Coffee With - Kazi Hassan & Shahnaaz Wong
On paper, Chef Kazi Hassan and Chef Shahnaaz Wong couldn’t have seemed more different. One is a Bangladesh-born chef well-versed in modern Australian cuisine, while the other is a Singaporean chef who left a comfortable career in real estate to pursue her culinary dreams.
But when the two hotel executive chefs met one evening at Beast & Butterflies, they hit it off right away. The common topic? Their love for exploring new cultures, and a shared respect for fresh produce and culinary traditions.
Before the two got too carried away trading travel anecdotes and recipe tips – Chef Wong even dished out some crystalline ice plants sourced from France – we sat them down with a fresh cuppa and got the cameras rolling.
Describe your culinary style.
KH: I’m a modern Australian chef who focuses on fresh produce – we’re very blessed to have lots of seafood, good quality meats, fresh fruits and vegetables in our country. I believe in maintaining the original taste of recipes while still adding a touch of creativity. Personally I use a lot of herbs and good vinegars to enhance flavour.
SW: I like to inject my personal flair into the dishes I create, while at the same time respecting the restaurant concept determined by the hotel management. Personally, I enjoy Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food, because they’re tasty and wholesome.
How has your heritage shaped your cooking?
KH: I think we’re all shaped by our own roots, watching our mothers prepare food. I learnt to cook in a French culinary style, but I draw a lot of inspiration from my Asian roots and the different parts of the world I’ve travelled to. Coming from all these different cultures and backgrounds, I have a penchant for spices and aromatic flavours.
SW: I truly agree. He’s Bengali; I’m Cantonese, and you know how Cantonese people are very vain about good skincare. We’re known for our steamed dishes and double-boiled soups, because we believe food has to be pure and simply cooked to bring out its essence.
Both of you enjoy travelling. Is that why your culinary creations meld influences from the East and West?
KH: Travelling in different continents has enabled me to do different cuisines and to have a better understanding of what guests are looking for. As chefs we have to tailor our creations based on cultural context, be it a Middle Eastern menu or a Mediterranean menu.
SW: Travelling and understanding different cultures will inspire you to create better cuisine. I feel that younger chefs especially need to travel as far as possible to understand culture. Food is about culture and respect. Take India for example – the country is huge; there are different cuisines in different regions, and they use different kinds of spices. If you are truly a passionate chef, you will go to the root of the cooking – the history, the ingredients used, what goes into every component of the dish.
Have you noticed any changes in diner preferences over the years?
SW: Absolutely. The millennial diner is very cost-conscious; everything has got to be value for money. The two most popular requests we get are: keto diet and gluten-free. Also, vegetarian and vegan.
KH: Apart from these, I’d say people are becoming very health-conscious. They’re also conscious about sustainability. They want to know what product they’re eating, where the ingredients are sourced from, is it sustainable, what is it going to do to my health, how much carbs and how much calories am I eating? All these factors are coming in. Moreover, I’d say it’s the era of Instagram – dishes are not just healthy; they have to look good as well.