• Tofu might be one of them. (Danielle Abou Karam)Source: Danielle Abou Karam
This is how a chef picks their top ingredient.
Caterina Hrysomallis

22 Jul 2021 - 3:20 PM  UPDATED 22 Jul 2021 - 3:40 PM

--- The Cook Up with Adam Liaw airs weeknights on SBS Food at 7.00pm and 10.00pm, or stream it free on SBS On Demand. The 'favourite ingredients' episode airs Thursday 22 July. ---


How exactly does a chef decide their favourite ingredient? We asked some of the country's top chefs one of the most difficult questions they could ever face in their careers.

Cruel, we know — get ready for a few surprises. 


The chef and host of SBS Food's The Cook Up With Adam Liaw can't get enough of tofu. "I think if you eat something at least once a week, you got to think it's almost one of your favourite ingredients," says Adam Liaw.

One of Liaw's favourite tofu dishes is what he calls 'cong you tofu' which means 'onion, oil and tofu' in Mandarin.

He slices the cold tofu into thin, almost noodle-like pieces and makes a warm dressing of oil, soy and spring onion to weave the noodles through, making a speedy yet substantial dish.

Get the recipe
Cong you tofu (silken tofu with spring onion oil and soy sauce)

Adam's quick and easy block of silken tofu is dressed with spring onion, garlic and two types of soy sauce. Great served as part of a meal, everyone help themselves.

Coriander roots

Coriander leaves are contentious, but coriander roots have a different flavour. Sutinee Suntivatana, chef-owner of Melbourne CBD's cult cafe Humble Rays, loves the aroma of coriander roots.

Why is coriander so incredibly divisive?
Hate the herb? It could be your genes. Or it could be what your Mum cooked when you were growing up.

"I'm originally from Bangkok. In Thai food we use a lot of coriander roots,” says Suntivatana.

"It's a real staple in our kitchen. From soup, curry paste, marinades to chilli relish. It's fragrant, pungent and peppery, [which] gives the complexity found in Thai cuisine."

Hiramasa kingfish

Mark Tagnipez, chef at Melbourne institution Supernormal, says Hiramasa kingfish is his ingredient of choice. 

"I really like that while it's a premium product, it's accessible to anyone," Tagnipez tells SBS Food. "You can find it at your local seafood supplier and you can see it on the menu of some of the best restaurants in Australia."

"It also lends itself well to different cooking applications. I can bread and deep-fry the collar, use the top shoulder loin for sashimi, grill the middle section as bone-in steaks, and make a delicious fish broth from the bones."

Tagnipez also uses Hiramasa kingfish to make a coconut ceviche, with shallots, tomatoes and fermented green chilli oil.

Olive oil

Jacqui Challinor, executive chef at contemporary diner Nomad in Sydney, believes olive oil doesn't get the praise it deserves.

"I love it. I mean, I've grown up on it. It's such an incredible flavour, but I don't think it gets as much love as it needs. It's often just treated as a condiment and not necessarily an ingredient in its own right."

One of Challinor's signature desserts is a no-churn, olive oil ice cream with figs and honeycomb.

Get the recipe
No-churn olive oil ice-cream cake

I love this recipe because it’s a great way to showcase olive oil as an ingredient with a flavour profile in its own right rather than just a condiment for cooking.


Shane Delia, chef and host of SBS Food program A Middle East Feast, is obsessed with umami, and furikake (Japanese rice seasoning) is full of it.

"At the moment I am looking for maximum flavour that has to be easy with very little calories," says Delia. "I'm trying to get rid of a few of the extra Covid calories I seem to have found while in lockdown."

The Japanese seasoning makes everything instantly delicious.

"One of my meals that are in my regime right now is a rice, poached chicken, ginger, corn and mushroom dish. Topped with a poached egg and a furikake, it doesn't even feel like I’m watching what I'm eating."


"If I have to choose one ingredient it's probably would be garlic," says head chef at Melbourne's Bodriggy Brewing Co., Johny Dominguez.

"Fresh Australian garlic is absolutely delicious in many ways and if you cook it the right way can up-level any other ingredient. From a Sunday roast, a creamy pasta, a fresh salad, a piece of bread with butter or a nice savoury granola," he says.

All the varieties of garlic you need in your cooking
Garlic might be said to keep the vampires away, but it certainly brings the folks to the table. Grower Nick Diamantopoulos explains why the pungent bulb is so magnetic and how different varieties suit different cuisines.


Dave Verheul, chef and co-owner of Melbourne wine bar Embla, is "going through a bit of an egg phase at home".

"When you think about what an egg brings to the culinary world it really is quite an incredible ingredient," says Verheul.

"Most sweet baked goods, almost the whole weekend breakfast category and a carbonara just would not be anything without the humble egg."


Head chef at Cutler & Co., Tana Rattananikom, is enjoying cooking with turnip this winter.

"At Cutler & Co., we like to use ingredients that are the best and brightest of the season. In all honesty, the farmers do all the hard work, and that means we are able to let the ingredients speak for themselves.”

Rattananikom says the turnip is "unique" and when prepared well and served with the right accompanying ingredients "can really make a hero dish".

Cutler & Co. is currently serving turnips alongside wagyu, smoked eggplant and native pepper.

The place where Adam Liaw eats the best meals in the world
From Tokyo's high-end sushi joints to Rome's trattorias, Adam Liaw has been there. However, nothing compares to a family meal at home.
Curried sweet potato mash

Up your mash game with Adam Liaw's version: Slow-roasted sweet potato mashed with butter, yoghurt and spices for a creamy and warming side.

Don’t throw out your minced meat tray! Make kabab khashkhash
Adam Liaw has a genius idea for shaping these thick Syrian kababs using the plastic tray your mince arrives in.
Grandma's soy-sauce braised pork belly

Adam Liaw shares his grandmother's recipe for pork belly marinated in a sweet and salty soy blend, served with hard-boiled eggs.

Beef and broccolini with oyster sauce

Drawing on the 'holy trinity' of Chinese cooking, Adam Liaw shares his simple steak stir-fry with ginger, onions and garlic.

Pork belly and spring onion

Adam Liaw shares his wok-fried pork belly recipe, featuring a few simple ingredients for a quick week night throw-together.

Bakery bankruptcy

Adam Liaw's method for clearing piled-up bread: a savoury bread pudding complete with ham, cheese and spinach for a tasty brekkie.

Vietnamese iced coffee, but make it tiramisu
There are times when tradition is worth going against, and making Adam Liaw’s tiramisu recipe is one of them.