I’m Khanh. You may know me from MasterChef Australia 2018 and 2020 … cute, right? Besides that I’m so much more, so let’s go through my résumé. I’m a single gay man with my own bar and restaurant, the George on Collins in Melbourne (go there, it’s lit), a presenter on a national TV show, a sometimes DJ (no requests … soz) and an all-the-time cook.
Food is the love of my life, and that love began in childhood. My parents came to Australia in the early 1990s after spending four years in an immigration camp in Indonesia where I was born. I grew up in a very Vietnamese household in an even more Vietnamese area in south-east Melbourne. Surrounded by beautiful food and produce, I found myself cooking with my mum and learning all about flavour.
My love affair with food continued in my teens when my family opened a butcher shop and I began to learn about working with animals and cooking meat.
In my late teens I lost my dad to cancer and my mum had less time to cook, so I kinda took over those duties. I’ve gone through a few career changes, from fashion to design to music, but the constant has always been food. Food is my happy place, it reminds me of all the good times. I cook banh xeo or pho bo and think of Dad, or I eat prawns and pork belly and remember after -school meals with my sister. I love how food is able to transport you to a time, place or feeling.
I wrote this because I wanted to remind you how important food is in keeping a healthy balance, how it brings your friends and family together and how it helps you connect with others.
The following dishes are designed to make you feel good after a breakup. I’ve got you covered for whatever point of the emotional rollercoaster you are on. Sometimes that rollercoaster speeds up and then slows down a few dozen times a day, but let’s leave my mental breakdowns for another time.
Cooking for one
Because I’m just out of a four-year relationship.
- Make sure you have staples in your pantry such as canned beans, pasta and grains. Your fridge should have eggs, fats and, for me, protein. Then at the market, get seasonal veg and herbs, ready for your week. But remember to look at your week. If you’re out three days, what’s the point of buying 3kg of greens?
- Remember to love your freezer, too. Obviously sometimes you can’t cook for one but what you can do is freeze things you’ve made for an easy meal later in the week. Just don’t forget the meals or ingredients and leave them in your freezer.
- Another thing: you know how you’re always like, “I need to eat healthy”? Well, you tend to eat what is on hand. So stock your fridge and pantry with healthy foods and cook knowing you’ll snack on these items.
- Lastly, leftover veg is my favourite end-of-the-week meal. It’s like, chop that shit up, throw it on a baking tray and pop it in the oven with garlic, onion and hearty herbs for yum roast veg. Or brown off some onions and sauté any root veg and celery (there’s always celery) in a pot with oil. Add stock to deglaze and throw in your remaining leftover veg. Cook till tender, blitz it up and you have a soup for lunch for the next four days.
Naughty crispy potatoes
Potatoes are the overachiever of vegetables – bringing us potato chips, fries, baked spuds, mash and even vodka. Who doesn’t love a potato? So versatile and delicious in all its forms, I feel like the other vegetables aren’t even trying. This recipe is for the yummiest, hug-like baked potato, topped with all the trimmings – smoky bacon, salty parmesan, tangy sour cream and obviously chives because … greens. Make this recipe to accompany a roast, steak or even as a stand-alone dish.
1kg baby red potatoes, skin on
2 garlic heads
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
150g bacon, diced
50g grated parmesan
150g sour cream
1 tbsp chives, chopped
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Place the potatoes in a saucepan of heavily salted water (it’s important to pop them into cold water, as it helps with not overcooking the outside of the potato). Bring to the boil over high heat and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until they’re easily pierced with a fork.
Drain the potatoes and place them in a heavy-based roasting tin. Crush them lightly using a potato masher. Slice the tops off the garlic heads and add them to the tin. Douse the potatoes and garlic with the oil and a good sprinkling of salt, then roast for 35 to 45 minutes until crispy. Check the potatoes after 30 minutes and then every five minutes to make sure they don’t burn.
