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Food

Gourmet Destinations - Cantonese

Chef Philip Chun talks through the traditions of cantonese cuisine and the challenge of shaping its identity in an australian context.

When Hong Kong-born chef Philip Chun finally settled in Australia in 2010, it was the latest in a long list of countries where he’d plied his trade. Having started as a kitchen hand on Hong Kong Island in the early 1980s, he went on to work in Taiwan, China, the Philippines and Indonesia, rising to the position of executive chef along the way. 

Today, he’s head chef and owner of North Sydney’s Greenwood Chinese Restaurant, where the focus is on Cantonese cuisine. 

As he describes, “The backbone of Greenwood is the three main streams of Cantonese food, including barbeque, yum cha dim sum and Cantonese cuisine dinner. 

“To date, Cantonese food has been very limited in Australia,” he adds, “and while we strive to maintain the traditions at Greenwood, we think outside the square to bring some new lights to Cantonese food.”  

This creative thinking is also borne of a need to adapt to local ingredients. 

When he arrived in Australia, Philip says, “Asian groceries were already available, therefore dry goods were not hugely impacted. 

“However, live seafood and fresh vegetable options were limited and this is still the case today. To adapt, I worked on alternate methods of cooking to accompany the ingredients.”

Cantonese characters

When it comes to tradition, Philip explains, Cantonese food has always been famous for being, “Light, flavourful and fresh. The focus is on bringing out the true flavour of the ingredients, while also looking after health and well-being.”

For example, he says, “Soup normally contains some general health-benefitting herbal ingredients.”

Another Cantonese essential is stir-fry, and the technique used can reveal the level of a chef’s experience. And there is a special exclamation used when stir-fry is mastered. 

“It is very hard to explain in words, it is the experience,” Philip describes. “But when all ingredients are cooked perfectly, a special heat and aroma presents and we say, ‘wok hey!’” 

For Australian diners, typical Cantonese favourites are sweet and sour pork, Mongolian lamb, spring rolls and fried rice, he says. But, Philip adds, “With more exposure, there is more knowledge of different cuisines and more willingness to try different types of food.” 

Perfect motivation for Philip and his team to keep evolving our experience of Cantonese cuisine!   

Speaking of experiencing Philip’s food, the Greenwood restaurant will reveal an exciting new renovation in September. Or if you can’t make it to North Sydney, Philip presents some of his favourite recipes here for you to recreate in your own kitchen. Who knows, you might even elicit your own cries of ‘wok hey!’

Philip talks food

Pork, prawn and cabbage rolls with crab roe sauce 

This dish has been developed using a traditional method and it requires more time and more skills. It contains a lighter flavour and has a finer touch, focusing on bringing out the true flavours of the ingredients. 

Grilled whole squid brushed in sweet soy sauce on stir-fried glutinous rice

Glutinous fried rice is a very traditional dish and nothing has been changed in this recipe, including flavour, ingredients and texture. The squid gives a more Australian touch, with the seafood and the grill plate coming into play.  

Chilli plum fried chicken with mixed nuts

This dish was created with the thinking that it would suit Australian tastebuds. The method originated from sweet and sour pork, then I added a personal touch with the light chilli. 

Grilled beef tenderloin fillet dressed in bitter melon and black bean sauce

The idea for this dish comes from typical Cantonese stir-fry beef with black bean sauce. However, I decided to add a personal touch, swapping beef strips for fillets, which means I can control how long the fillet is cooked. Bitter melon is one of my favourite melons and it goes extremely well with black bean sauce. 

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Tobie Puttock Gets Healthy
Words by Mark Hughes on 4 Aug 2016
As far as chefs go, Tobie Puttock is far from being on the list that needs to look at his health. He’s always been fairly lean and away from the kitchen is pretty active. Admittedly, over the past years he noticed a slight spreading around his middle, but it didn’t worry him too much. What did motivate him to make a change in his life was love. His wife, Georgia, wanted to get fit, not that she was overweight, but, as Tobie says, “she wanted to achieve a body image that she was happy with.” She hit the gym, was working with a trainer and getting really good results, but then she plateaued. No matter how hard she worked, she couldn’t get over this hump. A meeting with nutritionist Donna Ashton was the key to the change. “She asked Georgia what her diet was,” says Tobie. “When she replied that her husband was a chef, Donna suggested that I go in and have a chat. “I was a bit apprehensive because I thought what we were eating was healthy food. However, Donna showed me that what I thought was healthy and what was needed for weight loss, were two different things. My idea of health food – things like quinoa salad – was heath food, but it was not ‘weight loss food’.” After reading a pile of recipe books penned by dieticians, Tobie realised that while the recipes might be great for weight loss, they were pretty bland and tasteless. So he set himself a personal challenge to create healthy dishes that also taste great. It was a process that reawakened the chef inside him, found him a publishing deal and led to a whole new lifestyle. Sitting down with Donna to devise a weight-loss plan for Georgia, Tobie created three lists – foods that you can’t eat ever, foods you can eat sometimes and foods you can eat as much of as you want. “I started cooking some dishes and, as you do these days, I put a picture of them up on social media. I got a call from Julie Gibbs from Penguin who said, ‘What the hell are you cooking here? I’ve not seen you do this before because you normally do Italian food’ Then she said, ‘Let’s do a book’. Then the fun really started.” A new horizon Tobie had been a chef for almost two decades and had graduated to the point of being a restaurateur. But the hassle of running a business coupled with the pressure of managing people had quashed his creativity in the kitchen. Taking a hiatus from the restaurant game and working on this project gave him back his culinary mojo and opened up doors he’d never considered walking through. “I realised I didn’t have to cook Italian food anymore, I could do whatever I wanted,” says Tobie. “It really took a while to get my head around trying to make things taste good without using heaps of butter and olive oil and without the deep fryer. I haven’t reinvented the wheel, but for me personally, it was a huge learning curve and a big thing to happen in my cooking. “So I found writing this book to be a huge creative process and I really enjoyed it. The most satisfying part was seeing the results for Georgia. She lost 10 kilos of body fat through the writing of the book – she wasn’t big to begin with, but she managed to smash through her plateau.” Don’t mention the word diet There is a saying that dieting is like holding your breath – at some stage you have to let it out to breathe. Tobie affirms his recipes are more lifestyle than diet. “I still love eating chocolate, I still drink beer, but now I do it in moderation,” he says. “All I have done is take dishes that are familiar to us and re-jigged them by lowering the fat and carb levels. “This means that in the book, there are basically no carbs, there is not a potato in the whole book, but there are beautiful sweet potato dishes in there. I tried to make dishes that taste good to try to over-ride the desire for things like potatoes.” As well as healthy recipes that taste great, another important aspect of the book, and his change in eating, is the fact that ingredients are accessible and cheap. “I want people to be able to cook most of the recipes in this book from your local supermarket, so the ingredients are accessible and dishes are easy to make. “I am not trying to get people to give up everything, because the most important thing is to be happy, and happiness comes through balance. But if you cook from this book a few times a week, you are going to get results.” The Chef Gets Healthy by Tobie and Georgia Puttock is out now on Penguin (RRP $39.99).
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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