We chat with uber cool chef Jowett Yu from Sydney restaurant Mr Wong's about the evolving food scene in Australia and what's next.
Mr Wong’s has been a hit, why do you think Sydney was taken with it, and remains committed?
I think Australians are pretty familiar with Cantonese food. There are Chinese restaurants everywhere – even in country towns. Mr Wong serves refined classics but in a room with amazing décor. Most Chinese restaurants are pretty shabby looking. They have cheesy paintings covered in plastic or the place decked out in red and decorative gold dragons.
What is the one ingredient that has been a constant and your career? The one that you couldn't do without?
I hadn’t always cooked asian food professionally up until Ms Gs and Mr Wong. But I always made sure I have rice and made rice for staff meal. Rice is a foundation of asian cooking and it complements other dishes.
What is your favourite dish on the menu at Mr. Wong?
I had a salt and pepper mud crab for the first time at Mr Wong and it was pretty delicious.
What is the high point of your career?
When Ms G’s got a hat in the good food guide 2013 and a week prior Mr Wong got a pretty good score in a review by good living. I lost a lot of sleep and worked a lot to build these two restaurants and it’s nice to get some recognition. But now there’s tremendous pressure keeping up with people’s expectations.
What do you think of the celebrity chef/food reality TV show phenomenon? Is it a good thing? Is it warping the actual work of a chef?
I was really inspired watching Jamie Oliver and Iron Chef Japan before I became a chef; they are, in some aspects, the reason I got into cooking. Jamie Oliver made cooking look fun and easy, whereas the Iron Chefs were incredible craftsmen with profound artistic flair. I think food shows have a positive aspect as it gives people insight into the industry but also gives people opportunity to want to cook at home. It puts the industry in the limelight and that can’t be a bad thing.
Favourite country to visit purely for eating?
Taiwan. Its where I was born; its where I grew up; its where my earliest eating memories were formed. And it's hard to get good Taiwanese food in Australia.
How do you think Sydney, and Australia’s, restaurant and food scene is evolving? Are food trucks really the future? Is fine dining over? Will we ever get tired of sliders? What’s next?
It appears a few fine dining chefs are opening mid-range outlets. This way they are able to reach a broader demographic and with rising costs people are cutting down on recreational spending – that includes eating really expensive dinners.
I think there’s a renewed interest in using native Australian produce with restaurants like Billy Kwong and Momofuku Seiobo creating new direction for Australian cuisine using bushtucker produce. The trickle down effect might see other chefs going towards this direction.
Fine dining is never over, I think they always will exert tremendous influence in the way we eat. But it’s hard to stay on top of the game forever, there’s a lot of pressure in a necessary evolution of style to keep the dining audience excited.
Sliders and tacos are here for a while, but like wraps of 1990s, they’ll probably go out of fashion. We’re also beginning to see more steamed bun variation dishes. Who knows, maybe Banh Mi inspired sandwiches will be the next craze.
On food trends, what do you think will be the next 'hot' cuisine/style of cooking?
I’ve noticed a lot of kitchens installing woodfire grills and chefs experimenting with grilling using different types of wood. Also I’ve been seeing an influx of latin-American themed restaurants so that might be where we are headed.
What will Mr Wong be doing to celebrate Chinese New year?
We will be offering a Chinese new years banquet menu with items like suckling pig and Yee Sang, which is a dish that gets everyone in the table involved tossing the sashimi salad collectively with their chop sticks.
Can you tell me a little about what you're doing for March into Merivale?
We will be also doing a GQ Mgazine/Vogue Magazine dinner with a Mandarin inspired Menu which will be revealed closer to the date, so stay tuned.
Find out more about March into Merivale here