Meet the chef: Adam Woodfield, coca chu Posted by Gemma Christie - 7 April 2015 Hamilton Island is renowned for its high quality and diverse dining experiences thanks to a team of culinary experts who call this island paradise home. One such expert is Adam Woodfield, Head Chef at Hamilton Island’s popular South-East Asian restaurant, coca chu. In 2012, Adam traded in his New York restaurant for a life cooking in Great Barrier Reef paradise – a career decision which has given him the space away from bustling city life to focus on his food. Enjoy this insight into his world as we take you on a journey to meet yet another one of Hamilton Island’s chefs. What is your earliest memory of being interested in food? I have many fond memories of the first couple of times I tried a hand at cooking, but the one that comes to mind is being in the kitchen with my mum learning how to make a quiche Loraine from scratch. First was the pastry which I loved because when I was a kid I could have lived off any raw cake batter or pastry – sweet or savory. I just loved it. Then the filling: mum always taught me not to rush anything when it came to cooking. The quiches were always silky smooth and delicious. To this day when I eat a quiche Loraine it always brings back good memories of Sunday dinners at my parents’ house. What are three of your most indispensable ingredients and why are they so special to you? Kaffir lime fruit – This is number one on my list. I love the tartness of its juice and the zest. I love the smell from the oils that it gives off, it is so addictive. Most curry recipes call for kaffir zest however many people use regular lime zest instead. I highly recommend seeking out the real thing as they definitely aren’t the same! Shrimp paste – The smell of this paste roasting will often make many people feel sick in the stomach but once you start working with it and understanding how it works in a recipe, it will become an ingredient you won’t be able to live without. It is the back bone of many curries. Chilli – I never was a big chilli fan when growing up or when I did my apprenticeship. It was only when I walked into the kitchen at Jimmy Liks did I start understanding how chilli works in certain recipes. Most people think chilli is there just to make a dish spicy, which in some cases is true, but there are so many recipes that call for its spiciness as an added flavour dimension. Just like sweet, sour and salty – spicy is also a flavour characteristic often needed to balance a dish. Betel leaf – I absolutely love this as a starter (like coca chu’s Lobster Betel Leaves), deep fried as part of a vegetable plate and in soups. My first introduction to Modern South-East Asian cooking was the smoked eel betel leaf at Jimmy Liks and wow, did that blow my mind – the fresh flavours of the lime leaf and coriander, the smokiness of the eel and then to finish, the nuttiness and crunch of the betel leaf. When it comes to South-East Asian cuisine it’s not just about flavour, it is also about texture. Here on Hamilton Island we have started growing our own betel leaves and many common South-East Asian ingredients that are hard to find regularly in the market. One Adam Woodfield’s favourite dishes at coca chu – Lobster Betel Leaves How has your tropical island setting changed your style of cooking? It has been one of the best parts of my cooking career. Before Hamilton Island I owned my own restaurant called “Betel” in NYC for three years. The city forced you to constantly compete against other chefs and restaurants. I found it so painful and exhausting to always have to follow trends just to keep up with fellow chefs/restaurants and the public’s expectations. Here on Hamilton Island you get to put all that nonsense behind you and focus on your food. For example, I would never have been able to grow or find the time to tend to my own vegetable or herb garden in the city. It has really been a highlight in my career as a chef. What kind of experience do you aim to give guests dining at coca chu? I like to give guests a range of experiences. Some guests just love the idea of having a wide variety of dishes hit the table quickly. Their taste buds buzz with the sweet, sour and salty flavours and they get to appreciate all the textures at once. Some guests prefer to sit back and soak up the view with dishes coming out gradually that suit this type of climate. And then there are the families – being a father of two boys I know the pains of restaurants with kids. Here we can bring the food to the table quickly but not to the point where the kids are overwhelmed. We like to allow just enough time for the parents to sit back and enjoy their dinner with a glass of wine or beer before the kids get restless and they have to leave. coca chu’s relaxed atmosphere and unique design make it one of the most popular restaurants on Hamilton Island. What are your three favourite coca chu dishes and why? Lobster betel leaf – I love the flavours, the textures and how it has gone from a snack in Thailand that you buy at a bus or train stop to a dish served at high-end restaurants. Son in law eggs – This dish wins everyone over (even if they don’t like eggs – just ask my wife!) I can’t get enough of the sweet caramel sauce, the creaminess of the yolks and the final sourness from the green mango. However the best part of the dish is the Thai story behind it: Back in the day before the daughter and her fiancé tied the knot, the fiancé had to prove himself to the mother in law by cooking. Now unfortunately he was useless at cooking and only capable of cooking an egg. So he cooked an egg for her. He found some caramel sauce at the back of the stove and poured that over the egg to make it a little more special. To this day, this is why this dish is called the “Son In Law Eggs”. Such a beautiful story behind such a great dish. Adam Woodfield’s “Son In Law Eggs” served at Hamilton Island’s South-East Asian restaurant, coca chu Sour pork – This dish was one that David Thompson cooked at a dinner we served together at Betel Restaurant many years ago. The pork is so flavoursome, both sour and spicy, and the textures work so well together. Who or what has been your greatest inspiration in your career so far? I have three people that have inspired me in my career: Jean Allen – He was my executive chef at Stokehouse when I was an apprentice. He promoted me to head apprentice for two years and during that time he taught me it’s not all about the food when it comes to running a kitchen/restaurant. It is often more important to know how to manage a kitchen, the chefs, the floor staff and understand the money side of managing a kitchen. Bill Marchetti – Bill taught me how to be a chef’s chef, to know when to keep my mouth shut, how to run a section spot on, how to cook, how to butcher and one of the most important rules in the kitchen: “NEVER SAY SORRY because you’re not!!” That lesson still rings in my ears after 18 years working for the great man. David Thompson – Ever since I started cooking South-East Asian cuisine back in 2002, David Thompson’s book “Thai Food” has been my bible for Thai food. I believe I owe everything to David when it comes to my time cooking in this cuisine. When I had the opportunity to cook with David in NYC, I was introduced to a new way of cooking and thinking. I learnt that you do need to follow a recipe to a point but then it is up to you to find the balance. That’s what I love about cooking. Every dish is my rendition. Adam Woodfield cooking in his coca chu restaurant on Hamilton Island. And your proudest moment? Marrying my wife (of course), having two wonderful boys and opening my first restaurant in NYC. If you were to have your final three course meal, what would you choose for each course and why? 1st course – Scallop wontons with Sichuan oil; this was my first dish I have ever had at Billy Kwong’s restaurant and when I fell in love with this style of cooking. No fuss, just good quality ingredients that aren’t over thought. 2nd course – Shack Shake burger; they are the best on the planet…no other burger can compare. Danny Meyer, you’re a legend! 3rd course – Banana roti – something so simple but a perfect end to a meal About the Author As Hamilton Island’s Communications Manager, Gemma is passionate about both writing and all things to do with Hamilton Island tropical island paradise. Sharing all the news, insights and interesting stories from the destination perfectly combines both loves. When not writing, Gemma can be found dancing for no reason, going out for breakfast, soaking up the beach or spending time with her family doing all of the above.