Dish-Pig talks pot, pot noodle, dining out + #NamiraHong with Merivale darling, Dan Hong.
PHOTOGRAPHY by ANDREW COWEN
STYLING by GEORGIA ASHDOWN
DESIGN by REBECCA RIEGGER
INTERVIEW by Maggie Scardifield
IS THIS A GOOD DAY TO ESCAPE AND HAVE YOUR PICTURE TAKEN?
It’s not bad… I’m expecting a lot more things like this coming up with my book being released.
TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR NEW BOOK – MR HONG. WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS OF PUTTING IT TOGETHER?
It’s basically about my whole career up until this stage. It has recipes from Ms G’s, Mr Wong, El Loco – even my old recipes from Lotus, alongside a few of my mother’s recipes too. It’s the whole story – how I came to this point basically.
YOU ARE EXECUTIVE CHEF OF FOUR RESTAURANTS. HOW ON EARTH DID YOU FIND THE TIME TO GET A BOOK TOGETHER?
Well, I now know how much work is involved in putting something like that together! It’s a lot of work! I co-wrote the book with a friend of mine, Melissa Leong. Basically I just talked to her and she helped me put it into my own words. I’ve also got really good head chefs at all the restaurants as well, so they sort of run the ship down there, when I’m not able to. I had to write around 100 recipes; not like 100 dishes, but definitely 100 recipes all up for sure. It was a lot of hard work.
AND THEN THERE’S OBVIOUSLY THE WORK THAT GOES INTO MAKING IT AN ACTUAL BOOK – ALL THE PHOTOGRAPHY, THE STYLING, THE FOREWORD BY YOUR MUM. WERE YOU INVOLVED IN ALL OF THAT TOO?
Yeah, I was there for the whole thing. We’ve been working on it about a year, so not too bad, but we really wanted to get it done within the deadline so we could launch it before Christmas.
YOU HAVE RECENTLY RETURNED FROM SHANGHAI. WHAT WERE YOU DOING THERE?
Yeah, I did the Omnivore Food Festival there, it was awesome. It was also my first time in Shanghai, so needless to say I ate a lot of dumplings.
AND YOU’VE BEEN IN JAPAN THIS YEAR, TOO. WHAT HAS ALL THIS TRAVEL TAUGHT YOU?
Japan was a holiday – which was great for obvious reasons – but it’s also totally changed my life. I’d never been before and I was amazed with their attention to detail in pretty much everything they do. Everything – the efficiency, the use of space, the toilets – everything!
ARE YOU FASTIDIOUS LIKE THAT WITH YOUR OWN LIFE AND FOOD?
I’m not like that but it’s pretty amazing to experience – the toilets man, I was pretty fastidious with the toilets! The food halls were just amazing as well. In Isetan I just lost my shit. And then afterwards when I came back I was walking through our food-courts and I was just like – this is so shit! It really is a joke in comparison to what’s available in Japan.
WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE MEALS WHILE YOU WERE AWAY?
Well, I went to this sushi restaurant called Sawada in Tokyo…It’s a six-person restaurant and probably the best seafood I have ever eaten. I went to this other awesome place called Den in Tokyo as well that is a really cool, modern and fun Kaiseki place. God, there were so many.
IT’S SO HARD NOT TO BE ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT THE FOOD SCENE THERE. WHAT ABOUT WHAT’S HAPPENING IN SYDNEY, ARE THERE ANY RESTAURANTS (NOT INCLUDING YOUR OWN) THAT YOU’RE EQUALLY AS EXCITED ABOUT?
I love Café Paci. I think it’s great. It’s the old Café Pacifico and I used to work for Pasi Petanen at Marque and he’s just doing really cool, fun food. It’s mostly Scandinavian in style, but I think it’s some of the most interesting food in Sydney right now.
THE RAMEN IN JAPAN IS PRETTY HARD TO TOP. WHERE WOULD YOU HEAD IN SYDNEY FOR YOUR FAVOURITE BOWL?
It’s probably still Ryo’s in Crows Nest – I love it there. In the city, probably my number 1 would have to be Ippudo. I didn’t like it at first, but now I just love it. I think it’s sort of the most authentic in flavor to Japan and the Japan taste. Ikkyu is also pretty good, but I think Ippudo takes the cake.
“I did a mee goreng with black truffle
+ a fried egg
in butter…it was next level
I can’t even explain it to you.”
TALKING INGREDIENTS NOW, YOU’VE SPOKEN QUITE OPENLY ABOUT YOUR LOVE OF MAGGI SEASONING. WHAT ARE THE MSG LEVELS LIKE IN THE FOOD AT MR. WONG’S?
We don’t really use too much MSG at Mr. Wong’s, I mean we use a little bit, but we try not to. We use this ingredient called Kombu extract – it’s sort of our form of MSG, almost like the liquid version but it’s 100% natural and is derived from Kombu, a seaweed extract. So that’s what we add to our sauces, soups and stocks for example…
HOW DOES THAT AFFECT THE FLAVOUR?
It gives it that really nice umami flavour.
SO WHAT’S EVERYONE’S BEEF WITH MSG THEN?
Alcohol is a lot worse than MSG – so is heaps of stuff – but MSG just has this really bad vibe surrounding it. I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong with it though. Just think, how come no one in China has an allergy to MSG, you know? Nothing’s bad about it!
