The Healthy (Conscious) Interview: Dan Cheung
I have known of Dan longer than I have actually known Dan. My dear friend (and the talented photographer who makes my food look so good) Melissa used to work with Dan when his cafe, Nourish, was still in its first location. So I knew of his plant-centred, local and organic mission before I got to see it in action.
Fast forward a few years and I am enjoying spending more time at the new Nourish Cafe and Cooking School for my first ever hands-on cooking classes. So, I thought it was high time to introduce you to Dan so you can understand why I am calling Nourish my (kitchen) home away from home.
Your cooking school and cafe could have gone by a lot of monikers…but you chose the word nourish. What does that word mean to you?
The idea that our company is focused on nourishing your soul with good feelings of delicious food and experiences.
How does eating a more plant-based diet fit into that philosophy?
A plant-based or plant-focused diet is about creating meals that put plants at the foundation of the dish vs being a side dish. The animal proteins are the side dish. Eating a more plant-focused diet for your health is part of the philosophy but it includes lessening our environmental footprint by depending less on animal agriculture and more on plant agriculture.
You and I both agree that cooking is foundational to eating well and living a healthier life – when did you first learn to cook? And when did you decide it would become your mission in life?
I started cooking when I went away for university; my mom taught me a handful of my favourite dishes that she would make me at home. After university and a teaching stint in Japan, I started working in restaurants for almost a decade thinking I would eventually open my own restaurant. But I walked away from that idea because I couldn’t see myself working mostly nights and not spending lots of time with my future family.
I got myself a corporate 9-5er and changed my thinking from following my passion to being responsible about building a strong financial foundation for my future family. It was a great job with a great company but it wasn’t feeding my soul. After 8 years of working in an office I felt it was time for a change.
After I read books like Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and The Third Plate – tied in with the birth of our first child – I decided that I wanted to dedicate my life’s work to making the world a better place through food. I wanted to support the growth of the organic food movement through our cafe, office delivery and education in our school. I wanted to follow my passion for food.
Let’s talk details: what are the ingredients that you can’t live without?
I love variety so this question is very difficult for me! I love broccoli, asparagus, butternut squash, potatoes, onion, ginger, garlic, a variety of spices, cilantro, green onion, eggs, rice, noodles, lime, lemon, coconut milk…ok, we will stop there.
When you are craving comfort, what do you cook yourself and why?
Butternut squash congee – it’s what my mom made me if I was feeling sick as a kid. Noodle soups like ramen, laksa, wonton noodle – because I love noodles in broth – warms the soul. Veggie fried rice is a staple in my home, so delicious, finished with a crispy fried egg and tons of herbs you can’t go wrong.