What will you grab for lunch today, Chui?
My favourite is probably fried rice, just because it’s easy – the equivalent of having a piece of bread when I was [head chef and co-owner] at Claude’s.
You opened Chow and launched your cookbook in the same month this year. Are you okay?
[Laughs] It was a surprise that it ended up that way, but there were lots of joyful events in October.
Tell me about your working day, in a nutshell.
Two days a week, I work on the creative development of the dishes for the restaurant; the rest of the time in the kitchen. If I’m trialling dishes, I prefer to come in really early; people start coming into work around 9 o’clock and we’re open all day so it can be a very long day.
Do you enjoy cooking at home?
I do when I have time. I cook very simply [at home] and I guess my go-to cuisine would involve Italian flavours. If I come home late at night, I might throw together a simple bowl of pasta with anchovies, lemon, olive oil and garlic. Asian cuisine can take a lot of preparation, so I don’t see it as an easy thing to achieve quickly.
You’ve spoken about Chinese techniques in awed tones. How much more is there to learn?
Chinese cuisine seems like a boundless area to explore because it comprises any number of regions and they all have their nuances. Technique-wise they can be extremely different. There’s a lot to explore there still. I haven’t even begun!
You grew up in Sabah, Malaysia. What were the influences that inspired you to become a chef?
We moved to Australia when I was seven, so in Malaysia I really just observed in the kitchen. [The influence was] more the culture of eating and cooking.
I’ve heard it described as an obsession.
Yes, even when you’re eating, you’re talking about the next thing you’re going to find.
What’s a favourite dish in the cookbook?
The thing I go back to again and again is the banana fritters. In Australia, they’re something you have to make yourself rather than buy.
Is there anything you wouldn’t eat, and what’s the most challenging thing you’ve ever eaten?
I guess I would try anything once… in Yunan province I’ve tried deep-fried bees, but anything you deep fry seems to be tolerable. Cod’s sperm in Hong Kong was a fairly unpleasant experience.
The last supper question: if you had to choose a last meal, what would it be?
I’d look to comfort dishes, and my favourite things are fresh rice noodles stir fried with beef … and chilli mud crab. That’s a constant.
Read an extract from Chui Lee Luk's book, Green Pickled Peaches (Hardie Grant, $59.95).