Chef of the Week: Daniel Lee – MasterChef: The Professionals Winner 2021 & Chef Dan Lee Personal Chef

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I have been working as private/ freelance chef back in the UK since covid, I came back and started my own company after returning from Singapore.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I realised my passion for food later on in life when I was figuring out which career path to take, which led me to the University College Birmingham. But growing up my auntie had a takeaway which is where I would spend my weekends, so the passion has clearly always been there. At college I studied classical French, but it was my Auntie who taught me about Cantonese flavours and cooking styles.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I enjoy the freedom and creativity it gives me. Being a chef is a never ending lesson, every single day you can learn something new, and no matter how hard you try or how much you study, you will never know it all. But learning and discovering new ingredients/ techniques/ cultures of cooking never gets old, it’s a constant evolving and amazing journey.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Garlic, ginger and soy.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
Chinese cleaver.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
The use of more Japanese ingredients, Japanese food culture is amazing, and I see a lot more chefs using Japanese ingredients (vinegars/ oils/ soy) as well as Japanese cooking techniques.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Chinese New Year, it reminds me of these amazing feasts I used to have when I was younger. All the family coming together to eat this incredible spread of food, the smells, the flavours, the atmosphere. I love it all.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
It’s difficult to pick, I am very proud of my chicken rice dish for the MasterChef professionals final. It wasn’t dainty, or very refined, but I took a low cost street food dish and showcased it on such a big stage, and pulled it off. It will never be the best looking dish I’ve done, but the meaning and purpose behind me doing it, is something I am very proud of.

How do you come up with new dishes?
My influences come from everywhere, whether it’s travel, eating in new restaurants, speaking to other chefs. I like to create ideas by learning the history of cultures. I think it is very important to understand the history of a cultures food and cuisine before using it as an influence. Then by getting an understanding of why each dish came about, you can adapt and recreate.

Who was your greatest influence?
My Auntie.

Tell us three chefs you admire.

What is your favourite cookbook?
The Food of Sichuan (currently, it changes monthly).

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Kray Treadwell and David Taylor.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Toffs by Rob Palmer.