About five minutes before the potatoes are done, cook the bacon in a frying pan over medium–high heat for three to five minutes until crispy. Throw the bacon over the potatoes along with the parmesan and bake for another five minutes until the parmesan is melted and golden.
Dollop sour cream in all the gaps and crevices between the spuds, top with the chives, then eat it up and moan about being in a food coma.
Fun fact: once I forgot about my potatoes and left them in the oven for about half an hour more than I was supposed to, and they turned out extra crispy. They were a little dry, but even a bad baked potato is good.
Bang bang Sichuan chicken
I have no idea why but when people think of bang bang chicken they seem to think of a fried dish. But I know it as chicken that is very gently poached and then pounded to get out all your frustrations. This dish was an instant favourite after my breakup a few years back. I was angry and I wanted to smash and scream and just be an absolute handful. Anyway, back to the food. The freshness and crunch from the cucumber perfectly balances out the hot, salty, numbing umami flavour of the Sichuan sauce. Don’t worry, it’s hot but not “I can’t taste anything” hot.
For the chicken
5–7 cm piece of ginger, sliced
2 spring onions, whites trimmed, green parts finely sliced and reserved for the sauce
1 onion, quartered
2 small skinless chicken breasts or 1 large one (about 350g in total)
½ cucumber, deseeded and finely sliced into batons
For the sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chilli oil
3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
½ tsp sea salt
Place the ginger, spring onion whites, onion and 500ml of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Add the chicken breasts and bring back to the boil, then cover and turn to the lowest heat to poach gently for 11 to 14 minutes until the chicken is cooked. To test, pierce the chicken with a skewer – the juices should run clear. Plunge the chicken into an ice bath to stop it cooking and set the poaching liquid aside.
To make the Sichuan sauce, combine the ingredients in a bowl with the spring onion greens and 125ml of the poaching liquid and set aside.
Shred the chicken (but not too finely) and pound (bang bang!) with a rolling pin to make flat thin pieces. Arrange the cucumber on two serving plates, then top with the chicken. Pour over the sauce and serve.
Spaghetti for one
Spaghetti bolognese is an essential in your cooking repertoire. It’s often a dish people make when they first learn to cook and it’s always great. Although, people usually cheat and use pre-made pasta sauce. Don’t! Instead, try this recipe. It’s a faster than a typical spag bol, but I make this when I wanna look and feel like I have my shit together, because it’s an easy dinner that creates leftovers for lunch. Then I can bring that lunch into the office, only to have someone comment on how it’s a different colour to my usual spag bol. Shut up, Karen, nobody asked you. Let me have my spaghetti in peace – it’s the only thing standing between me and a complete mental breakdown.
OK, back to the food. The tomato paste and oregano really boost this hearty dish and the fresh basil at the end really lifts it, too. My favourite thing about this recipe, though, is the bottle of red I insist you open to make the dish, which you really should polish off during the cooking process. Why is tipsy cooking not a TV show?
Serves 1 (with leftovers for lunch)
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g beef mince
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp dried oregano
100ml of your favourite red wine, (one that you’ll also be drinking, obvs)
Handful of basil leaves, plus extra to serve (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
150g dried spaghetti
As much grated parmesan as you want
Start by popping the oil into a large deep saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for three minutes or until softened and semi translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
Throw the beef mince into the pan and cook, stirring, for five to six minutes until the beef is browned and no longer pink. Next goes the tomato paste and oregano – mix well, then add the passata and red wine (and pour yourself a glass to sip while you cook).
Reduce the heat to a simmer and leave uncovered to cook for 15 minutes (it’s important to let the sauce and the other ingredients become good friends at this point). Add the basil and some salt and pepper and stir well.
Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of heavily salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions (I like to cook mine for one or one and a half minutes less for that al dente bite). Drain and throw the pasta into the sauce. Make yourself a bowlful, top with parmesan and, if you wanna Instagram it, a bit of extra basil. #nightsin