By Annalisa D’Alessio
Mr Bao, a restaurant in Peckham serving some of London’s favourite Taiwanese baos, has recently opened a second restaurant—Daddy Bao—in Tooting. The original restaurant, which opened in 2016, is a celebration of the tastiest steamed buns the capital has to offer. World Food Tour caught up with Tuyen Hong, development chef at both eateries, to find out where she gets her inspiration, her favourite dish to cook and her best-kept secret in the kitchen.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the food business?
Tuyen Hong: My name is Tuyen, but people have been calling me T since I started my cooking career. I don’t really respond to my real name anymore! I’m a mum to an eight-year-old girl called Lotus. I was an interpreter working in criminal courts, prisons, medical centres and immigration offices all over the UK. I always loved cooking, so two years after my daughter was born—when I could not do my job because of the amount of travelling—I started selling my food at a market in east London. Then I wanted to learn how commercial kitchens operated, so I took a job as a kitchen porter for a location catering company, that’s how I got into the food business and have never stopped cooking since.
Q: What would you have been if you hadn’t been a chef?
TH: The only job I enjoy and do best is being a chef (although my daughter always says I’m the best mum in the world), so I don’t really know what I would have been if I had not been in the kitchen.
Q: What is your favourite dish to cook?
TH: I like cooking fish, so at the restaurant where I’m working, Mr Bao, I created the Miso Cod Bao with pickled carrot and smoky tartare sauce. It has been my favourite Bao, my take on the English dish inside a Taiwanese bao bun.
Q: What are the five ingredients you always keep in your fridge?
TH: XO sauce, tamarind—that my mum deseeds herself and sneaks into my suitcase every time I come home—my homemade chilli oil, ginger and spring onion.
Q: What’s your go-to restaurant in London and why?
TH: Apart from Daddy Bao Tooting and Mr Bao Peckham, I love a good dim sum session at the Dragon Castle in Elephant and Castle; there is always something for everyone there.
Q: Who are your inspirations, both in and out of the kitchen?
TH: My daughter at home, my bosses Frank and Nick, I have learnt so much from them since I joined the company.
Q: Who is your chef idol?
TH: My Mum, I miss her food so much.
Q: Can you tell us about a particularly memorable moment in your career?
TH: The opening of Daddy Bao in Tooting. Before the service I had butterflies in my tummy and I was so nervous to find out how well the customers would receive my food. At the end Frank, my boss, told me that it was the smoothest opening and everyone loved the food. I will never forget that moment, I was so proud of myself and the team.
Q: You can only live on one cuisine for the rest of your life. Which one would it be?
TH: Taiwanese, so many different variations from such a small country.
Q: What is your favourite food fad and why?
TH: Aubergine. It’s a low-calorie food, and you can do so much with aubergines: grill, stew, pickle. It’s one of my favourite vegetables.
Q: What’s your best-kept cooking secret or tip?
TH: A herb-cutting tip. When I first started in the commercial kitchen, my head chef told me to never go through herbs twice when you cut them as this will bruise their delicate leaves. I’m still using this tip to test my chefs.
Q: Do you have any future predictions for the food industry?
TH: Perhaps more automation, but there’ll always be need for chefs! More interesting, good food. Gone are the days when everyone was happy with a pizza from an Italian chain.
Q: Do you have any exciting plans and projects coming up in the future?
TH: Making more exciting food for Mr Bao and Daddy Bao. I’m creating more and more vegetarian and vegan dishes as I’d like to show people that healthy food doesn’t need to be boring.