Gourmet Traveller

WHAT KYLIE DID NEXT

If Kylie Kwong bumped into her 31-year-old self, she’d have some advice: “You’re going a million miles an hour, KK, slow down.” Back then, in 2000, she says, she’d have been en route to the newly opened Billy Kwong on Crown Street in Sydney’s Surry Hills, running to handwrite the specials or to get the ducks on for roasting, no doubt via her van-turned-storeroom that was parked out the front of the compact restaurant. “We used to pull rabbits out of hats all the time,” she says. “But it was that absolute manic drive and passion that got those doors open and got me here now.”

“Here now” is some kind of endpoint. In January, in the lead up to her 50th birthday and after 19 years of operation, Kwong announced she was closing her restaurant. “A natural desire arose within me about a year-and-a-half ago,” she says. “It became stronger and stronger. I started to observe it deeply and say, ‘okay, what does this all mean?’”

Kwong is sitting in her restaurant, which moved to a 140-seat space in Potts Point five years ago, days before its last service at the end of June. In the days and weeks that follow she’ll shut the doors and look forward to new projects and horizons. But now, there’s a chance to reflect, and to celebrate, with one last banquet.

The road to the next chapter, though, has been a long one. Before she established her own version of modern Chinese-Australian cuisine, she began her cooking career with another of the country’s best, Neil Perry. As a third-generation Chinese woman, growing up in a Chinese household where her mother cooked Chinese food every night, organic, in-season tomatoes, quality salt flakes and different varieties of extra-virgin olive oil were far from Kwong’s larder and her palate. It was Perry who opened her eyes to Western-style cooking and the benefit of top-notch ingredients. He was also one of the first people to encourage her to be proud of her heritage. “He’d say, ‘Kwongy, you don’t know how lucky you are. Chinese is such a wonderful cuisine.’” The chef spent six years under his mentorship. Four of them as head chef at Perry’s

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