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Just what exactly is fish maw? Let this country boy-turned-superstar chef explain!
Ben Cooper has quite the impressive CV. Nobu, Nahm, Ezard, Longrain…so it’s no wonder he’s now set up as head chef at the oh-so-hot St Ali in South Melbourne. Follow him on twitter at jammin55.
Where did you grow up?
“Taree, country NSW.”
When did you realise you wanted to be a chef?
“7.30am 18th February 1995.”
Is there one dish you still struggle to get right?
“Honeycomb - about a 35% success rate.”
What does it take to be a successful chef?
“Passion, determination, conviction, and above all a partner who supports you 100%.”
Worst job you have ever had?
“Cleaning out the rabbit hutch.”
What is your signature dish?
“Grilled kingfish heads with togaroshi, ponzu, fresh lemon and shiso cress.”
What is unique about your restaurant?
“St Ali is a commercial coffee roaster and Middle Eastern-inspired café by day and an Asian bistro by night. The dinner menu is inspired by the flavours of South-East Asia.”
What is the chef serving in heaven?
“From South Park? Chocolate salty balls, otherwise yum cha and Peking duck pancakes.”
What is the most bizarre dish you have ever tried?
“Fish maw. It’s the air bladder inside a fish that allows it to control its buoyancy. The Chinese generally serve it braised and it is quite gelatinous and more a texture thing than a flavour thing.”
What is one question people are always asking you?
“Would you like a coffee?”
What is your biggest food indulgence?
“Caramel, especially condensed milk caramel. Something my mum used to make me as a kid.”
How do you have your coffee?
“Black, short or long, generally no sugar.”
What ingredient are you obsessed with right now
“Pat Chun vinegar (Chinese clove vinegar). To die for!”
Which three people would you invite to a dinner party?
“My wife and my two kids, Kanaida my son and Daisy, my daughter. I can never get enough time with them. Given they would already be there though:
Lance Armstrong, Dame Judi Dench, Heston Blumenthal.”
What is your best tip for home cooks?
“Limit the ingredient list and lose the caution. By working with fewer ingredients you have a greater ability to control flavours and textures. By losing the caution you allow yourself to become part of the food. Like the saying, “it is the simplest things in life that are often the best”.”