What's cooking in Sunda chef Khanh Nguyen's kitchen during lockdown?

Khanh Nguyen with a shortcrust pastry-wrapped rack of lamb.
Khanh Nguyen with a shortcrust pastry-wrapped rack of lamb. Photo: Eddie Jim

Originally from Sydney's inner west, the head chef at Melbourne's Sunda has been making waves fusing south-east Asian and Australian ingredients since the restaurant opened in early 2018. Intricate pastry work has become his social-media calling card during lockdown – a far cry from his first job flipping double cheeseburgers.

My favourite kitchen gadget is … a temperature probe, something I think everyone from home cooks to professionals should know how to use. It takes the guessing out of cooking perfect fish, poultry and meat. It's also great for pastry and sugar work. If you don't own a probe, please go buy one! An entry-level model costs about $15.

You'll never see me … cooking a bad staff meal. We take our "family meals" very seriously at Sunda. As I'm leading by example, I need to make sure every meal I put up is the best it can be. My favourite to date has been my grandmother's beef ricepaper rolls with a peanut, fermented anchovy and pineapple dipping sauce. You cook the beef at the table and everyone joins in and makes their own rice-paper rolls. It's a good chance for everyone to have a laugh.

My go-to lockdown meal is … pan-fried lamb forequarter chop seasoned with salt and pepper. While the lamb is resting, I cook kale, cavolo nero and broccolini in the lamb fat, season with a load of black pepper, then add some Gravox, a splash of apple cider vinegar and a knob of butter.

The greatest self-discovery in 2020 has been … learning that I could make some cool things with shortcrust pastry during the second lockdown in Melbourne. It was my first time making shortcrust in 10 years. I wrapped a whole mud crab, a whole chicken, and a whole coral trout in pastry. At the moment I'm working on wrapping a beef rib set and a point rack of lamb in pastry. This has taught me to be patient and not to try rushing things that should take time.

Some people might find it a little gross, but I love … eating cooked fish roe. The whole lobe is either poached or fried (such a nice texture!). I know a lot of people hate it as it can be dry.

My favourite ingredient is … acid. I love anything acidic – think citrus and vinegars – as they freshen up and balance out any dish. I even love adding these flavours to desserts. My favourite acid? It's probably finger lime.

My favourite midnight snack is … a double cheeseburger on a steamed bun with extra everything. But you won't catch me doing it often. McDonald's is where my cooking career started.

One thing in my fridge I can't live without is … butter. I love adding it to most things I cook – which says a lot, coming from someone who is lactose intolerant.