Melbourne restaurant Lee Ho Fook is treating locals to a series of dinners with out-of-town chefs during September and October. Billed as Friends of Lee Ho Fook, the kitchen has already seen chefs Mike Eggert and Jemma Whiteman give something of a send-off to their recently closed contemporary Chinese restaurant Good Luck Pinbone (ahead of opening an Italian-themed pop-up in Sydney next month), and will now host Pasi Petanen, Michael Ryan and Alex Munoz in one-off events.
When choosing the guest chefs, Lee Ho Fook chef and owner Victor Liong knew he wanted to create new and never-to-be-repeated experiences. "The Japanese have this great quote which I think really resounds with the series: 'Once in a lifetime, never again'", he says.
The line-up includes four Sydney-siders who are between venues, as well as Ryan, who's based at Beechworth's Provenance. They were all given a blank slate to create a seven-course menu and design a matching drinks list from the restaurant's 200-strong cellar and sake selection. While Chinese wasn't part of the brief, each chef has worked the cuisine into their menu, whether through subtle details or an all-out banquet. Eggert and Whiteman, for example, delivered Chongqing spatchcock, prawn sang choi bau and a twist on their chilli eggplant with fungus.
Next up on 18 September, Munoz (late of Cirrus and Monopole) will meld his Chilean background with Chinese flourishes in a menu that includes flan de ginger and quinoa-based "fried rice" studded with chorizo. Munoz is set to open his own restaurant, Labart, in Sydney later this year.
Munoz's pisco sour dessert
Ryan and Petanen's menus are still under wraps but Liong says the duck lap cheong Ryan serves at Provenance is on his personal wishlist. As for Petanen, anything could happen.
"Inviting Pasi was almost a taunt," Liong says. "He's in a creatively fluid phase of his cooking and I extended the invitation to see how he would interpret the brief."
It will be Petanen's second high-profile Melbourne appearance this year, after his popular That's Amore pop-up made the journey south during Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
Friends of Lee Ho Fook not only offers Melbourne diners a chance to try bespoke menus from visiting chefs, it also offers a glimpse into the friends and peers Liong has worked alongside and been inspired by in his career. "Not only are they great chefs but also really good friends."
We're just happy Liong invited the rest of us, too.
18 September - Alex Munoz
2 October - Michael Ryan
16 October - Pasi Petanen
Friends of Lee Ho Fook, 18 September, 2 October, 16 October, from 6.30pm, Lee Ho Fook, 15 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9077 6261, leehofook.com.au. $140 seven courses, drinks additional.