My Life In Food: Sandy Tang

Sandy Tang quit corporate life to go on MasterChef in 2020 – and made it to the final with her ambitious creations and east-meets-west flavours. Now, Sandy is a recipe developer who recently launched Journey to the West, a range of cook-at-home dumplings. Here, she shares her favourite restaurants, entertaining tips and the one meal she always goes back to after a long shift.
Lisboeta

My earliest food memory is cooking with my mum. We’re from Macau, a Portuguese community in China, so I grew up with a mixture of western food and Chinese cuisine. Growing up, I ate everything from steamed fish to pork knuckles, so I’d say I’m quite an adventurous cook as a result. My mum is a great cook and she taught me many techniques I still use today. That said, she can get a bit territorial in her own kitchen, so I know when to sit back and enjoy the food!

The first dish I learned to cook was Macau-style Portuguese chicken. I learned how to cook it before I moved to the UK when I was 13. The chicken is baked in a turmeric and coconut sauce (so the top is slightly caramelised) and served with egg fried rice. It’s quite an unusual dish but it symbolises home and it’s really easy to make. You won’t find it at many restaurants as it’s one of the signature dishes from our small community. 

I ditched my 9-5 corporate job to take part in MasterChef 2020. I didn’t enter to win the competition; I wanted to become a better cook and see how far I could go. Getting to the final made me realise I wanted a career in food – but not one in a hectic restaurant kitchen. That’s when I had the idea to create a range of ready-made dumplings that people could heat up and enjoy at home. Dumplings are having a moment right now.

My signature dish on MasterChef was cannoli with ice-cream. It was sweet with savoury notes and it went down a storm. These days, I’m more of a pastry chef so I spend a lot of time making desserts. Baked alaska is a classic dish that always impresses. For the structure, I make sesame ice-cream and a simple sponge, then top it with Italian meringue. The fun part is the flambé at the end. It’s quite a versatile dessert as you can elevate each part with different flavours, especially the ice-cream.   

My most visited restaurant is Fatt Pundit in Soho – a fantastic Asian fusion spot. They also have an outpost in Covent Garden, but the original is my favourite. The flavours in each dish are unique and there’s always something new and experimental to try. I love the momos (bite-sized dumplings wrapped in dough) and its signature monkfish curry with saffron butter and fresh coconut. It has a great selection of vegetarian dishes, too. 

El Campero
Fat Punditt

My favourite London restaurant is The Sea, The Sea. Its Hackney site has a chef’s table where you can watch the team prepare the seafood from your seat. All the fish is sustainably sourced, and they use sophisticated techniques to age and dry some of the fish which can bring out an umami flavour. It’s such a treat.

I recently went on a date to Noble Rot in Greek Street which was amazing. They have a great selection of wines and the sommeliers will help you find your perfect glass. I had the red mullet followed by a crème fraîche tart and a glass of white burgundy. 

For drinks, I always go to Lynaness bar at Sea Containers hotel. They take everyday ingredients and mix them with unusual flavours to create really special drinks, though my go-to tipple is a negroni. If I fancy something more adventurous, I order the Merry-Go Gimlet made with rum. 

I recently discovered Lisboeta by Nuno Mendes. I love trying authentic Portuguese dishes and this restaurant on Charlotte Street serves delicious petiscos (a selection of small plates) with larger sharing dishes. You have to try the olive cake – it’s gooey with a nice outer crust, and extremely moreish.

I get up at the crack of dawn to get the catch of the day at Billingsgate market. The 4am alarm is worth it for the superb quality of fish you get – all the produce will be gone by about 8am. 

El Campero serves the best tuna in Europe. It’s in Barbate, right at the southern tip of Spain. They serve it 25 different ways and it’s so good it’s often exported to Japan. After a delicious meal, I like to take a stroll at the nearby beach. 

The Alchemist
Frog By Adam Handling

One restaurant I would love to go to is Alchemist in Copenhagen. It consists of a 50-course dinner split into five acts over the course of an evening. All the dishes are extremely complex and often make a statement about world causes, like plastic pollution. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience I’d love to book.

I’m a big fan of meal prepping so there’s always something tasty to come home to. I recently invested in a big chest freezer so I can store all my weekday meals. I love meat stews with mash year-round – my favourite right now is venison stew with bone marrow mash and some seasonal greens. 

Fried chicken is my weakness. I make my own at home with a garlicky honey glaze or a Korean spiced glaze – the perfect mix of sweet, spicy and sticky. If I want a takeaway, Crispy Plus in Shepherd’s Bush makes the best fried chicken, served with spicy potato waffles – there’s nothing better than a fresh batch after a long day at work.

My last meal on Earth would start with freshly made sourdough, salted butter and olive oil. Then, I’d tuck into a ribeye steak (medium-rare) with sweet potato fries, followed by a classic lemon meringue tart for dessert.

My food hell is liver and bacon. It’s the one dish I can’t stomach. 

I always serve sharing dishes at a dinner party. I recently made squid stuffed with chorizo, onions, garlic and pork mince. I served this with tomato sauce and saffron rice, followed by homemade ice-cream for dessert. The key to a good dinner party is prepping as much as you can in advance and not creating anything too ambitious. If I have time, I’ll serve the ice-cream with a shortcrust crumble or biscuit on the side. 

A Sunday roast is unbeatable. I’m proud of my roasties which I make by boiling potatoes, then roasting them in beef dripping. I like to sous vide a joint of beef, pack it with garlic, rosemary and thyme, before searing it in a hot pan. This will be served with homemade Yorkshire puddings and roasted parsnips. I do cheat a little bit by adding gravy granules to the gravy pot. 

There are so many chefs I admire but Heston Blumenthal is one of my favourites. I love his scientific approach to food and his attention to detail. Adam Handling is another inspiration to me because he just nails British cuisine with a modern touch – dinner at his restaurant Frog is always a treat. Another favourite is American food scientist Shirley Corriher who wrote a fantastic cookbook, BakeWise. It teaches you about the science behind baking, from how different ovens work to why you need to use certain ingredients. 

My dream dinner guest is my mum. I haven’t seen her in a year as she still lives in Macau, so I don’t get the chance to cook for her very often. She’s very picky but I know she loves and appreciates my cooking. I’d serve her something she’s familiar with, like Cantonese roast pork belly with crackling.

For more food inspiration, follow @SandyTangst. Sandy’s new dumpling range Journey to the West is available for nationwide delivery.

Lisboeta

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