Get to know: Brendan Pang

How did your passion for cooking start and what is your food philosophy?

I’ve always had an enormous appetite, so you could say my love and passion for food and cooking began at a very early age. Food’s always been central to many things in my family – a visit to my grand-mere’s is never without a home cooked meal and family gatherings are often planned around food. One of my fondest memories growing up involves sitting around the dining table with my grand-mere, mum and aunties, learning how to assemble wontons and make noodles from scratch. I would describe my style of cooking as honest, in that I cook food I love to eat using fresh local produce whenever possible.

Most and least favourite produce/ingredient to use?

My current obsession in the kitchen is gochujang, a fermented Korean chilli paste. I love using it because it is extremely versatile and adds a huge amount of flavour to the simplest of dishes. I’m also finding a lot of excitement in cooking with fresh and seasonal veggies. My least favourite ingredient to use is fenugreek seeds. There’s just something about the aroma that doesn’t sit well with me.

How should a novice cook make a start?

Every novice cook should start with quality but basic kitchen equipment and tools such as a chef knife, a chopping board, measuring spoons and cups, a good non-stick pan, a heavy pot and a couple of baking trays. As for dishes, I always think simple is better and practice goes a long way. Start with mastering something such as an omelette and practice until you perfect it. The internet has so many good tips and advice.

What’s a cooking hack you can share?

If you have a bunch of spare herbs on you, chop them up, put them in an ice cube tray with olive oil and freeze them. Next time you cook something, drop in a cube to add fresh herbs to your meal.

What’s the most common mistake you see being made in the kitchen?

A common mistake is around seasoning. I’m a firm believer of seasoning at every opportunity, but also tasting and adjusting to ensure your food is perfectly balanced. It’s easy to under-season or over-season, but the most important thing to remember is that salt brings out hidden flavours in your dish so pay careful attention.

What underrated produce or ingredient would you like to see more people use?

I would like to see more people use local and seasonal fresh produce, particularly vegetables. I think a common misconception about vegetables is that it can only be served as a side dish or used as a smaller component of a larger meal. I would love for people to be more creative with veggies, such as  cooking them how you would with meat, or using them in unusual ways.

What are some must-have kitchen gadgets?

Electronic kitchen scales. They’re helpful with not only desserts and baking, but for most savoury dishes too. I use a lot of fresh herbs and leaves, so a salad spinner is very handy in ensuring everything is dry before it is used. (The last thing you want is a watery salad.) A quality food processor is also a great time-saver – from grating vegetables to making curry pastes and dips.

What’s a kitchen trend you’ve noticed these days?

I’ve noticed a huge shift towards “ugly” food. In the past a lot of food companies would trash produce that wasn’t necessarily pretty enough to sell, but I’ve noticed a lot more awareness around this. There are a lot more campaigns against food waste and chefs are making good use of ingredients of all shapes and sizes. 

What do you see being discarded from produce that really should be used?

I see a lot of people discarding herb stems. Most recipes ask for herbs to be picked from the stem, which we then toss, but the stems of herbs such as coriander, mint, and parsley are packed full of flavour. They can be added to stocks or blended into sauces such as pesto.

We hear a lot about family trade secrets being passed down through the generations, what’s a trademark that you’ll be passing on?

My family wonton soup recipe which, over time I have adjusted to be my own. I think it’s such a simple but tasty dish, and it would be wrong to not share it with those around me.

To see more of Brendan Pang, head down to the Kleenheat Kitchen at the Perth Garden Festival on Thursday 11 April. Get 50% off your tickets with Kleenheat’s special member offer