My professional cooking career began with a four-year stint as head chef of Sydney's Wockpool, a modern Asian noodle bar and restaurant owned by Neil Perry and Trish Richards, then from mid-1998 I headed the kitchens of two cafes in Sydney, bills and bills2. Inspired by the strong sense of individuality that made these places stand out from the crowd, I began to dream about having my own restaurant one day.
In 1999, I went on a life-changing trip to China. Of course, food featured prominently, but it was a visit to a traditional Shanghai-style tea house that really moved me. The room was furnished with polished rosewood tables, complete with matching stools that fitted neatly under the tables like a jigsaw puzzle. I felt like I was inside a beautiful lacquered box, exquisite in every detail. I decided then and there that I wanted to capture this moment and release its essence in my own restaurant…
When the original Billy Kwong opened its doors, in May 2000, we breathed life into our vision of a small, energetic and vibrant eating house that served fantastically fresh Chinese food. But after 14 successful and very happy years on Crown Street, the time came to gather up our woks and move to a bigger space in Potts Point, somewhere we could grow and take Billy Kwong to the next level. In partnership with colleague David King, Billy Kwong is all about celebration, collaboration and community.
Starting from the strong foundation of my Chinese heritage, my cooking style has been shaped by living in Australia, where we have access to some of the world’s finest produce, including seafood from pristine waters and a bountiful array of Asian fruit, vegetables and herbs. I’m never happier than when I’m at a market surrounded by amazing fresh food – which is why, every Saturday morning, you’ll find me at Sydney’s Carriageworks Farmers Market, selling dumplings and pork buns, pancakes with salt bush, and sticky rice parcels of macadamia and warrigal greens. The vibrant taste of these indigenous wild greens and herbs has been a revelation for me, as has the tender wallaby meat from the salt-dusted pastures of Flinders Island, and in recent years I have incorporated these ingredients into my food to create a distinctly Australian Chinese cuisine.
Along the way, I have been inspired and influenced by some great cooks and food writers – from my mother to Alice Waters, Stephanie Alexander, Neil Perry, Stefano and Franca Manfredi, Maggie Beer, Elizabeth David, Fergus Henderson, Rene Redzepi and Alex Atala.
Through my own books, TV series and public appearances, I seek to share the passion for food and family that has been a constant in my life.
My first book, Kylie Kwong: Recipes and Stories, introduced the wonderful home cooking, family gatherings and Chinese banquets that nourished me and helped to shape my future. Kylie Kwong: Heart and Soul traced my life with food, family and friends, from hanging out at my uncle’s noodle factory as a child to holding a steamboat party. From the response to the accompanying TV series, I realised how daunting people can find the prospect of cooking Chinese food at home, and so with Simple Chinese Cooking I sought to demystify the intricate methods and exotic ingredients that have produced one of the world’s great cuisines. The long-awaited follow-up, Simple Chinese Cooking Class, combines master classes in time-honoured Chinese techniques such as tea-smoking and pickling with inspiring recipes to expand your repertoire.
I am endlessly fascinated by travel, and the opportunity it offers to learn more about food traditions worldwide. A growing awareness of Chinese regional cooking, as well as a profound urge to reconnect with my relatives in China, has led me to return to my ancestral homeland many times. The story of my journey through the food, history and culture of China and Tibet is captured in both a TV series and a book, My China: A Feast for all the Senses. Closer to home, It Tastes Better is a celebration of the growers, farmers, fishermen, artisans and food providores behind the sustainable food I love, with simple recipes inspired by their beautiful produce.
I firmly believe that our food choices should be ethical, sustainable and supportive of both the natural and human environment. By spreading this message, and through my ongoing support for the work of organisations such as Slow Food, the Australian Marine Conservation Society, MAD, the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, Oxfam and the Half the Sky Foundation, I am determined to do all I can to make the world a better place.