Winson Law, chef de cuisine, Kiyomi
... I believe you don’t have to use complicated techniques, but it’s the combination of flavours that make a dish stand out ...
From family yum-cha feasts as a child in Hong Kong to cooking in hostels while travelling across Australia as a teen, Kiyomi’s chef de cuisine Winson Law has seen (and eaten) it all. While his love and passion for food and cooking started early, Winson has evolved his craft over the years, fine tuning his skills and techniques to focus on the intricate arena of Japanese cuisine. In the kitchen at The Star Gold Coast’s own hatted Japanese fine diner Kiyomi, Winson pushes the boundaries with his innovative team, delicately melding tradition with modernity to take the cuisine, and the dining experience, to dizzying new heights. We caught up with Winson to chat about childhood food memories, his top tips for cooking seafood at home, and the lengths he goes to in order to impress his toughest critic – his two-year-old daughter.
Let’s take it back. When was the light-bulb moment that you realised you wanted to be a chef?
When I was 19, I spent a year backpacking around Australia. I spent a lot of time in Western Australia – I would say after the Gold Coast, Margaret River is one of my favourite places in Australia. All of the beaches there have crystal-clear water and are so beautiful. It was also the first time I really started to cook for myself after being in Hong Kong, where I would have normally always eaten out. It was during my stay in the Margaret River, about halfway through my trip, that I met a Taiwanese chef who cooked the most amazing food, using only basic hostel cooking equipment. One of the most memorable dishes he cooked was deep-fried squid – to this day I still haven’t been able to replicate his recipe! It really inspired the idea that you didn’t need fancy equipment to make a delicious meal, and it sparked my interest in becoming a chef.
You were born and raised in Hong Kong – what are some of the food memories you have from that early part of your life?
When I was a kid, I would often go to the local yum cha restaurant with my family. It was our version of brunch. Sometimes we’d go every day! The servers would bring around trolleys stacked with all kinds of different dim sum. Dim sum is hard to make at home, so I would only ever eat them at yum cha. The best thing about eating yum cha and dim sum is the variety. There are so many different flavours and textures when you eat this way.
What initially ignited your passion and desire to specialise in Japanese cuisine?
It was definitely having the opportunity to work at Sokyo in Sydney with Chase Kojima, who taught me the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine. Chase then went on to open Kiyomi where I currently work and continue to develop my passion for Japanese cuisine.
With the warmer months now upon us, fresh Australian seafood is at its prime. As a chef, what do you most enjoy about working with seafood?
Seafood is so diverse. There are so many ways to prepare it and incorporate it into dishes. It is also one of those rare ingredients that truly speaks for itself. I think my favourite seafood would have to be Sydney rock oysters. The first time I tasted oysters was in Tasmania, it wasn’t something we would eat in Hong Kong. A good Sydney rock oyster doesn’t need anything – it’s delicious just as it is. However, you can transform its flavour by adding, for example, yuzu granita like we do at Kiyomi, and it’s a totally new experience.
Quality seafood forms a significant part of Kiyomi’s offering. What are some of the best catches we can expect to see you and your team utilising during this year’s spring-summer season, and what would you say is a must-try dish right now?
Honestly, all of our seafood is amazing – and because we source top quality from all over Australia, we can offer it to our guests most of the year, while still ensuring the integrity of each dish we present. Given that our menu is heavily seafood focused it is important for us to allow the seafood to speak for itself and really be the hero of the dish.
Kiyomi is a venue that has always been known for its elevated, cutting-edge cuisine. Maintaining that level of innovation is a demanding task – where you do draw your inspiration from and what fuels your ongoing creativity?
I am always eating, reading and watching (as much as my baby and toddler will allow me to!). I try to keep my finger on the pulse to stay in touch with who’s coming up, what’s trending and those types of things, but I also like to play around with different ideas in my head when I am with friends and family. I draw inspiration mainly from what I like to eat or what I am interested in and what I’d be proud to serve my family. My two-year-old daughter loves potato so I’m constantly trying out new potato dishes to give her more variety – she would eat hot chips every day if we let her! I’ve been hugely inspired by Australian cuisine ever since I started travelling here. At the end of the month I’ll be having dinner with friends on Tamborine Mountain. It will be all about lamb and cheese. I’m obsessed with lamb at the moment and can’t wait to experiment with it further this spring.
How would you best describe your personal philosophy on food?
I’m always thinking about how to get the best balance of flavour. We always cook with the highest quality ingredients and I believe you don’t have to use complicated techniques, but it’s the combination of flavours that make a dish stand out. For example, we use one of the best cuts of wagyu beef – a David Blackmore 9+ inside skirt, which is a cut available exclusively at Kiyomi. By marinating it with shio koji, which is fermented rice, it makes the meat even more tender and enhances the already incredible flavour.
What tips do you have for budding at-home cooks looking to expand their skills in preparing seafood?
Buy good quality – go to your local fish market or co-op, and talk to the fishmonger, ask them what’s come in today, or what they would recommend. Look for signs of freshness in the fish – clear eyes and bright red gills. Fresh fish should bounce back if you press it – ask the fishmonger to do this so you can see for yourself. If you’re game, try buying fish with scales on, so you can scale it yourself. Some fish is so delicate that if it’s been scaled and bruised, the fish will just fall apart. If you scale it yourself, you can be extra gentle. Then, make sure you highlight the flavours, not disguise them. If you’re buying sashimi, the best way to eat it is simply with wasabi and soy sauce – that combination just can’t be beaten.
Finally, what’s your go-to comfort meal to cook for yourself on a night off at home?
As I said before, I’m currently obsessed with lamb – my partner is from New Zealand and her family introduced me to it. I buy a lamb shoulder with no bone and already wrapped, then marinate with shio koji. I put this on everything, it just makes it taste better! If I’m working, I will always whip myself up a super-fast udon bowl. After a late night in the kitchen, the last thing I feel like doing is cooking, so it has to be fast and on point! I use frozen udon, mentsuyu seasoning, sliced beef, onion and spring onion. It only takes me ten minutes, then I’ll sit down with a glass of white wine, then go straight to sleep!
For more information on Kiyomi, head to The Star Gold Coast website.