Charles Duan is best known for his role overseeing the beverage program at chef Mo Zhou’s Gertrude Street restaurant Gaea. Here, he oversees the sake and wine pairings for the monthly-changing degustation menu and has created smoked-hay-infused cocktails and mocktails sweetened with fermented sweet potato.

But when Duan was a kid growing up in Inner Mongolia, a region in northern China that Duan says is culturally Mongolian, he dreamed of being a chef.

“Cooking for people is the best way I know to show love, and people need love – a lot – so I’ll never stop cooking,” Duan tells Broadsheet.

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He moved to Australia for university, but dropped out to study at Le Cordon Bleu Melbourne. Since then he has worked at restaurants including Mamasita and Shobosho in Adelaide. But it’s in the pop-up scene where Duan really shines.

Dishes the chef has made at pop-ups around town include a savoury deep-fried camel milk snack, calamari with shrimp butter, and a durian pizza inspired by a special from Pizza Hut in China.

We took five minutes with the chef to find out his go-to Melbourne spots.

What’s your go-to for a quick takeaway?
If you see me walking down Smith Street to work, there’s a 90 per cent chance I’ll be holding a banh mi from N Lee Bakery. I can literally eat them every day.

How about lunch on the go?
Xinjiang Lamian on Elizabeth Street. The Uyghur-style hand-pulled noodles with lamb skewers is the best lunch in town.

And for a drink and snacks?
Bijou. Open a bottle, have a few snacks. In fact, I’m sitting here [at Bijou] writing this now.

Where can you find your favourite dessert in town?
I don’t have a sweet tooth, but once in a while I’ll crave ice-cream and Hareruya Pantry is my go-to.

Where do you go if you’re looking for inspiration?
Leonie Upstairs, the little hidden sake bar that has the best sake selection in Melbourne. I’ve done so much R&D over there while sipping sake and having a few snacks.

Best comfort food?
Yum Cha. I’ve recently taken to Ripples in Bentleigh and it’s definitely become my favourite yum cha spot. Can’t stop smiling thinking about it.

Where do you go for a big meal?
Lilac Wine Bar has absolutely banging food and wine. You can order the whole menu and have a food coma for two days.

If you have visitors from out of town?
City Wine Shop. Sit in the sun for an early dinner, drink wine, have some snacks or have steak frites. Name a better Melbourne experience.

Where can you find your favourite sweet treat?
My favourite boat noodle place Pinto has these tiny coconut jelly desserts that always sell out fast. Have a couple of those after a bowl of spicy noodles and thank me later.

What’s your bucket list restaurant?
Firedoor. Cooking with fire is my thing, so I’m super keen to check out it if I’m in Sydney.