Oak Kunnalok

Oak Kunnalok

Born:

Bangkok, Thailand

History:

My history as a Chef spans across the globe. I started living out my passion for food when I was working as a Chef in Bangkok at the St Regis Hotel. After expanding my knowledge on basic culinary skills, I moved to Connecticut, USA, to work in one of the biggest casino resorts, the Mohegan Sun. From there, I decided to move to Melbourne, Australia where it all began. 

Australia is a vibrant and multicultural country and I’ve been lucky enough to practise Japanese, Chinese and Thai cuisine. The Asian influence in our food is one of my favourite things about my work here.

I spent three years in Melbourne before I was lucky to be sponsored to one of the best places to work in Australia – Hamilton Island, Queensland. While I was there, I was promoted to Sous Chef at Cocachu, one of the busiest Asian restaurants. This gave me the creativity to explore new featured dishes each week using local and seasonal ingredients. The highlight of my career there was working with Billy Kwong’s team (through Chef Kylie Kwong) for Audi racing week, serving 150 guests for a Chinese-styled sharing menu.

Even though I loved the warmth and sun in Queensland, I decided to move back to breezy, cold, windy Melbourne again. I just can’t get enough of the culture and food here. I worked in several restaurants, including Nobu, Rice Paper Scissors and Chinchin. Then the opportunity arose for me to open the new Asian restaurant in Richmond called Kekou, working as Head Chef. Our food at Kekou is a delicate blend of Asian influences, designed to be shared with friends or family.

The dishes offer contrasting flavours of salty, sweet, sour and spicy, resulting in a balance of great textures and aromas. I highly recommend coming down to visit!

Have you always wanted to be a Chef?

I’ve wanted to be a Chef since I was very young. In Thailand, it’s hard to start working as a Chef unless you open your own restaurant or your family own it, unlike in European and Australian culture where you can start working from a young age and gain more experience. Once I graduated with my Bachelor Degree in Hospitality Management and started gaining international experience, my Chef career really took off.

How would you define your style?

I feel like my style of cooking is relaxed and easy to understand. With my Asian background, I tend to like cooking things that people can enjoy eating together as a share-styled meal. It has strong flavours, freshness and is balanced with the use of local ingredients and seasonal produce.

What is your feature flavour these days?

I’m not a one-flavour type of Chef. I like to combine the flavours together and find the perfect balance. Salty, sweet, sour and spicy are all feature flavours which I’ve learned through my family and friends, who have helped me get to where I am today.

Obsessive-compulsive about?

I’m obsessive-compulsive about cleanliness in the kitchen, like every Chef. But also for me, it’s all about having a work-life balance – something you wouldn’t have heard of a few years back. To maintain this, my team and I don’t work ridiculous hours, but we also ensure that we deliver the best/freshest food possible on our working days.

Your greatest culinary influence:

My mum is definitely my number one culinary influence. I grew up with her cooking since I was a kid. She originally comes from the South of Thailand, where the food there is very spicy and salty. Sometimes she adjusts the taste to make it a bit milder for me, but it still is full of flavour. She’s often concerned about me working as a Chef because she knows how hard it is to work in this industry, but I’m kind of a stubborn kid … so that’s why I’m here.

What do you love about this business?

I just love food. I love to eat and I love to cook. It makes me happy seeing customers enjoying my food. I love the energy of the kitchen and how I can put my passion into the food and pass it along to the customers. I have to improve myself every day to catch-up with the food trends in Melbourne. You just can’t stop learning here.

An ingredient you can’t live without?

Shrimp paste, which is shrimp mixed with salt and left to ferment for weeks or months. It can add a depth of flavour to curries, stir-fry dishes and even dressings. Most of our dishes at Kekou contain shrimp paste as the base ingredient. Don’t be scared about the unique smell – if you can use it properly, it will take your dishes to the next level.

Most ‘eyebrow-raising’ menu item?

Lobster betel leaf, toasted coconut, finger lime and chilli caramel. It’s an explosion of flavours and textures in one bite. Wrap it up with your hand and put it in your mouth. The sweetness of the chilli caramel, the saltiness from the fish sauce and lobster, the extra ‘pop’ of citrus flavour from the finger lime will do it. Not to mention the crunchiness from roasted peanuts and toasted coconut. I just love this little bite.

Signature dish?

My signature dish has to be 24-hour beef ribs in chilli red glaze and toasted rice powder. It was a featured dish when we were opening over two months and it has stuck on the menu ever since. The beef has been marinated and cooked sous-vide for 24 hours, then coated with rice powder and finished in a deep fryer. The result is a perfectly crunchy outside with a moist and juicy inside. And yes, shrimp paste is one of the key ingredients for this dish.


Kekou

Kekou

What started as a boat trip through Asia to discover hidden food gems has culminated into a craft beer and foodie heaven known as Kekou, on Bridge Road in Richmond's trendy dining strip. Rocking a light-filled, chic space inside a 120-year-old building fitted out to preserve its historic charm with polished concrete, rustic brick, splashes of greenery and furniture made from recycled railway sleepers, Kekou is the new place to see and be seen. Rotating craft beer and Eastern offerings are on a menu made for sharing, from small bites of lobster betel leaf, toasted coconut, finger lime and chilli caramel, to I'm Hungry options of five-spice pork belly, palm caramel, pomelo and mint salad. A rich chocolate mousse with Mandarin gel and a chocolate snap will tempt sweet tooths.

Read more


More Chefs