CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! with AUNG KO KO OO
Chef Aung has fed me multiple times without me ever knowing it. Right from when he first stepped foot in Dubai in 2009 with Mango Tree and right through his culinary journey at Intercontinental Dubai Festival City and Noodle House to his current base at Asia Tang – I think I have unconsciously followed him. Chef Aung is health conscious – very much so – there is great thought that goes into the combinations of ingredients in foods to help balance things out. As he talks to me about some dishes, he inadvertently talks about their health benefits – it comes naturally to him. His love for his mother shines through and I don’t think any Chef could have a better mentor than their very own mother – like his was. Chef Aung says he has no secrets when it comes to the kitchen, but he did leave me with one tip when it comes to ordering crispy duck – always ask for the thigh piece.
Name: Aung Ko Ko Oo
Restaurant: Asia Tang, Springs Souk
From: Yangon, Myanmar
Culinary School: Hotel & Tourism Culinary School in Yangon
Knife Hand: Right
Were you a good kid, did you eat your veggies as a child?
Yes, I did eat vegetables as a child. I loved eating carrots, long beans and potatoes. I don’t remember hating any vegetables, but I do remember I loved bananas.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Growing up I wanted to be a builder. My second dream was to be a Chef. I remember helping my mother in the kitchen since I was 12 years old – I used to wash the dishes. So, my first job was stewarding with my mom. It was like my mom was the head chef and I was the dishwasher in my family 😊 I slowly started to go to the market to buy vegetables which I came home to cook along with rice. We used to use an electric or charcoal stove and the challenge at that age was always how to start a charcoal fire. My mother taught me how to – you could say she was my first teacher.
When I was 18 years old, I realised I needed to learn more and that is when I took a culinary course and worked side by side at a hotel in Yangon as a helper in the kitchen as part of my course. After my course a friend offered me a job on Ko Tao island, Thailand which I took up as I wanted to learn how to cook Thai food. I worked here for 4 years. After this I came back home to Yangon for a couple of years and then in 2009 I came to Dubai.
What did you have for dinner last night?
I eat less rice at night with more vegetables. So last night I had an Asian salad with chicken and very little rice.
Place you eat most often on days off?
On off days I go to some of Thai or Chinese restaurants like PF Changs, Little Bangkok, Din Tai Fung.
What’s your favourite ingredient/ condiment to work with?
Most important ingredient to work with is onions. It’s a great base for gravies and lends a sweet flavour. It is also good for your health.
If it’s the last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in and what are you eating?
I would go back home to Yangon and have chicken masala with rice made by my wife.
If you left Dubai to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
If I had a chance to leave Dubai I would back to Myanmar and start my own restaurant focussed on Asian fusion.
Who is the person you would most like to cook for and what would you cook them?
I would want to cook for the person I consider a master chef in my life – my mother – Toe Myit. She always wants to try my food. I would love to cook a fish fry with a soup and rice and a vegetable dish for lunch. For breakfast I would make her a sunny side up egg with steam beans which she will love to have with her Ovaltine.
What is the dish on the menu you eat most?
Mostly I enjoy eating the crunchy Asian salad with avocado which comes with a tamarind and sesame dressing. We use only the freshest ingredients and is easy to digest.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
Maintaining standards is important. Your food has to be consistent. The products need to be fresh and of high quality.
Best culinary tool? A wok. If you have a wok, you can do everything, especially when it comes to Asian cooking.
A chef that inspires you? Chef Gordon Ramsay.
Favourite cuisine? Thai food. It is sweet and spicy which uses fresh ingredients like herbs. They also use a lot of chilli– and I love chillies.
What’s your favourite comfort food? Tiger prawns with tomato gravy with chillies.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given? It was by my mother who told me to stay calm and that you can always rise after a fall and try again.
Last thing you cooked for yourself? Sea Bass masala curry with rice
What is the one cooking tip you swear by? Fire and heat are very important. If you cannot control the heat of the wok, the quality of the food cannot be controlled.
THIS OR THAT
Curly fries or regular fries?
Hot sauce or barbecue sauce?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Rice or Mash?
Soup or salad?
Lunch, Breakfast or Dinner?
Fried egg, omelette, or scrambled?
Crème brûlée or molten chocolate cake?
Ketchup or mayonnaise?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Baked or fried?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
And lastly, cake or pie?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!