Food News

All-Star Yum Cha

What happens the morning after the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards? We treat the chefs to a world-beating yum cha session, as Dani Valent discovers.

By Dani Valent
Ricky & Pinky's mudcrab, pork and saltbush dumpling in double-boiled soup

Take jet lag, add a glittering awards ceremony and sprinkle with the best chefs in the world. It's a no-fail recipe for vigorous carousing. Come the morning after the night before, these fêted chefs - mostly delighted, some inevitably disappointed - will regroup in rumpled bonhomie atop their Melbourne hotel. Tourism Australia asked the Gourmet Traveller team to help out with giving the World's 50 Best a fitting and memorable send-off. Obviously, cornflakes won't cut it. Instead, they'll be treated to All-Star Yum Cha, a triple-pronged effort to aid recovery, continue the party and observe the favourite Australian morning sport of dim sum.

Held on QT Melbourne's rooftop terrace in - fingers crossed - gentle autumn sunshine, this invitation-only come-as-you-are brunch promises to be a feast to remember. Top local chefs will put their spin on mostly Chinese snacks for the celebrated visitors: awarded and lauded the night before, they'll now be fellow cooks roaring with appetite.

Anchovy's Thi Le is reimagining the yum cha canon through Australian eyes. "I'm thinking marron toast with Davidson plum, and egg tart with macadamia," she says. That's a long way from the Sunday dim sum she grew up with in Cabramatta. "I remember a lot of offal: chicken's feet, tripe, braised pig's blood. It was a ritual and a treat." She's still a big fan of that food, and the chaos and buzz that go with yum cha. "I like the variety, the madness, the way it helps you chill out," she says. Celebrating Australia via Chinese food makes sense to the Vietnamese-Australian chef. "All of us go to yum cha," she says. "It's very multicultural and we can integrate all our different traditions."

Anchovy's marron toast.

David Thompson is a 50 Best veteran, and will potentially be doing double-duty as the chef of Nahm, (number 37 in the 2016 list) and a host in his capacity as chef of the newly opened Melbourne branch of Long Chim. "Having been to the awards several times, I know the score and the consequences," he says. That's why he's serving beef stir-fried with holy basil and chillies, and deep-fried eggs. "The dish is spicy and salty. It'll clear up whatever ails them. It's not quite a yum cha dish but it'll be perfect."

Indeed, the chefs have been encouraged to take liberties with traditional trolley snacks. Victor Liong of Lee Ho Fook is planning a lamb pastry as a nod towards the Aussie meat pie, and a prawn dumpling that substitutes indigenous greens for Chinese vegetables. "I'll be showcasing our amazing seafood and using warrigal greens instead of snow pea sprouts," he says, "but the flavour profile will be classically Chinese."

A big celebration calls for a big dumpling. Or at least that's chef ArChan Chan's thinking. She's serving guan tang jiao, a soup-filled jumbo dumpling she remembers eating as a child in Hong Kong. "It's similar to xiao long bao but a lot bigger," she says. Traditionally, these parcels are filled with pork, dried scallops and shiitake mushrooms. Chan's egg-sized version, brainstormed with Andrew McConnell, her boss at Ricky & Pinky, will be crammed with Australian mud crab, saltbush and a crab and chicken-based broth. The broth is jellied when cool but liquefies when the dumpling is steamed. break into it and it's so big that you feel like you're eating dumpling in soup," she says.

Flower Drum's squab and goose liver pastry.

Flower Drum's Anthony Lui is taking traditional yum cha snacks and recreating them with luxury ingredients. Spring rolls - normally a straightforward workingman's morsel - will be stuffed with local abalone and shiitakes. The abalone will be braised for 13 hours with oyster sauce and chicken, both to tenderise it and to imbue it wi h flavour. "The braising is done with great pride and as a mark of the skills of the chef," explains Lui's son Jason. A typical Hong Kong pastry of chicken and mushrooms will be dressed up with minced squab and goose liver. With a flaky base and sweet cookie crust, it's sure to fly off the trays.

Neil Perry is catering the World's 50 Best ceremony, then fronting up with his Spice Temple team to cook dumplings the next day. Backing it up, he says, holds no fears. "Yum cha is one of my favourite food experiences. It's the immediacy. You gobble it up, there's lots of variety, and it's chilled and relaxed." He also notes the post-party efficacy. "It's awesome for a hangover and I reckon a few people there may have one." Perry is doing dumplings, a classic pot-sticker with local mackerel, and a green-skinned vegetarian har gau with garlic, chives and sesame. "It's sure to be a fantastic event," he says. "There's no agenda, nothing official to do; it's just about enjoying and having a great time showcasing Australia with great ingredients used in an Asian way. I'm really looking forward to it."