Sneaker fiend, tripe lover and executive chef Dan Hong talks food TV, celebrating diversity and why family recipes are often the best.
By
Siobhan Hegarty

17 Jul 2018 - 2:10 PM  UPDATED 17 Jul 2018 - 2:12 PM

There are few chefs who emanate ‘cool factor’ quite like Dan Hong. A coy, bespectacled character, Dan is the culinary brains behind some of Sydney’s most popular restaurants, including Asian fusion eatery Ms G’s, lush Chinese bistro Mr Wong and Mexican hotspot El Loco. He mightn’t the next Bourdain, but Dan’s interesting brand of food and sneakers is something the industry – and Instagram – loves. With more than 46,000 followers when this piece was written, @hongsta_gram gives us mere diners a fascinating look into the mind and daily menu of one of the country’s brightest culinary stars, the ‘OG’ Dan Hong. 

Scrolling through his snaps of bold, boisterous food – think suckling pig, mighty mud crabs and all kinds of offal – along with out-there footwear (see #hongsneakers for more), you’d be forgiven for thinking this Sydneysider is a touch OTT. In actual fact, though, the opposite couldn’t be truer. Polite, diligent and level-headed, Dan cites his two kids as his biggest achievement in life. Industry friends, like fellow The Chefs’ Line judge Melissa Leong, say he’s incredibly hard-working.  And his impressive CV – one that’s taken him from Marque and Bentley Restaurant and Bar to New York’s WD~50 – suggests the same.

"The best way to understand another person’s culture is through food."

Like many great chefs, Dan was born into a food-loving family. His mum, Angie Hong, ran the Sydney Vietnamese restaurant chain Thanh Binh and, unwittingly, Dan became the family’s cook when she was busy at work. An apathetic teen more interested in graffiti than gastronomy, Dan didn’t plan to be a chef. Thankfully, Mama Hong intervened, snaring her son his first gig at Longrain and a future in food.

Now Dan has added ‘judge’ to his list of culinary titles, returning with Melissa Leong and Mark Olive on the the second season ofThe Chefs’ Line. With plenty of cooking tips, cuisine knowledge and – according to Mark, Instagram advice – to share, we chatted to Dan about the experience and his food philosophy.

We have a few cooking shows on TV right now, how will The Chefs’ Line stack up? I think it will bring out the inner foodies. Shows like Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules are a lot about the drama, the personalities, and getting to know the characters. But with The Chefs’ Line, these cooks are only there for a week, so at the end of the day it’s a celebration of a certain cuisine each week. We’re showing how multicultural Australia is and how food brings everyone together. The best way to understand another person’s culture is through food.

What types of backstories did the home cooks have? They ranged from, for example, a Spanish cook who got all their recipes from their family to an entrant in Thai week who only discovered Thai food 10 year ago and has been cooking it every day since. It could be someone who has the culture and been born with that heritage; and it can be someone who’s just obsessed with a particular cuisine.

Do the professional chefs always win out?

You’d be surprised how good the home cooks are. The judging is all about the flavour. What would you rather eat: something that looks amazing and tastes good, or something that doesn’t look great but tastes amazing? The latter. That’s my whole philosophy.

"I think the best thing home cooks can learn from professional chefs is time management."

Did you have any favourite moments?

My favourite week was obviously Vietnamese week, not only because I am Vietnamese but I thought the contestants were really fun. The restaurant and all the chefs really brought it in those episodes.

So what can home cooks learn from the professionals? That’s a hard question. I think the best thing home cooks can learn from professional chefs is time management. In our industry, that’s one thing we do every day: making sure we’re set up for service and so on.

And did you pick up any tips along the way?

If there’s something I love more than cooking it’s eating. I like to educate myself when I try cuisines from all over the world. In the African and Lebanese weeks I learnt so much

It’d be remiss not to mention your sneaker collection. What’s the latest count?

I don’t know… over a hundred.

Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? The Chefs’ Line premieres Monday 6 August, 6pm weeknights, on SBS followed by an encore screening at 9.30pm on SBS Food Network. Episodes will be available after broadcast via SBS On DemandJoin the conversation #TheChefsLine on Instagram @sbsfood, Facebook @SBSFood  and Twitter @SBS_Food. Check out sbs.com.au/thechefsline for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more! 

Who's who and what's what
Mark Olive on the ingredients to success
As a chef and TV host, Mark Olive works in two of the most ego-driven industries out there, but this humble Bundjalung man is hungry for food, not fame.
Kicking it old-school with Melissa Leong
Fresh off the film set, Melissa Leong talks about eating fearlessly, food writing as a career, and why Australia’s culinary scene could do with a dose of glamour.
The Chefs' Line | Episode guide
Can passion beat profession? #TheChefsLine
What is a Chefs' Line, anyway?
Like a well-oiled machine, in every kitchen there's a chefs' line, from apprentice right to the top.

Cook with Dan Hong
Lotus ice-cream sundae with raspberries and honeycomb

This dish became my signature dessert when I was at Lotus and it had a loyal and devoted following. At the time, everyone in Sydney was trying really hard to do something molecular and Alex Stupak-esque with desserts. While I admired the American chef’s inventive creations, I wanted to do something fun and tasty with real texture, and something my customers could relate to. 

Prawn toast with yuzu mayonnaise, coriander and mint

This is a superb snack. Top each piece of toast with yuzu mayo and garnish with a fresh herb salad.

Sang choi bao of Sichuan lamb with smoked eggplant nahm prik

This dish is another happy marriage. Australians love sang choi bao – it’s a classic suburban Chinese restaurant dish that everyone grew up eating. And what better to pair it with than lamb, Australia’s favourite protein. Eggplant works really well with lamb, so this dish is just a combination of best mates. Prepare to marinate the lamb a day ahead.

The anatomy of a Lotus burger
Creating the perfect burger is a fine art, one which Dan Hong believes he's mastered in his Lotus creation.