What's In My Pantry? Show And Tell With Chef Jun Wong Of Kikubari
“Those are not my spices,” snubs Jun Wong, Chef de Cuisine of Kikubari. “I don’t use McCormick dried spices. Even if I eat instant noodles, I’ll chop up my own fresh herbs.” A chef of contradictions, Jun says, only moments later, “I love Coons; they’re my favourite brand of sliced cheese. Doesn’t that show you the extent of my laziness? If I were to buy block cheese, I’d have to get out the chopping board, find the right knife, and slice it evenly. I’m such a perfectionist at work that I don’t want to do all of that at home!” Speaking for a wider populace, Jun makes a fine point; don’t we all make allowances for certain chores but seek out shortcuts for others?
I’m such a perfectionist at work that I don’t want to do (any food prep) at home!
Buzzing with energy despite having worked a four-hands dinner the night before, the young chef walks us through her prized collection of junk food. “All the chips are mine!” she says possessively, making us chuckle. “Whereas the granola and health stuff belong to Georgina.” As if on cue, said sibling walks into the kitchen right there and then. One Wong sister gets the espresso machine started while the other rips open a bag of chips. We watch, bemused, as the two squabble over the superior coffee (Rome- versus Melbourne-style).
One sweeping glance of the kitchen cupboards prove that Jun’s brand loyalty goes beyond sliced cheese, extending to potato chips (Thins or Red Rock Salt), instant noodles (Mamee Chef ), and biscuits (Tim Tams, and only the double-coated ones) — comfort foods that don’t require consuming with one’s brains in gear. Given the chef ’s never-ending experiments with new flavours and ingredients at Kikubari, her affinity for ‘fast food’ make sense. Besides a bottle of gin, I spot little evidence of the Jun I’ve gotten to know from dining at Kikubari, that is, until I spot something funky in her fridge.
“I’m afraid to say how old that is, but you’re looking at home-aged soy sauce,” she says. “A year, possibly. Soy sauce is like champagne in a sense—you need a bit of the old batch to keep it going. Every now and then I top up the contents with more mirin. You push aside the garlic and kombu (a type of seaweed) and just use the sauce as a seasoning.”