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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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