Sydney chef Kylie Kwong has announced she is partnering with Woolworths to produce a range of Chinese-style meals at home.
The new range will include DIY meal kits using carefully sourced Australian produce, ready-to-heat meals and a selection of sauces. It's a move that echoes other recent collaborations whereby large retailers join with celebrated talent, such as designer Dion Lee’s clothing range for Target.
For Kwong, this latest dimension to her work feels like a logical next step. “Many times over the years I have been asked, by many different people: ‘How can I do what you do at home, using ingredients that I purchase from the local supermarket?’” she says. “I've also written six cookbooks, and the most successful has been the Simple Chinese Cooking book, where I created all of the recipes based on ingredients found at the local supermarket. That was the best seller, interestingly enough.”
Woolworths has in the past enlisted celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to rally shoppers to make healthier eating choices, and partnering with Kwong is a welcome acknowledgement of the credibility of our local talent. Since launching Billy Kwong 15 years ago, the chef has rarely paused for breath, recently moving her restaurant from a shoebox-sized Crown Street location to a 300-square-metre space on Macleay Street, Potts Point. Her face (and cooking) has been beamed into Australian living rooms through her television series Kylie Kwong: Cooking with Heart and Soul and Kylie Kwong: Simply Magic. Even with her high profile, Sydneysiders can still catch her working most nights at Billy Kwong, or behind the wok at the restaurant’s stall on Saturday mornings at Eveleigh Markets.
“You know, there's one main theme, and it's what my mother taught me,” says Kwong when asked what connects this new range to the other strands of her career. “It's about communicating. It's being a communicator and finding the best mediums through which to communicate the message, which is: beautiful, fresh, simple, flavoursome Chinese food.”
The range launches with 11 products, with ready-to-heat meals in five varieties: Mongolian beef, beef with black bean, chicken with cashews, chicken with honey and ginger and vegetable fried rice. The two-meal kits comprise prawn dumplings with spring onion, ginger and coriander, and crispy chicken with sweet-and-sour sauce. While most of the preparation is done for you, the meal kits require a little more finishing off at home, such as battering and cooking the chicken, or folding the dumplings yourself. Four sauces round out the range: honey and ginger, black bean, sweet and sour and a master stock. "They're all classic Cantonese dishes and recipes,” Kwong says. “They're the recipes I sell the most of in the restaurant."
Billy Kwong has been lauded as one of the best Chinese-Australian restaurants in the country, and has a reputation for unusual ingredients, from Australian natives to edible insects. Preparing recipes for the supermarket shelf might seem a stark contrast, but as Kwong explains, "In terms of the whole philosophy, it's the same, where the recipes are developed based on the produce available." In real terms, this means that a dressing accompanying the prawn dumpling meal kit is, "A reflection of what we use on the Billy Kwong steamed-prawn wontons." Which is exciting news for anyone who has ever eaten Billy Kwong wontons.
Importantly, Kwong hasn't compromised on the ethical stance she's gained recognition for. "All of the raw produce is Australian, which I'm really proud of – Woolies and I have been working very hard on that," she says.
As it turns out, Kwong’s theme of good communication is something of a family tradition. “Back in the '70s my mum used to run Chinese cooking classes in our home in North Epping, which was actually quite amazing for that time. [The students] used to be the local Caucasians because we were the only Asians in our neighbourhood. I remember that because our food used to stand out at school,” Kwong says. “She used to teach them the beef with black bean, the chicken with sweet and sour, the prawn dumplings. This range is also like a legacy and a tribute to my mother's beautiful cooking and her recipe traditions, and all those wonderful lessons that she taught my two brothers and I. Food connects people, food makes people happy.”