The rustic, warm brown tones in the picture contrasted with the bright white of hand-torn mozzarella and fresh green basil instantly transports oneself to the homely Italian countryside. Despite it’s simplistic presentation, this dish is definitely not lacking in flavour with bursts of sweetness from the cherry tomatoes, creamy mozzarella and freshness from the basil, all atop a warm and doughy bread vessel.
Q: What was your inspiration behind the dish?
Actually in terms of Western food, I’m a huge fan of pizza. (in fact at the time of the interview Daniel had just had pizza in the morning, talk about dedication!) But other than that, I actually wanted to do something that was pretty simple and quick to whip up.
There was no huge “BOOM, okay I want to do this for Top Chef”, it was more of a coincidence really that I decided to join this, the timing was very on point, I guess? Because honestly, I don’t really cook, so when it was announced that I was the winner for the Vegetarian Main Course, I was actually really shocked to find out that I had won.
Q: Are you personally a vegetarian?
Honestly? NO, haha.
I love meat but I have a huge respect for the individuals who do choose to go vegetarian whether it’s for personal or health reasons. But, I mean well the advantage of this dish is that it’s relatively cheap (perfect for constantly broke Monash students) and the key is its simplicity!
Q: What is your personal cooking style and what does cooking mean to you? Is it more of a hobby to de-stress?
As someone who is more of a foodie than an avid chef, I honestly don’t cook a lot… this question is a bit difficult to answer haha.
But, like my dish, my cooking style is something that I can whip up in a few minutes, not like tedious stews or stuff that takes hours to prepare and plate. However, I do believe that cooking itself is incredibly important, it’s a basic skill that everyone should master which I’m slowly (but surely) trying to do before I graduate!
Q: Did you teach yourself cooking or did a family member?
Hmm, in my family my dad actually really really enjoys cooking so watching doing something he loves inspired me a lot.
I’m trying my best to absorb at least 50% of his cooking knowledge before I leave the nest so that at least I can… survive on my own.
For this competition in particular however, I actually consulted a friend who really enjoys cooking and sharing his culinary creations with us on our personal Whatsapp group chat. So, he did help me quite a bit for this.
Q: What is your favorite type of cuisine?
Side note: He struggled a bit to pick a Top 1, but to make his life easier I widened it to Top 3, because in true Malaysian fashion, our love for food crosses all cultures and countries
My top three favorite cuisine would be:
- Local food
- Japanese food
- Chinese Food (there was tight competition between Korean and Western food for this position but Chinese food won out in the end)
Q: What is the recipe?
I would LOVE to tell you but it’s a closely guarded family secret that has been passed down for GENERATIONS jkjk.
Actually, it’s pretty much the most basic pizza recipe you can get off the Internet.
It starts off with flour-based dough which you can then roll out to the thickness of your liking (thin crust, New York crust, thick crust etc). Then you slather on some tomato sauce (store bought or homemade it’s up to you and depending on how lazy you are at that time hehe). After that the toppings are just garlic-sauteed spinach, hand torn basil and chunks of mozzarella.
One of the things that I love about this recipe is its versatility. You could add olives, chilli flakes or even some other protein just to be a bit extra boujee.
Q: When would you recommend making and enjoying this dish?
It is my personal philosophy that EVERY TIME IS PIZZA TIME (someone print this on a T-shirt right now!!) It’s the true embodiment of university food because it’s perfect for dinner, lunch or even reheated for breakfast the next day.
Much thanks to Daniel for this really fun interview (we actually deviated a LOT and had a bunch of laughs) and congratulations once again for winning Top Chef Monash. By the way, this writer is still waiting for him to GrabFood his pizza to me!
Interview by Ashley Lim
Featuring Daniel Tee