kitchen spy

He founded Flower Drum, one of the best Chinese restaurants in the world, in 1975 and, although technically retired since 2002, he's been more than a familiar face at his sons' restaurant, Lau's Family Kitchen, since it opened in 2006. He's Gilbert Lau, 72, Melbourne restaurant royalty and, since Australia Day just past, a Member of the Order of Australia.

When Lau's not lending an experienced hand at Jason and Michael Lau's restaurant he cooks simple meals at home for his wife Alice and himself in a kitchen that was renovated a decade ago.

The staples

My pantry I don't stock a lot. There's some dried ginseng for making tea if I feel a cold coming on, tubs of licorice for a friend who often drops by, polenta that I use with slow-cooked lamb in winter – but nothing for making Peking duck. I'd be cleaning the kitchen for days. I always have Rustichella pasta and pasta sauce handy, three different sizes of spaghetti, which I use depending on the sauce. But  I I can't eat too much pasta because I have diabetes. That's why I've got the quinoa. I also keep Spanish paprika for my paellas (my tip is to stack one grill plate on another on the stovetop to raise the pan up for a wider heat) and dried tangerine, which is essential for making black-bean sauce and offsetting muddy-flavoured fish.   

My fridge In the freezer I have Sara Lee French Vanilla (for guests, I'm not allowed), squid tentacles for paella, bread for making croutons and bacon for houseguests (and me). In the fridge I keep washed coriander, parsley and spring onion (make sure it's dry when you put it in the bag), I love Jap pumpkin, which I roast with cumin, nutmeg, garlic and olive oil and there's always yoghurt for Alice. Corn and cabbage are my favourite vegetables – we boil the corn and with the cabbage we do a quick simple stir-fry with a bit of oil and salt. 

Secret vice

Yu Kwen Yick brand chilli sauce. I like a good condiment with yum cha-type dishes or noodles. This one has no preservatives and you can't get it here in Australia so friends bring me back bottles from Hong Kong, occasionally. 

Last night's dinner

A neighbour came over and we had Sydney rock oysters, siu mai dumplings and roast duck from Lau's Family Kitchen; and I made Chinese broccoli, snow peas and fried rice (the trick is to use slightly less water steaming your rice so it doesn't stick when you stir-fry it).

I'm drinking

I found out I am allergic to coffee 20 years ago but I drink a lot of English breakfast and pu-erh Chinese tea, which is very mild and great with rich or oily food. I haven't had a cocktail for 30 years because of my diabetes but I'll have half-a-dozen stubbies of beer a year. Otherwise, I like drinking cabernet sauvignon – it has lots of tannin and it's very earthy.  

My toolkit

My Zwilling J.A.Henckels cleaver is a must-have item but I keep a range of tools hanging above my stove, including  microplanes, a bamboo grater and tongs. My QASAIR exhaust range is great and I'm happy with my Smeg stovetop, which I'm careful to wipe clean after every use. My Panasonic (SR-JHF18) rice cooker is great – it even has a setting for congee.

My inspiration

I have stacks of cookbooks at home. At the moment I'm reading one by my friend Elaine Ma. It's called Cooking with Elaine 2: An intimate note to my beloved daughter. It's Cantonese and it reflects my own East-meets-West upbringing. Otherwise, I love watching cooking shows like Rick Stein, Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage. Going to vegetable markets is a wonderful inspiration in itself and I go to Hong Kong two or three times a year.


My collection of six Bendigo Pottery containers. I bought them 25 years ago and I just love them for their craftsmanship and quality. They just don't make that sort of thing anymore.

Most unforgettable meal

When Flower Drum was named in the top 50 restaurants in the world by Restaurant Magazine for the fourth year running in 2005 Alice, three friends and I went to London for the presentation. We stopped in Spain and ate at elBulli – we spent four marvellous hours there. 

Recipe stalwart

Roast chicken. I wash the cavity with water and a bit of salt, let it drain, then stuff the cavity with a pinch of salt, a thumb of smashed ginger, two whole spring onions (bent to fit), two tablespoons of shao hsing wine, a tablespoon of light soy sauce, half a teaspoon of sesame oil and a pinch of sugar. Then I truss the bird, put it on a rack and cook in a preheated oven at 180C for 50 to 55 minutes (for a 1.5kg bird).


Locally produced venison, from David and Rose Laird of Hartdale Park. We can buy it from the St Kilda market. It's great.