The culinary brigade takes on Asian cuisine

By Nici Wickes

Six chefs are on a crusade to share their skills in creating amazing Asian cuisine.

Gareth Stewart, Sachie Nomura, Hayden McMillan, Jason Van Dorsten, Nick Honeyman, Warren Turnbull and Mark Harman. Photo / Supplied
Gareth Stewart, Sachie Nomura, Hayden McMillan, Jason Van Dorsten, Nick Honeyman, Warren Turnbull and Mark Harman. Photo / Supplied

Six head chefs, five Asian cuisines and a 30-week mission. They're calling themselves Brigade 6 and they're ready to storm the Auckland cooking school scene with one simple brief; to show their interpretations of Asian cuisine to a roomful of students, making sure that everything they do is able to be replicated at home. When Viva caught up with them, all six chefs had a resounding "bring it on" attitude towards the project because of their love for Asian food.

JASON VAN DORSTEN
Cafe Hanoi (click the link for a review of the restaurant)

How important is Asian cuisine to you?

Asian cuisine is everything to me. Our restaurant offers modern Vietnamese cuisine incorporating traditional methods and techniques with modern styling and execution.

What are the challenges in cooking Asian cuisine compared with say, French or Italian ?

Availability of produce is the greatest hurdle. Historically it's been easier to obtain European produce. With a rising awareness and demand for Asian cuisine and a broader Asian community it's become far easier to source obscure products.

Who do you learn new techniques from?

I love spending time with the street stall vendors when I'm in Asia. They have ancient techniques that have been passed down through generations. I am always fascinated by the simplicity and amazing execution.

What are some of the food highlights when travelling in Asia?

Every day is a highlight really but not much can beat a pho and a strong coffee at 6am though!

GARETH STEWART
Soul Bar & Bistro

What are the challenges in cooking Asian cuisine compared with say, French or Italian styles?

Asian cuisine is very much about getting the right balance of flavours whereas with European styles, it is all about the product.

What is the best way for people to gain confidence in the kitchen?

When people nail simple recipes, by doing them time and time again, it gives them more confidence. It is also good when things go wrong because that's how you find out how to correct mistakes.

What are some of the best aspects of travelling with respect to food?

The more off the beaten track you go, the better the food. I was lucky enough to swap some cooking techniques with a Thai lady who owned the bar restaurant that I was eating in. I spent a couple of days teaching her how to cook spaghetti bolognaise and she showed me a few soups and curries. Very different - walking around the kitchen in flip flops, shorts and a singlet!

What's the best aspect of Asian cuisine do you think?

It's usually quick to cook and prepare and on the whole (unless fried) pretty healthy so you can eat more!

HAYDEN MCMILLAN
TriBeCa

How great is the Asian influence in your cooking?

I definitely use more Asian influences in my cooking rather than say French, which tends to be heavier and uses more cream and butter. For example I never use jus because it's overpowering and so old school - I'd rather use chicken stock or reduced master stock (Asian stock) because it's lighter and fresher on the palate.

What's the biggest challenge in cooking Asian cuisine in NZ?

Understanding the Asian ingredients you find in an Asian store when nothing is written in English. Sometimes I buy something and it's totally not what I expected.

What's a good tip when you're learning something new?

Start with easy recipes, master them, then you can start to play. And make sure you read recipes twice before you start to cook.

What is the best way to learn how to cook Asian style food really well?

Eat as much Asian food as you can so that you get to know the flavours - how a miso soup tastes, how a pad Thai tastes etc - so when you go to cook it you will know at least how it's meant to taste.

What excites you most about being a part of Brigade 6?

I really want people to walk away and be proud to pull these recipes out at dinner parties. Cooking is such an amazing thing to do, there's always plenty of laughs and plenty to talk about when food's involved.

WARREN TURNBULL
District Dining Auckland & Assiette (Sydney)

How do you incorporate Asian style cooking into what you do?

It lightens everything up and adds a punchiness to a dish.

Do you have a favourite Asian cuisine?

Japanese, it's so clean in flavour. I love how it takes years for chefs to master such things as cooking the sushi rice.

Who do you learn new techniques from in your cooking?

Travel is also a huge one, there's so much going on out there. I've travelled a little around Indonesia, Thailand , Singapore and Hong Kong and my favourite experiences have always been the street food. I know it's not for everyone, and it's probably a bit risky, but it's so good.

What's the best thing about Asian food?

The range of flavours from the most delicate to the most robust. Asian food has the whole sweet, salty, sour, bitter thing down to a tee.

MARK HARMAN
dine by Peter Gordon

Where does Asian cuisine sit within your current repertoire?

Asian cuisine has to be my favourite when it comes to flavour and freshness. I love to cook from scratch using fresh ingredients like ginger, chilli, coriander, palm sugar, garlic, lemongrass and lime leaves. These ingredients are so fresh and they're packed with immune-building benefits. Combined in cooking, they become an explosion of goodness for your palate and your body.

What is the best way for people to gain confidence in the kitchen?

Don't be afraid, be prepared to make mistakes (that's how you learn) and remember that knowledge is power (read books).

Do you have a favourite Asian cuisine?

My favourite Asian cuisine would have to be Thai, I love their curries and making the spiced pastes from scratch using fresh ingredients.

NICK HONEYMAN
Cru at Sale St

What excites you most about being involved with this project and group of chefs?

I jumped at the chance. Just hanging out and talking about food sparks that level of creative energy that sometimes gets lost when you are knee deep in your own kitchen all day.

What are the challenges in cooking Asian cuisine compared with say, French or Italian?

European and Asian cuisines have completely different flavour profiles and seasoning techniques. Going from salt, butter and cream to soy sauce, mirin and corn starch requires strict attention to detail. Asian cuisine is fast and furious but can very easily be drowned if you're not careful - that extra 2ml of sesame oil can be deadly!

What is the best way for people to gain confidence in the kitchen?

Diversify from your routine "signature" dishes, go to the supermarket, buy what's fresh and then get home and work out what to do with it.

How much travelling have you done through Asia and what were some of the food highlights?

I have worked in Tokyo and travelled throughout Asia eating street food wherever I can. From cockroaches in Bangkok to sashimi chicken in Kyoto. I love Asia, I always find something new.

* Brigade 6 Classes run Monday nights at Sachie's Kitchen, Parnell, April-Oct 2012. To enrol go to the website or ph (09) 302 7680.

- NZ Herald

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