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Kylie Kwong: philosophical foodie

Kylie Kwong

Credit: Petrina Hicks

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"I loved it," she explains. "It was the first time I'd heard anyone talk about why you are the way you are and how your parents and [grandparents] and childhood have a big influence on who you are. It made so much sense and [gave me] a much broader view on everything."

She left the "too soulless and cut-throat" world of advertising after two years and, while contemplating her next career move, worked increasingly in delis and cafes.

Life developed a focus when, at the age of 26, she landed her first professional cooking job at Neil Perry's legendary Rockpool restaurant.

It propelled her along what, in hindsight, was a perfectly natural route.

Family matters

While the education Kwong received from Perry turned out to be a significant influence, food has always been central to her life.

She and her brothers had begun cooking with their mum as preschoolers and Kwong remembers the chaotic joy of large extended family mealtime gatherings. Each parent had 10 brothers and sisters and, as Kwong proudly acknowledges, she's part of Australia's "largest Chinese family in immigration history."

While Kwong's connection with her Eastern ancestry now seamlessly pervades most aspects of her life, her many visits to the most populated continent on the planet have also highlighted her appreciation for the raw resources in Australia that fuel her passion for cooking.

"It makes me realise how lucky we are with our produce. It really is second to none. The seafood here, in particular, is amazing," says Kwong.

She also concedes she sometimes finds the pollution problems and apparent lack of environmental constraints and regulations in China personally challenging.

Spiritual ties

The biggest shift in Kwong's environmental outlook came with the arrival in 2003 of Billy Kwong's current matre'de, Kin Chen.

Chen, a Chinese Malaysian and practicing Buddhist who has lived in Australia for 20 years, quickly impressed Kwong with the gentle, respectful confidence his spirituality gives him.

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