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Food

Hanging with Mr Hong

As a teenager, Dan Hong was a bit of a rebel, emulating the ‘gansta’ life from his heroes in hip hop – doing graffiti, partying and earning the ire of the law. These days, he still has that sassy savoir faire air about him, but as the ‘it’ boy of the Sydney dining scene, a genuine Gen Y foodie trail blazer, he’s too important to ignore, but too cool to care.

His resume and achievements are as full as a contented diner at one of his restaurants. Stints at Longrain, Tetsuya’s, Bentley and Marque helped him score the Josephine Pignolet Best Young Chef Award at the 2008 SMH Good Food Guide Awards. Hospitality king Justin Hemmes recognised the potential. Seven years later, Dan is executive chef across three of Merivale Group’s hippest restaurants: Mr Wong, Ms G’s and El Loco. He admits though, that he would never have had any of this had it not been for his mother.

Mum knows best

Dan grew up in the north-western Sydney suburb of Epping while his mum, Angie, worked tirelessly at the family’s Vietnamese restaurants to give Dan and his sisters a private school education. But after he bombed out of high school, Dan admits he didn’t really know what to do. Fortunately, his mum did. She put him to work in her restaurant, got him into a cooking school and then used her contacts to get him an apprenticeship at Longrain. He’s never looked back.

“I never really thought about being in the industry when I was in high school because I took it for granted that my mum had this restaurant,” Dan says.
“I enjoyed cooking at home and I enjoyed watching cooking shows like Jamie Oliver, so I thought I would give it a crack.”

Dan found his true calling in the kitchens of mentors such as Martin Boetz, Brent Savage and Mark Best, learning Asian, fusion and French. But it was when he cooked the food of US trendsetting chef David Chang (Momofuku) at a special function that Dan’s creative juices truly flowed. In Chang, Dan discovered a guy who broke the rules and managed to tap into the main vein of food fashion – fresh, fast and great tasting – fine dining junk food. Hemmes wanted an Aussie version and entrusted Dan and chef Jowett Yu to do the job, and so Ms Gs was born. A Mexican eating excursion for Dan led to the opening of the pop-up style El Loco.

Mr Wong is Hemmes’ most expansive (and expensive) restaurant imagining yet, a Sydneysider’s vision of a hip Cantonese eatery located in the suits and briefcase end of Sydney’s CBD. It’s been wildly successful, scoring a host of awards including Best New Restaurant by SMH in 2014, and recently voted as the ninth best restaurant in the country by chefs and restaurateurs in the Australian Financial Review. The accolades confirm the inspired partnership of two great artists. “He (Justin) has this big vision and I just execute the food,” says Dan. “It’s great.”

Hong style

Whether it’s called refined dude food, or a super fly feast from a Kayne West of the kitchen, Dan hesitates at labelling his style. 

“I don’t want to put myself in this pigeon-hole where diners say, ‘I feel I can only go there on a special occasion’. I want people to come to my places and feel like they can eat there every day. They can also come there for that special occasion, but I just want to be the whole package where people feel comfortable eating my food, drinking good wine and having a great time.”

Watch our interview with Dan Hong:

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Food
More pork on your fork
Words by Mark Hughes on 10 Aug 2015
One of my favourite scenes in the TV show, The Simpsons, is when Lisa is telling her dad Homer that she is no longer going to eat meat.

“What about bacon?” asks Homer.

“No,” replies Lisa.

“Ham?”

“No.”

“Pork chops?”

“Dad, those all come from the same animal.”

“Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.”

