glucose, cocoa powder and 1 teaspoon salt and heat over a high heat. Bring to the boil, then add the chocolate and butter. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the chocolate and butter melt. Whisk to combine and then bring back up to the boil. Using a hand-held blender, mix in the xanthan gum, which will thicken the fudge.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool, then transfer the fudge into a covered container and put in the fridge, where it will keep for up to 2 weeks.

170 g (5¾ oz) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tablespoon honey
65 g (2¼ oz) liquid glucose
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

Line a small baking tray with baking paper. To make the caramel, add the sugar, honey, liquid glucose and 1½ tablespoons water to a small saucepan and put over a high heat. Resist the urge to stir, just allow the heat to begin to transform the sugar. If crystals start to appear, you can give the saucepan a little swirl, or use a wet pastry brush to brush down the side of the pan.
Once a light caramel is achieved (about 155°C/310°F on a sugar thermometer), quickly
whisk in the bicarbonate of soda, then immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared tray. Leave to cool at room temperature until it hardens. Break the honeycomb into smaller pieces and store in an airtight container. Do not refrigerate, as the sugars will melt and soften the honeycomb.

Raspberry Sauce
500 g (1 lb 2 oz/4 cups) frozen raspberries
175 g (6 oz) caster (superfine) sugar

Add the raspberries and sugar to a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until a semi-thick consistency is achieved. You don’t want to cook the sauce too long as this will create jam; there should still be a little freshness about it.

To serve
Vanilla ice cream (recipe, page 194), or a goodquality vanilla bean ice cream will do you just fine
fresh raspberries
salted peanuts
Warm the chocolate fudge in a microwave until hot.
Spoon some raspberry sauce into each of six serving bowls. Add 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream and top with some shards of honeycomb, raspberries and peanuts. Serve the chocolate fudge in a jug on the side so everyone

GOOD LUCK WITH THE COOKBOOK GIVEAWAY and may the most happy and derserving person win!
The competition is open to all Australian residents. Competition closes midnight Wednesday 24th December 2014 with a winner selected at Random and announced on Facebook (or Emailed via the Blog) 31st December 2014.