From his Grandmere’s kitchen to his very own Airstream food truck, Brendan Pang has dedicated himself to celebrating an age-old art form: dumplings. The Perth-based cook and author of This Is a Book About Dumplings competed on both Masterchef Australia (2018) and Masterchef: Back to Win (2020) and continues to share his passion for the little parcels of deliciousness with the world, whether fried, steamed or boiled.
But growing into the happy-go-lucky cook we see on TV wasn’t such an easy path. Pang, who is of Chinese and Mauritian descent, struggled with his identity for many years before coming out and eventually helping others as a social worker specialising in child protection. While he’s no longer directly involved in social work, Pang continues to advocate for and support others in their journey to discovering their true selves. And what better way than to share his love for simple good food?
You’ve said that being able to make dumplings is a life skill. Who taught you how to wrap a good dumpling?
My Grandmere (grandmother) taught me how to make wontons as a young boy so wrapping them is kind of second nature these days. When it comes to more technical folds such as har gow or xiao long bao, those took years to accomplish and were techniques I taught myself.
You want to be known for Chinese-Mauritian food. Is your heritage what inspired you to open your Airstream kitchen, Bumplings?
Yes! Food has always been a central part of my family, as well as most things in my life. I cook the food I care about the most – no frills or thrills, just honest, big, bold Mauritian-Chinese food.
What influence do you think your experience as a social worker in child protection has had on your life and your cooking?
Although short-lived, my experience as a social worker has helped me tremendously in my everyday life. The importance of human relationships and interpersonal skills has influenced the way I interact as a business owner with both clients and colleagues. Most importantly, social work has helped keep me in check – remembering where I came from and why I do what I do each day.
What are some of the main challenges you think LGBTQIA+ youth face? How did you overcome these challenges?
I think the main challenge that LGBTQIA+ youth face is a world of confusing and complex mental-health issues, brought about by problems such as discrimination and stigma. As a young adult I found this all too difficult and struggled with my identity, [eventually coming out] at what most people would think is a later age. However, I surrounded myself with a strong and supportive network – my friends and family – who showed me so much love and support I was able to overcome these obstacles.
You’re a big advocate for mental health and being your authentic self. How has finding your passion through cooking affected your mental health?
My contribution to this world is simple: to be my true authentic self through my passion, [which happens to be] cooking. It’s not about influencing young people to cook; it’s about finding confidence in your true self and being able to express that to the world. It’s not what you do that matters, it’s how you do it.
I’m able to do what I love most each day, in my own way. I cook food I love to eat, with the people I care about, for everyone out there. Food is a type of language and reaching out to everyone through food makes me incredibly happy. I’m reminding myself constantly that food is a universal language and the work I do through that is very important.
You recently gave your first TEDx talk, on the theme Harmonia and the importance of individuality, taking risks and finding fulfilment. How did it feel?
Being asked to do a TEDx talk has been one of the greatest (and scariest) opportunities to come my way. It was an emotional process working on my talk, focusing on the personal and vulnerable aspects of my life, but I am so glad I did it. My story is now out there and it felt incredible to share it!
After placing ninth on MasterChef Australia in 2018, you returned in 2020 for MasterChef Australia: Back to Win and placed eighth. Were you more nervous or more comfortable going back for a second time?
A little bit of both. It was comforting knowing what to expect but as soon as I stepped in the kitchen with MasterChef greats such as Poh [Ling Yeow] and Reynold [Poernomo], my nerves kicked in. The calibre this season was top-tier and the challenges reflected that, so it was a tough one for sure!
Who is your #legend?
My mum. She’s the reason I am the person I am today!