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Chef Challenge: Benjamin Cooper

Wednesday 12th November 2014

Benjamin Cooper may not seem like a serious guy when you first meet him – what with the Mohawk and the brightly coloured kicks (of which he has 100-odd pairs). But delve a little deeper and you’ll see before you someone who takes food very very seriously.

With a culinary pedigree that’s seen him in the kitchens of pan-Asian prowess the likes of David Thompson and Nobu Matsuhisa (where he became Nobu’s youngest ever sous chef), Cooper has worked his way through the ranks to become the palate behind some of Melbourne’s hottest eateries – Chin Chin, Kong and Baby.

Though he spends less time on the pans than he’d like these days, Benjamin Cooper takes on a mentoring role, recognising the importance of inspiring the next generation of chefs in his kitchens.

He also loves inspiring home cooks to get comfortable with Asian flavours, penning his first book “Chin Chin” in 2013 – which sold out faster than the restaurant’s queue moves on a Friday night.

As for his favourite tip for the curry-curious? Use your sense of smell to guide the process – the more moisture there is in the ingredient, the faster the fragrance will come out. That’s why you know when it’s time to kick in your protein when you can smell the dry spices.

Here’re some of his recipes to try your newfound nose on:

Chicken and Asparagus Pad Seuw by Benjamin Cooper

Ingredients:

400 gm chicken thigh – skin off, cut into 1cm thick strips
2 bunches green asparagus – peeled diagonal slice
1 bunch purple asparagus – peeled diagonal slice
3 eggs – lightly whisked
1 packet fresh rolled rice noodles – (hor fun) separated, cut into 1 inch lengths
150 ml kecap manis (abc)
2 tbspn oyster sauce
5 gm white pepper
½ bunch coriander – picked into leaves and washed well
4 tbspn crispy shallot mix
200-300 ml rice bran oil (use as needed)

Method:

  1. In a bowl marinate the chicken with half the kecap manis and allow to sit for at least half an hourat home the easiest and best way to achieve wok success is to fry you chosen dish in batches –
  2. in a very hot wok carefully add your oil, note it should be almost smoking but not quite. Add your asparagus very carefully, the oil may spit and splash so please take care. Stir fry until the asparagus is lightly charred and smoky. You may choose to add a splash of soy sauce (not abc) at this point. Remove from the wok and drain on absorbent paper.
  3. remove the chicken from the abc and set aside (discard the marinade). Again heat your oil in a hot wok till almost smoking and repeat the process w the chicken, frying in batches to ensure that it doesn’t stew. you want the flesh to colour and get a touch smoky. Remove and drain on absorbent paper.
  4. in a hot wok again add the oil and heat till almost smoking. Very very carefully add the egg yolk and scramble fry to create egg threads. Add this point add the noodles and the oyster sauce and continue to stir fry. The noodles as they heat will soften and take on a gelatinous texture – this is what you are after.
  5. Once the noodles are almost ready add the asparagus, chicken, abc and white pepper and continue to fry. You are looking for the contenets to caramelize and the moisture content to dry out. Pad seuw is a dry stir fry and shouldn’t be saucy. The flavour should be rich and smoky and addictive

Young coconut and Asian mushroom soup by Benjamin Cooper

Ingredients:

40 gm ginger
30 gm garlic
20 gm birds eye chilli paste
100 ml rice bran oil
6 young coconuts – opened – take a straw and drink one of them.
100 gm nameko mushrooms
250 gm shitake mushroom – destemmed and cut into ¼
250 gm oyster mushroom – shredded
200 gm baby king browns – cut in ½ length ways
150 gm fresh black fungus – thick sliced
150 gm king brown mushrooms – cut in ½ length ways and sliced on diagonal
fish sauce 70-100 ml
tamarind 50 ml

garnish –

garlic chives – cut into inch batons
1 bunch thai basil – picked into leaves, any flowers kept
10 birds eye chilli – whole but bruised

Method:

  1. pound the garlic and ginger to paste and add to the chilli. Set aside
  2. take the open coconuts and tip the juice from 5 through a fine strainer and into a jug or bowl. Scoop out the flesh from those coconuts and rinse lightly. Cut the flesh into strips and set aside.
  3. In a heavy based pot heat the oil and fry off the spice paste until fragrant and lightly browned. Add the coconut juice and all the mushrooms and bring to the boil. reduce to a rapid simmer and allow to cook for 20-25 minutes. Shortly before the soup is ready add the fish sauce and tamarind and stir to infuse. Add the chilli and allow to simmer a few minutes longer
  4. Check the seasoning of the soup, it shouldn’t require any sugar as the coconut is naturally sweet. Add the herbs and serve

 

Cucumber som tum w dill and tamarind by Benjamin Cooper

Ingredients:

10 lebanese cucumbers
70 gm caster sugar
10 gm salt
100ml tamarind
30 ml fish sauce
1 bunch snake beans – cut into inch lengths
1 bunch of dill – picked
½ bunch coriander
3-4 cloves garlic
30 gm ginger – julienne
10-15 scuds
2-3 birds eye chilli

Method

  1. take 5 of the cucumbers, cut in ½ length ways and the slice about 2mm thick on the diagonal.
  2. Take 3 of the cucumbers and roll cut
  3. Take the last 2 cucumbers and pound into a paste
  4. In a bowl place all the cucumbers and add the salt and sugar, set aside and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  5. Take a mortar and pestle and pound the garlic and chillies to a rough paste, add the snake beans and bruise roughly. Add the cucumbers w the liquid they are sitting in and toss to combine. Pound it lightly and then place in a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss. Check seasoning for balance, it should be hot, sour bitey and slightly sweet.
  6. Also great w peanuts or cashews pounded through and or baby shrimp
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