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Chef Challenge: Dai Duong

Dai Duong from Uncle

I could count on one hand the number of restaurants I call my “go-to”s in Melbourne. Uncle in Carlisle St, St Kilda is one of them (did I mention they do takeaway??)

The food is modern Vietnamese, always fresh and flavoursome, the service is top-notch, and, most importantly, you can tell that the chef, Dai Duong (nee. Dandelion in Elwood) has thought about the produce on the plate. If something isn’t in season, it comes off the menu (which just about broke my heart when this approach was applied to my beloved sweet potato fries).

This is why I knew that Dai would be an ideal candidate for a Chef Challenge – and couldn’t wait to see what he’d produce.

When Dai told me he was making only one dish in 45 minutes, I egged him on. “Go on,” I said, “other chefs have done like four – even five!”

Dai looked at me like I was crazy, and proceeded to make 3 dishes in … Well, let’s just say we had to turn back the challenge clock a couple of times to get things done.

Listen to the chef, Alice.

Speaking of “the chef”, here’s what Dai had to say when we asked him some key culinary questions:

Why did you become a chef?

I wanted to become a chef because it was another form of being creative. I studied graphic design at uni, but somehow I couldn’t see myself trapped in front of a computer for hours on end… plus I failed the first semester. Too much partying. Chefs can get away with that.

What’s your favourite meal to cook at home?

Anything my 2 year old has a second serve of; normally noodles such as pho, ramen or spag-bol.

What’s your favourite stall at Prahran Market?

When I need some Asian ingredients I normally go to Lee’s Asian Grocery, and Essential Ingredient is great place to window shop.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten?

Best things always seem to be ones I get for free – like an extra dish from another chef at a restaurant or something that I or someone else has grown. Any single thing? My mother’s dragon fruit… sooooooo sweeeeeeeet.

What’s your most useful cooking tip?

Use a mortar and pestle at all times – it releases the flavours ten-fold compared to when using a food processor or chopping.

And now to the recipes – which, if you’re planning on making all in one go, allow for about an hour and a half…

Green Rice Prawns with Ramen Noodle Salad

Serves: 4


12 green prawns
plain flour/tapioca flour (for a gluten free option)
iced water/soda water
green rice flakes (can be found at Lee’s)
Frying Oil (vegetable/canola)
Salt flakes
Salad + Nuoc Cham Sauce:
Ramen Noodles
Palm sugar
Boiling water
Fresh chilli paste (can also be found at Lee’s)
Fish sauce
Lime juice

Spring onion, finely sliced
Vietnamese mint, picked
Fresh coriander leaves, picked


  1. Heat your chosen oil to 180 degrees
  2. Meanwhile, place your chosen flour in a bowl and pour over enough of your water option to make a gloopy batter
  3. Score the prawns from underneath and flatten them out onto a chopping board (this will help them to cook through quickly and evenly)
  4. Dip the prawns in the batter, then in the green rice flakes and fry in the oil until the outside is crispy (about 1-2 mins)
  5. Drain on paper towel.
  6. Boil a kettle of water
  7. Meanwhile, mix equal parts of lime juice, fish sauce, chilli paste to taste and add grated palm sugar together. Add a dash of boiling water to help the palm sugar dissolve. Season with more of whatever ingredient you need to make it taste balanced.
  8. As for the ramen noodles, follow the cooking instructions on the packet.
  9. Toss the ramen with the Nước chấm sauce, garnish with green stuff and prawns. Drizzle with more sauce and serve.

Vietnamese-style Mussel and Clam Chowder


1kg Mussels, debearded
500g pippies/cockles/clams, purged
1 fillet of firm fleshed white fish (such as barramundi)
1 small can of coconut cream
2 starchy potatoes, cubed
1 knob of galangal
1 knob of ginger
1 lemongrass stem
coriander root
Splash of white wine
Lime juice
Kaffir lime leaves
Thai basil
Coriander leaves
Chilli to taste


  1. Trim the galangal, shallots, ginger and lemongrass, reserving the trim for the potato water. Crush the remainder in a mortar and pestle or chop very finely.
  2. Add potato, galangal, ginger and lemongrass trim and kaffir lime leaf to cold water with a dash of coconut cream, bring to the boil then simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, sweat off the finely chopped/crushed paste of galangal, shallots, ginger and lemongrass in coconut oil until soft and transluscent.
  4. Chop the fish fillet into cubes.
  5. Add mussels and clams, shake well to combine, then add a splash of wine and close the lid.
  6. When the mussels are beginning to open, add the cubes of fish to the mix and close the lid again.
  7. Drain the cooked potatoes and add to the chowder, along with any seasoning corrections.
  8. Garnish with green stuff and serve with crusty bread/rice noodles.

Sago Pudding with Exotic Dried Fruits and Sorbet


1 litre water
300g sago
dried (soft) baby figs
dried sour cherry (taste the ones at 53 Degrees East – they’re delicious and very tart!)
200g coconut cream
1 tub of Fritz apple & raspberry sorbet
shredded coconut, toasted
kaffir lime leaf, finely sliced


  1. Bring the water to the boil in a large pot.
  2. Add the sago and stir as the water comes back to the boil to avoid any sticking.
  3. Leave to boil away for 15 minutes.
  4. Drain through a sieve, then place in a bowl and pour over the coconut cream, allowing it to absorb for 20 minutes or so. Refrigerate until set.
  5. Top with gelato, shredded coconut, kaffir lime and dried fruit.
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