BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: SANDY HO

What is your food philosophy? 

Eat what you love. Learn to love your farmers. 

What is your first meal that you remember?

My mum’s Bun Bo Hue, a spicy Vietnamese beef noodle soup! The soup is red from annato seed oil, layered with smashed lemongrass, fish sauce, red chili, the oxtail bones have the most tender meat and the steaming bowl is topped with bright mint, bean sprouts, chopped saw tooth coriander, sliced scallions and lots of lime juice. It’s just the best. 

What’s always in your fridge? 
Right now: Berries!! I’m about to get into some cake production so I have a pretty magnificent bounty of fruit gems from the market.

Always: miso, koji, vinegar, fermented chilies.

What’s always in your pantry?

Fish sauce, good olive oil, sesame oil, Maldon sea salt, kosher salt and baking goods!

What are your favorite flavors?

Lime, orange peel, fresh raspberries with whipped cream, fish sauce in every iteration. I love when lime hits caramelised al pastor on a taco with a sliver of glossy charred pineapple. The perfect green sauce blended with blistered onions and Serrano. Makrut lime leaves sliced hair thin in a pork larb and then a hit of dried chili. The first sip of a roasty chicken broth, when it shoots you back to childhood and feeling cared for on a sick day. I can go on, but generally anything with the high hats of zest and acidity + the warmth of nostalgic umami.

What do you eat that makes you feel your best? 
A big green crunchy salad out of a big metal salad bowl with a fish sauce citrus vinaigrette and shavings of whatever veggies I have around. 

I also love to have a bowl of soup. Broth soup with lemongrass, fish, fresh lime, makrut leaves, that’s my jam. I’ll curl up to this even when it’s hot outside.

Have you always been interested in food? Where does this interest stem from?
I’ve always been interested in food but I never thought that becoming a chef was what I wanted. I studied fine arts and got a degree in painting and drawing before I realized that my medium was actually vegetables and fruit and herbs and sauces and oils. Food has always brought me home. 

My love of food truly stems from my father's love of food alongside the way my mum cooked her heart into every dish. She always kept things exciting and explorative. But it was always guided by ideas my dad would have for lunch or dinner. They have a real romance in the way they create together. Their romance is food. And I’ve come to realize that it’s how I love too. If you’ve met me, chances are, I’ve cooked for you or I’ve cut into a ripe tomato, sprinkled it with sea salt and a few drops of fish sauce to feed to you.

What is your favorite cookbook?
To be honest I haven’t got one! I don’t look at cook books for recipes so it’s not often I have them around. However I will look at them for photos, for colour inspiration and for styling. I love doing that.

If you want a cookbook, go to the farmer's market and ask your farmer how to best eat and prepare their vegetables. Write it in the notes of your phone, remember it. That’s the best cookbook you’ll ever have. 

Can you please share a recipe with us, one you find yourself turning to more often than not.

SUMMER TOMATO CONGEE 

I love making this in the Summer because - TOMATOES! But also I really love rice all the time and this is filling but light and refreshing. You can use whatever is in season, add greens or mushrooms or change up the sauce if you don’t like fish sauce! Congee is great as a base for any bowl!

INGREDIENTS 
Congee
1/2 cup sticky rice or whatever starchy rice you prefer
2.5 cups water
1 T salt
1-2 inches ginger, smashed
4-5 turns fresh cracked pepper to finish
Tomato salad
2 tsp dark red miso
2 T tamari
1 T water
1/2 T fish sauce
1 clove garlic finely sliced
1 tsp sugar or honey
Juice of 1/4 lemon, I used fresh finger lime pearls from the farmer's market instead!
2-3 ripe summer tomatoes, I used a mixture of heirloom and cherry - cut into bite sized pieces
4-5 sprigs cilantro leaves or any soft herb you love
1 makrut lime leaf finely sliced
1. Add all ingredients for congee except the pepper into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
2. Turn down to simmer for 30-40 minutes, covered, until the grains start to burst open but are still intact. Stir occasionally.
3. Add all ingredients for tomato salad except for tomatoes, cilantro and lime leaf into a small bowl and mix well to combine.
4. Toss the remaining ingredients for the salad into the miso soy sauce and sprinkle with a little salt.
5. Check on your congee, discard ginger and add cracked pepper. You can add a little more water if it is too thick. You are looking for a loose rice soup consistency with the grains cooked through. 
6. Plate up! A couple of ladles of congee on the bottom of your bowl. Spoon over the tomato salad and the sauce. Enjoy!

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