Onion for Dessert? Top Chef Says You Betcha

Aug 18, 2022

Acclaimed pastry chef Kay-Lene Tan has never ducked a challenge. When the Source Kitchen team at Fine Food Australia asked for a fabulous dish featuring the humble onion, Kay-Lene’s sugar-charged imagination went straight to sweets. 

“Nobody thinks of onions as a hero ingredient for dessert,” says Tonka’s award-winning head chef. “But when you think about it, a beautifully caramelised onion has loads of sweetness, so why not turn it into a dessert? 

“I’m really excited about this dish. Fine Food is all about innovation, and that’s exactly what we’re bringing to the table. 

“Just don’t ask us what we’re cooking. Our dessert will be top secret until the day of the competition. I’ll only say we’ve got a few surprises in store. We can’t be letting our competition know what we’re doing, can we?” 

Team Tonka will be pit their onion skills against Nomad’s Brendan Katich, Loti’s Elijah Holland, Australian Venue Co’s Telina Menzies and MCG chef Rhys Blackley.  

La Luna Bistro’s Adrian Richardson will be the tasting judge, while spectators will have their say on appearance and innovation with an interactive poll using a phone app. Scores will be tallied to decide who gets the inaugural Onion Trophy. 

Source Kitchen’s Tawnya Bahr wants the event to inspire chefs to get creative with staples and have fun with their kitchen teams. 

Kay-Lene has enjoyed the creative process with onion squad, chefs de partie Chris Yaing and Aman Shaikh. 

“It’s a very collaborative effort, and it’s been great fun working on a project that’s off the menu,” says Kay-Lene, who is also the executive pastry chef for Tonka’s sister venue Coda. “It can get monotonous working in restaurants doing the same dishes from day to day. Menus don’t change that often. 

“When you get to do events like this at Fine food, it gives you a chance to unleash your creative side. We all need opportunities to learn something new and do something we don’t do every day. 

“It’s also been really interesting to see how other chefs see ingredients differently from you.” 

Kay-Lene has first-hand experience in the career-changing impact of chef competitions. She won the coveted Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship 2018, which opened doors to work with Dominique Crenn and Chef Juan Contreas at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. 

She encourages all young chefs to enter competitions and stay open to learning opportunities. 

“It can be nerve wracking, but it’s really good for you to face that pressure head on,” Kay-Lene says. “I remember competing in the San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year and 20 people were watching me plate up. 

“Peter Gilmore (Quay, Sydney) was standing in right front of me and I was proper shaking like a leaf. Peter was like: ‘Chef… take a breath. You’re only shaking because to care. We’re all just watching. We all just want you to succeed.’ 

“Now I want my young chefs to get that same buzz. I can’t wait to see Chris and Aman in action with our onion dessert at Fine Food. 

“Just don’t ask me what we’re plating up. You’ll have to come on the day to find out.” 

Watch the five restaurant teams in action at The Source Kitchen on Tuesday 6 September from 11.30am to 12.30pm. Register now to watch this live.  

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