WANT: Khanh Nguyen's pastry insanity

Published on 30 August 2020

Photo: courtesy Khanh Nguyen via Instagram

Our social-media food obsessions of the moment.

He says: "Yesterday I went to buy a mud crab and decided to wrap it in some pastry, it took a while hey. The mud crab was iced, scrubbed clean then briefly steamed, it’s then encased in a buttery pastry with native pepper berry and aniseed myrtle. Inside the pastry the crab is sitting on a bunch of aromats such as coriander, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, green chilli and banana leaf

I baked this today and had it for lunch, the crab steams itself in its own juices inside the pastry which is naturally salty and perfectly seasoned. When I was growing up in Sydney we used to (illegally) catch mud crabs near home and steamed them the night they were caught. Mum made an amazing dipping sauce with sriracha, lime juice, sugar and garlic which I made today but turns out the crab was so good just on its own" - @genghiskhanh.

We say: Some people do jigsaw puzzles in lockdown or try to learn Elvish; Sunda chef and co-owner Khanh Nguyen is creating pastry that’s as wild and wonderful outside as it is on the inside. It started with a standard pâté en croûte – that is, a pâté encased in pastry – adorned with leaves, flowers and other pastry decorations created with the guidance of his kitchenmate, Lekker chef Rob Kabboord. But when you cut inside you were greeted with a banh mi-inspired filling not just of pâté but pork loaf, slow-cooked pork cheek, coriander, chilli and spring onion.

Then, last week, Nguyen took the en croûte idea further, creating a shortcrust mould to cook a whole mud crab in, followed up a few days later with a roast chook and, most recently, a whole coral trout decorated with tiny pastry scales. His Instagram feed blew up at the sight of each creation, with people in awe of what he achieved with flour, shortening, egg glaze and a bit of time. (Okay, quite a lot of time.)

“I’ve definitely gone super-extra,” says Nguyen. “I can’t say I’m a sucker for punishment, but I love the beauty of art and food.”

He reckons the mud crab took him somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours just to decorate, with the pastry needing about two hours of resting before it’s ready to work with.

“It’s all worth it in the end… unless there’s a piece out of shape which breaks the symmetry.”

With at least two more weeks of lockdown to go, we’re guessing the creations are only going to get more baroque. And we can’t wait to see what’s next.

Sunda’s takeaway menu, Sunda Exp, is available either ready to eat through the Hotel Windsor or ready to heat through Providoor. Keep an eye out for the pâté en croûte, possibly reappearing as a special soon.

By Emma Breheny

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