SO HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR INSTANT NOODLES THEN?
Well there’s already the sachet seasoning that I love, but I always add an egg. An egg really makes your instant noodles better, preferably fried, but sometimes if I’m being lazy I just put in the soup and let it poach. Recently, I don’t know if you saw on my instagram, but I did a mee goreng with black truffle and a fried egg in butter. It was amazing. I have a black truffle now in my fridge so I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing it again. It was next level I can’t even explain it to you.
SINCE STARTING OUT, THE AWARDS HAVE COME STREAMING IN. YOU WON THE BEST YOUNG CHEF AWARD IN 08, AND MR WONG’S HAS SMASHED IT SINCE OPENING WITH GONGS FROM TIMEOUT, GT AND OF COURSE THE TWO HATS FROM SMH. WHAT DO ALL THE REVIEWS MEAN TO YOU IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS?
Look it’s a great personal achievement I guess, but it’s not a big focus of mine. With Ms G’s, I never intended on it to get a hat; and with Mr Wong I was only trying to get one hat, not two, so it was a big surprise to be honest. But that’s also the problem with it, because now I have to maintain these restaurants and it sucks because I have to live up to the expectations, it’s the worst!
That aside though it is cool. It’s good for the chefs as it keeps them motivated and you know, it’s good to see the chefs get recognised for all their hard work when we get these awards.
SPEAKING OF MOTIVATION – THERE ARE 40 CHEFS AT MR WONG’S, AND THE RESTUARANT SEATS 250 PEOPLE. THAT’S A HUGE OPERATION, HOW DO YOU KEEP UP MORALE IN THE KITCHEN?
Well, ten of the chefs are under Eric who is the dim sum chef and he looks after those guys himself. I motivate my guys by having monthly competitions on who’s the best performer and the winner gets a $400 gift voucher to an amazing restaurant. Previously it’s been Tetsuya’s, last month I think it was Sepia…stuff like that is great motivation for them.
I also try and take them out every now and then; we go out after work to Golden Century or for Korean fried chicken or something like that. On a busy night we do over 500 covers so it’s a busy job for everyone.
DID SHANGHAI AND JAPAN GIVE YOU ANY IDEAS FOR POTENTIAL NEW PLACES? ARE YOU SURE THEY WEREN’T RESEARCH TRIPS?
No, neither were research trips! Japan was a family holiday I promise, so it hasn’t really given me anymore ideas. This year I really just want to concentrate on the launch of this book. Maybe next year, if Justin has an idea and he wants me on board I’ll probably say yes, but there’s nothing planned in the future just yet that I can talk about.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAVE YOUR HANDS PRETTY FULL ALREADY – AND YOUR CLOSET TOO, AS MOST WOULD KNOW.
The footwear thing, it’s kind of always been an interest of mine, to be honest. I counted 160 pairs of sneakers last count. I’m wearing Adidas today, but my collection is mostly Nike and New Balance. I guess it’s my other passion. I used to buy two pairs of each but now there’s no point – I have 160 pairs, and Namira has about 50 pairs as well, so she’s a lucky girl.
WHAT SHOES DO YOU WEAR AT WORK?
Kirkos, my Birkenstocks, the Boston’s man! The best kind. I tend to buy everything online – often when I get home late and everyone is asleep, that’s when I can really do some damage! I spend a lot of money on clothes, but so does everyone.
AND DOES NAMIRA LOVE EATING AS MUCH AS HER DAD DOES?
She’s definitely interested in eating. She loves mee goreng too and her favourite cuisine is Japanese – she just loves it and is really starting to get into sushi now, particularly sashimi. She has a big appetite.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO HER IN THE FUTURE IF SHE DECIDED SHE WANTED TO BECOME A CHEF?
Honestly, I’m going to try to not let her get into the hospitality industry. The long hours are so hard and I sort of don’t really want her to be a part of that. Especially in the kitchen, it’s a very male dominated space and I know what these other male chefs are like!
YOU STARTED GETTING INTO COOKING AFTER NOT DOING TOO WELL IN THE HSC (Note: Hong’s Mum Angie talked him into doing an apprenticeship with Martin Boetz at Longrain). IF YOU WERE GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO TALK TO YOUR 16 YEAR OLD SELF NOW, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
Don’t smoke weed (laughs). No seriously, say no to weed.
BUT THEN WE WOULDN’T HAVE THE STONER’S DELIGHT!?
This is true! Nah, seriously though, weed was not good for me; it really fucked up with my motivation. It does different things to different people. One of my friends, he still smokes weed all the time and absolutely kills it in the kitchen. There are some guys who can smoke and still do their job well, and unfortunately, that’s not me.
about dan hong
Dan Hong has worked in some of the most prestigious restaurants in Australia; including Tetsuya’s, Marque, Longrain and Lotus, where his mentors include Martin Boetz, Martin Benn, Mark Best and Justin Hemmes. He has opened some of Sydney’s most exciting dining destinations including Ms G’s, El Loco, Mr Wong (honoured with two hats in its first year of business at the 2014 Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Awards) and most recently Papi Chulo, a smokehouse and grill at Manly Wharf.
Mr Hong by Dan Hong (pictured below) is available now.
$49.99, Murdoch Books