Lunch with Dan Hong

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 03: Photo of L-R Dan Hong and Chef Eric Koh cooking dumplings. Yum Cha is now being served at Mr Wong’s, Bridge Lane on October 3, 2014 in Sydney, . (Photo by Fiona Morris/Fairfax Media)Oysters are popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac, but the ones dished up at Cirrus appear to contain a truth serum too.

It only takes three to slide down the throat of Dan Hong, before the father-of-three and executive chef at Merivale is describing youthful indiscretions.

“I did bad things, I guess,” Hong says. “I was into graffiti. I got caught one time and had to go to court.”

That misadventure was rewarded with a good behaviour bond and parents who were, understandably, not impressed.

“But they knew I wasn’t, like, going to be super smart back in school,” Hong says. “I never did well in school. Maybe it’s because I smoked weed a lot of the time.

“Yeah, I was pretty much the black sheep of the family during my high school days.”

Less than two decades later, Hong heads two restaurants in Justin Hemmes’ Merivale hospitality juggernaut.

He feeds an estimated 5000 people each week at the two-hatted Chinese bistro Mr Wong in the business end of Sydney’s CBD and another 1000 at the one-hat Asian fusion Ms G’s in Potts Point. He was also the brains behind another Merivale eatery, the Mexican-flavoured el Loco.

The 35-year-old Hong has dished up meals using ingredients found in people’s kitchens in ABC TV’s #Shelfie With Dan Hong and also appeared in SBS’s competitive cooking series The Chefs’ Line.

He has his own book of recipes, imaginatively titled Mr Hong, filled with dishes ranging from Salad of Husband and Wife (tripe and pig’s ear salad) to the vegetarian salad Buddha’s Delight.

Not bad for the wayward teenager who scored a “terrible” 48 in his HSC, smoked marijuana and went to raves held in secret locations in Redfern or Marrickville.

“Yeah, we had lots of fun,” he says. “We loved rap music that’s for sure.”

Hong’s attention is diverted as a waiter brings out a steady stream of seafood delicacies – cured swordfish, lobster and octopus – which he captures on his smartphone and later posts to the 53,100 followers of his Instagram account. Wow! @cirrus_dining @brent_savage couldn’t ask for a more delicious meal!A post shared by ” style=” color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px;” target=”_blank”> Dan Hong (@hongsta_gram) on Dec 6, 2017 at 8:20pm PST

Hong estimates the drop-out rate among apprentice chefs is 75 per cent, which he attributes to the challenges of the job.

“It’s the long hours, the pressure, then the money’s not great,” he said. “You really have to be quite a passionate and dedicated chef to stick through the apprenticeship and see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Hong’s meteoric rise through Sydney’s dining scene has seen him work at many of the city’s top eateries including Bentley Restaurant and Bar under Cirrus’ chef Brent Savage.

Savage sends out extra dishes for his former sous chef before venturing out of the kitchen to greet him. My new apprentice #namirahongA post shared by Dan Hong (@hongsta_gram) on Dec 3, 2017 at 9:39pm PST