The Dumpling King: An Interview with Billy Yuen

by Billy Yuen

Was food a big focus in your household growing up?
Generally speaking, food has always played a big part in Chinese culture. Especially “Jiao Zi” (dumplings), this was something that would have the whole family’s involvement in it, we joked, laughed and played. For this very reason, I would say that not only was it a big focus, but it was a “need” both physically and mentally.
What age did you start cooking?
I am 31 years old, and with my family’s circumstances back in those days, I had to work from a young age. Precisely, I think I was about 14 years old.
Were there any people who particularly influenced you as you developed as a cook?
I think it’s a yes and no question, I didn’t start by choice, but I continued by choice. I think the big drive that kept me improving and developing as a cook was the warmth that dumplings brought to people. It wasn’t necessarily other cooks or chefs that were driving me to improve or develop as a cook.

"I think the big drive that kept me improving and developing as a cook was the warmth that dumplings brought to people."

Was there a particular moment you realised you wanted to become a chef?
Well, I think there were a few moments. As I gain more insight, styles and knowledge, that itself is enough to make me want to become a chef!
Your dishes have such a strong visual element. Can you describe why this is so important to you?
In traditional Chinese cooking theory, developed thousands of years ago, it already teaches us in this manner, visual, aroma, and taste. We eat with our eyes, we are visual attestation beings. Having a good visual product isn’t only adding to the satisfaction of eating, but also beauty satisfaction. Everyone LOVES looking at beautiful things, it is something that will never change.
Certain elements of your dishes take days to prepare. Why is it so important to you to not cut corners in your cooking?
I am an innovative chef cooking in a traditional style. I follow my principles and hold onto my beliefs. I strongly believe my products are the face of me, and my principle is that the product is not the same if it is concentrated. For example it take 12 hours before any meats release 100% of the taste of the bone into the broth, so if you shorten it, then you’re only going to get 50% worth. Often Chefs fail because they think they can speed up the process by using things like stocks or MSG, but the reality tells you that it is not possible. Thus, I think it is a disgrace if I do something like that!
Can you describe how the variety of ingredients available in Sydney has changed some of your recipes?
The availability of ingredients in Sydney in comparison to Hong Kong has made my recipes better, well, in my opinion, simply because Australia is a country with minimum pollution, and so close to sea. It means our sources are much fresher and not having to be on the plane for 10 hours. Many say it is the same, matter of fact there is a significant difference.

"The availability of ingredients in Sydney in comparison to Hong Kong has made my recipes better..."

The dishes you prepare at Luyu & Yum Yum are so elaborate and time consuming to prepare. How does this compare the food you cook at home?
Many think Chefs are not as active as they are while they are at work, this is incorrect, at least for me. Matter of fact, I think I am way more active at home, because I am cooking for my loved ones, and nothing will come before them in the entire world! Also, I think we can’t draw the two for a comparison, as the food I make at home are usually not what I make at work. Generally speaking, I am more of a main dish Chef rather than a Dumpling Chef at home.
You’ve recently arrived from Hong Kong - what are your initial impressions of Sydney?
My initial impression of Sydney when I landed was fresh and clean. When I started out at Newtown, I found myself on an very on a energetic “food street”, which in some ways reminds me of Hong Kong.
Can you tell us a little about the process of building the menu at Luyu? It seemed like you landed and got straight into it, was there much planning ahead of time?
I think the speed I built the menu had a lot to do with the guys at Luyu. They already had lots of information prepared for me such as the 10 most consumed vegetables in Australia, target market, type and variety of meat and seafood available. Most importantly, the concept of the venue - this information was so critical for me to build the menu, and this really sped up the process.
Billy Yuen has 5 recipes for you to try at home:
Starburst Dumpling
Manga (Hedgehog) Dumplings
Snow White Rabbit
Caviar Dumpling
Peking Duck Pancakes

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About the Author

Billy Yuen

Billy Yuen is a dumpling legend. Revered as 'The Dumpling King', he honed his skills over many years creating small, single bite masterpieces. The love he has for his passion is reflected in his meticulously prepared dishes, his dedication to the provenance of his ingredients and the care he... Read Full Bio

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