cooking with Chef Dan Hong

Last Saturday,  I went to my first cooking class at the Sydney Seafood School. I know they've been around for ages and come to think of it, it's strange that it has taken me this long to get to one of their classes. Strange because I've been consuming a lot of cooking classes during my overseas holidays recently and yet it has been more than 10 years since I've done one in Sydney.

So what got me there? Mr Wong, I mean, Hong did. Chef Dan Hong, that is.  I'm a big fan of the food at Ms G's and Mr Wong. Squid ink nasi goreng, crispy pork hock with apple kimchi, and pan fried prawn toast with foie gras and almonds to name a few.  "Classic with a twist," was how Chef Hong described his food. These restaurants use premium quality produce and dish out ridiculously tasty Asian food handled with finesse (no gluggy sauces, overly thick batters, or dodgy mixed seafood meats here). As soon as you have one dish, you'd think, oh my god, I've got to come back here, and then order more. The menu does keep changing at Ms G's so you don't get to have the dishes you like often enough. On the upside, it's great to look forward to what they'd come up with next and go, oh my god, I've got to come back here, all over again.

I've been thrilled since Sydney chefs seriously began embracing Asian food and doing their different takes on it. Fifteen years ago, I could only remember Tetsuya Wakuda and Neil Perry excelling in Sydney and I suppose they were the pioneers. I mean, which top local chef hasn't worked with Tetsuya?

Top to bottom: tempura of bugs with sriracha mayonnaise, new-style sashimi of cobia with yuzu, ginger & leeks and steamed hapuku with egg fried rice and shiro dashi sauce. We did make a fourth dish, the diamond shell clams with corn, butter, chorizo and basil but there was a hairy arm that managed to sneak into the photo so I haven't included it here.

Top to bottom: tempura of bugs with sriracha mayonnaise, new-style sashimi of cobia with yuzu, ginger & leeks and steamed hapuku with egg fried rice and shiro dashi sauce. We did make a fourth dish, the diamond shell clams with corn, butter, chorizo and basil but there was a hairy arm that managed to sneak into the photo so I haven't included it here.

The class was advertised to run from 11 am - 3 pm but most of us were done cooking and eating by just after 2 pm. The first one and a half hours had Chef Hong cooking 4 dishes in an auditorium, complete with 4 TV screens capturing what he was doing on the kitchen bench. Chef Hong was relaxed and casual in his manner but would become animated when he tasted his finished product and delightedly say, "siiiiick!" and shake his head with disbelief.  At one point, Chef Hong was heroically sawing into the hard top shell of a Balmain Bug with a - yikes, bread knife, and was pointedly told by one his assistants what the knife's purpose is usually for.  Well, what's the point of being a top chef if not to have mignons do the all the prepping for you?

Chef Hong in action and reading off the recipe sheet. And here I thought top chefs only cooked from their gut instincts and highly developed taste buds. How reassuring for the rest of us!

Chef Hong in action and reading off the recipe sheet. And here I thought top chefs only cooked from their gut instincts and highly developed taste buds. How reassuring for the rest of us!

After the lecture, we were swiftly herded into a huge room where all the work stations were. Each work station had a stove, sink, bench top, fridge and probably an oven (? I can't remember because we didn't use it).  There were 5-6 people at each work station and each station got to make all 4 dishes. A huge tick, in my books, because it really allowed me to have a go at making the different dishes instead of just watching someone else do it.  Chef Hong and his assistants were regularly coming to each station to guide and make sure we were on track.

BSK trying to copy Hong's deft deep frying technique of swirling the tempura bug in the oil to make sure the batter sets before completely dropping it in.

BSK trying to copy Hong's deft deep frying technique of swirling the tempura bug in the oil to make sure the batter sets before completely dropping it in.

Before I knew it, an hour had gone by and people from each work station started clearing and taking their food to another room, the dining room, where we got to enjoy the fruits of our labour with a nicely chilled glass of Taylor's riesling. My partner only came along to support me and his gripe was we could've done with more than 1 bottle of riesling for each table of 6 people. Too true, as our group started to pour the wine we realised we wouldn't have enough to fill 6 happy glasses and began tipping the wine in each other's less happy glasses to even things out. 

I can honestly say all the dishes that we made were delicious. When I was watching Chef Hong prepare them, I did wonder how tasty they would be because they all seemed quite simple to make. I guess that's what you get when you have really good recipes like his. And, that did lead me to purchase his cookbook on the day (dedicated and signed, no less, which reminds me of how my partner got me a signed copy of Tetsuya's cookbook but that's another story).  I've flicked through Chef Hong's cookbook before and the food looked amazing. I think I just assumed that because they looked amazing then they must be really hard to make. Wrong! 

It was a full class of 60 people and I was really impressed with how everything went so smoothly. The entire event was very organised and the facilities were clean.  Staff were helpful and worked efficiently.  Overall, the cooking class was run very professionally and probably worth the cost of $165 pp, although I'm sure they could've easily squeezed in another glass of riesling. Perhaps the most surprising thing was the parking. It was free, yes, free! I mean, when do you ever get free parking in Sydney?! Maybe, the parking fee was included in the cost anyway but even if it was, what clever marketing to say it's free. It certainly worked on me!

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