Kimberly Tang: 30 Under 30

Published on 15 June 2022

Photo: Kimberly Tang (photo: Clint Peloso).

Born in Singapore and raised in Melbourne, Kimberly Tang has always found herself in multicultural food hubs.

Starting her apprenticeship at 17 with Crown after completing VCE allowed her to experience many venues and types of food and beverage service, but it was working at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal that taught her discipline, and teamwork. Kimberly went on to take out the title of Nestle Golden Chef of the Year in 2021. Right now she works at Society.

Hi, my name is Kimberly Tang.

Right now I’m working at Society as a sous chef.

Before I started here, I worked at Dinner by Heston Melbourne, where I did two-and-a-half years, Nobu, No.8 by John Lawson and some venues in Crown. I got into cooking straight after finishing VCE, and also managed to finish a nursing degree during the pandemic, graduating late last year. 

All up, I’ve been cooking for seven years, all of them in Victoria.

And I’m passionate about flavour, texture, sustainability, fermentation, foraging, seasonal produce, waste reduction. Food. I want to promote Chinese cooking ways, where there is no waste and all of the animal is used, rather than encourage others towards a more vegetable-based diet. It’s more accessible and will be more achievable for the general public. For me, Oriental food is so important. The immense culture and history of certain dishes has always amazed me. The simplicity, the nourishment, the minimal wastage and the emphasis on flavour and technique is deeply ingrained in our way of life due to our history of famine. The Chinese have learnt to pickle and preserve food to plan ahead when food is scarce. We greet each other with "吃飽了嗎?" (“chī bǎo le ma?”), which means “have you eaten?” in a literal sense, but symbolically it means “are you okay and well?”. 家 (jiā) means family, but if you break it down into its constituent parts it means a roof where there is food. To have food means peace and harmony; not war and struggle. 

Which means I enjoy cooking things like the food of my culture and what both my mum and my dad have cooked before, which means you'll often find me cooking for large gatherings with large share plates on a Lazy Susan where everyone can take whatever they please. Nostalgia is what I want to recreate. I love being in the garden tending to the veggie patch and herb garden as well as foraging for native plants. 

For huge celebrations (Chinese New Year, Christmas, birthdays) both sides of my family (both my parents have five siblings) would gather in our house in Singapore and make traditional Chinese New Year snacks and pastries. The smell of coconut, chilli and pineapple still stays with me. All the women gathered around a round table as we crimped curry puffs, made kueh or rolled love letters and washed dishes while I watched and made a mess. It's one of my favourite memories: the love of food and how it brings a whole community around it is what I am most grateful for.

When we moved to Australia, both my parents had to work, my mum owned a Michel's Patisserie and I guess this was where my love for all things sweet and dessert-like stems from. She would bring back cakes, pastries and pies and make pigs in blankets (essentially frankfurters wrapped in puff pastry; think homemade Breadtop) for me and my friends. When she’d come home after closing the café, she’d find me on a stool making mi goreng or an omelette, as I was too short to see the stove. 

At 30 Under 30 I’ll be cooking butter-poached Murray Cod with wasabi powder, caramelised cauliflower and miso puree, garlic cream, native greens and a black garlic honeycomb tuile. A light and fresh shared course.

The person I’m most looking forward to working with for 30 Under 30 isJoane Yeoh from Coda. As a fellow young female Asian chef, I look up to her and her desserts. I initially wanted to be a pastry chef and seeing the plates she has created is inspiring. I would love to learn from her. 

My favourite thing to eat in Victoria right now is wood-fired flatbread from Nomad for its pure simple deliciousness, and the Nyonya kueh (and everything else on the menu) at CC Wok because it's really humbling to see a small business bloom and still give back to the community and the less fortunate: a good family-style business that stays true to its roots. 

Finally, the big change I'd like to see in our food and drink scene in the next 30 years is attracting and mentoring young chefs to stay in the industry by focusing on wellbeing and knowledge. Restaurants placing a strong focus on sustainability, vegetarianism, veganism and using all of a product. Also, addressing the staffing crisis: there is a massive staff shortage right now and if we don't do something about it immediately the effects for the future may be hard to handle.

Catch Kimberly at the 30 Under 30 Gala dinner on Thursday 28 July and at the 30 Under 30 dinner at Society on Wednesday 10 August. Follow her further adventures at @lightand.tangy

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