It might have been a great punchline on TV, but in reality Homer was pretty spot on. The varied cuts of pork and the vast ways to cook them has seen pork become very popular with Australians. But it hasn’t always been this way. Statistics show that 50 years ago it was beef and lamb that dominated the dinner plate; pork, and chicken for that matter, were barely a blip on the radar. One of the key reasons why this has changed is also the same reason why we are drinking table wine instead of fortifieds, and that is immigration. Our once predominant English-inspired dinner of meat and three veg has thankfully been complemented by a succulent array of delicious dishes. Think spaghetti Bolognese, pasta carbonara, chorizo paella, char siu – all of which, incidentally, feature pork; and that is not even thinking about breakfast (bacon and eggs) or, for that matter, lunch; ham and salad sandwich, anyone? Kitchen tradition Peter Haydon, marketing manager for Australian Pork , says tradition has played a huge role in shaping our food preferences and hindered his job in promoting pork. “People grow up to cook the meals their parents cooked,” he says “That was steak and veg, lamb chops, roast beef.” Decades ago Australian Pork had great success with the ‘get some pork on your fork’ campaign – many of you reading this will still have that phrase indelibly inked on your memory, and while that brought attention to the ‘other white meat’, it only did some of the job. “The next challenge was teaching them how to cook it,” says Peter. For the past decade, Australian Pork have marketed PorkStars – a collection of well-known chefs such as Manu Feildel , Giovanni Pilu , Alessandro Pavoni , Dan Hong, Chui Lee Luk – all of whom have shown Australians how to cook pork via events and recipes. Manu explains that pork played a huge role in his upbringing in France, learning different cuts and the many ways to prepare them. It is this knowledge that he hopes to pass on through his recipes.   “Food has always played a big part in our lives, my dad was a chef, so was his dad,” says Manu. “One of my uncles is a ‘charcutier’, so he’s an expert with pork and making pork products, such as salamis, pâtès, rillettes, and his own specialities, so pork has always been part of my diet. “I believe that pork is more versatile than any other animal,” states Manu. “You can eat everything from ‘nose to tail’. Roasts, stews, pan fried, deep fried, confit. Charcuterie, and things you not think about, like intestine for sausage skin, blood for black pudding, head for terrines, trotters, tail, ears, and more. “Creating recipes with pork is endless and it is a great match with other ingredients. It pairs beautifully with fruits such as apple, prunes, apricots, so as a chef, you can let your imagination run wild.” The science of eating Manu is also brand ambassador for Murray Valley Pork , part of the Rivalea group and Australia’s largest pork producer. They sell their extensive range of pork products exclusively through butchers and see the affable chef as a great way to promote their brand and also to continue to educate Australians on how to cook pork. “Manu’s reputation as an acclaimed chef has been instrumental in growing awareness of the brand,” says Sean Barrett, marketing manager with Murray Valley Pork. “We work together to communicate the same message: the best quality taste and experience when it comes to pork.” To this end, over the past 15 years Murray Valley Pork have invested heavily in addressing many concerns of consumers, from animal welfare to issues such as dryness, colour and pork taint, to create a better quality product. “There’s a cultural misconception that pork needs to be served well done, however more consumers are understanding this is not the case,” says Sean, who explains that they use a number of techniques including moisture infusion to ensure their pork doesn’t dry out from cooking. “It is easy to cook, which means everyone can produce a great result This guarantee of a soft, tender and delicious meal every time significantly increases consumer confidence in cooking pork.” Well-fed welfare Dr Rebecca Morrison, animal welfare programs manager at Rivalea, details how the company has also set the benchmark in providing the best care of their stock. “Rivalea commits to ‘care for every pig, every day’,” she says. “For instance, instead of pregnant sow stalls, our pregnant sows are now housed in social groups. This ensures that the sow is able to move freely within group housing and is able to perform natural social behaviours. More than half of our pigs are reared in straw-bedded housing systems. “Other programs include loose farrowing systems, group weaning of sows and environmental enrichment for animals. This humane treatment ensures the end product is of the highest quality.” It is these points that Manu believes will see pork continue to grow in the market and is the reason why he chose to work with the brand. “Murray Valley Pork produces the highest quality of meat,” he says. “They do this ethically and responsibly. And I love the consistency, sweetness and tenderness across all of their cuts.” Check out Manu's delicious pork recipes with our wine matching suggestions Pork, peas and asparagus risotto
Food
Alla Wolf-Tasker: Lakehouse Legend
Words by Mark Hughes on 3 Jul 2018
Along with her loving family, Alla Wolf-Tasker transformed a downtrodden country town into a thriving culinary community. Alla Wolf-Tasker’s Lake House story is the stuff of legend and has been told many times. And while the Lake House is recognised around the world as one of this country’s great restaurants, the impact Alla, and the venue, have had on creating a culinary community will be seen as perhaps her greatest legacy. It is a true pleasure speaking with Alla. She’s friendly and knowledgeable, eloquent and assured, and so very passionate about all things food. The reason for our chat is to discuss the release of her latest book, Three Decades On – Lake House and Daylesford. Like everything Alla does, it is beautifully presented with gorgeous lush photography, delicious recipes and engaging editorial that updates the Lake House story. At its heart is a strong sense of community.
Dream A Little Dream As a young chef, Alla travelled to France, spending her time working in some of its iconic provincial restaurants. When she returned, Alla dreamed of creating one of her own in Australia. She instinctively chose Daylesford, a small village about 90 minutes north-west of Melbourne. It was where she had spent time as a child, as her Russian-immigrant parents owned a small summer house there, a place where they grew their own produce. In 1979, Alla and her husband Allan, bought what she describes as a ‘blackberry-covered car-wreck-strewn paddock’ and set about building the country restaurant of her dreams. “I came back from France with stars in my eyes and with this notion that the restaurants that really resonated for me were regional restaurants because they had this growing sense of place around them,” recounts Alla. “They actually grew a community around them. A community of growers and suppliers and producers and also a community of doers, people that would fix things and were part of the business. Someone like the florist who supplies the flowers, the carpenter builds the chairs and tables – that sort of real community enterprise that I saw overseas. That’s what I fell in love with.”
For the full story and recipes from Alla, pickup a copy of Selector from all good newsagents,  subscribe  or look inside your next Wine Selectors delivery.  
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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