Get to know the chef behind this well-loved Peruvian eatery

In just two years Chef Pang has gone from sous chef to brand master chef. ADW’s Tamara Clarke tries to find out the secret ingredient to the COYA Abu Dhabi head chef’s culinary  success.

What inspired you to become a Chef and if you had to do it all over again, would you choose the same profession?

I first found my love for the kitchen after enrolling in culinary school in Singapore. The school, At-Sunrice [Global Chef Academy], is where I first discovered my passion and where I was thrown into the kitchen, being exposed to the real pressures of being a chef.

This pushed me to my limits, which I enjoyed. It was this pressure that helped me refine my craft and enabled me to excel, becoming better each day.

If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely choose the same profession. Nothing beats seeing the satisfaction on our guest’s faces when they taste the food we create. It’s truly priceless.

You joined COYA Abu Dhabi as a Sous Chef. Tell me about your journey to becoming head chef?

I first met Roland, my previous head chef, two years ago in Singapore. He was visiting for a pop-up at Swissotel, The Stamford. We worked well together so he decided to offer me a job once we had finished and I knew that receiving an offer like this was rare and jumped at the opportunity.

I went through a two-month training period at COYA Dubai before the launch of the Abu Dhabi restaurant. During that time I became familiar with Peruvian cuisine and COYA’s quality control.

In his capacity as head chef, Roland was unable to attend every pop-up event so during his absence I was really able to pick up my game and learn how to lead a team efficiently.

When the time came for me to take the reins as head chef, I was able to slot into the position with ease. The only real difference now is that I take more responsibility for every decision that is made on a daily basis and I spend more time motivating the team.

As a team leader, I always ensure that I approach every chef individually and continuously work on transforming the kitchen into a space where we all feel like a part of the family. COYA is all about working together as a family.

What are some of the traditional Peruvian flavours and techniques used at COYA? How have they been modified for the menu at COYA Abu Dhabi?

Typical Peruvian cuisine is inspired by the Spanish, Chinese and Japanese. COYA is famous for its ceviche, just as authentic as the ceviche you’d see being made on street in Lima.

COYA has cast new light on ceviche by creating Ceviche Pargo a la Trufa, using premium truffles blended with ponzu and mirin. This has become one of our most popular dishes to date.

Is that the one must-not-miss dish everyone should try when visiting COYA though?

Seabass Cazuela, without a doubt. This dish really highlights COYA’s ability to infuse all Spanish, Chinese and Japanese influences in one dish.

We use ‘Bomba’ rice from Spain and make our rice stock with authentic Japanese ingredients. This takes about three days to infuse before being used to marinade the Chilean seabass for 24-hours, along with miso.

We cook everything together in a cast iron pot with chilli and lime butter. By tasting the dish, guests will recognise the sweetness of the caramelised mirin, the bitterness from the charring of the Chilean seabass, the creaminess of the butter and the sourness of the lime. This is a must-try for anyone visiting COYA.

Tell us about the popups… Us foodies love them but what it is like for the chefs who surely prefer their own kitchen to one that has, well, popped up?

It is a completely different experience. Managing the kitchen at COYA Abu Dhabi is easier as I am familiar with the chefs and I know that we all share the same approach when it comes to presenting each dish.

Managing a pop-up team requires different training, organising and motivating as we work with teams of skilled chefs based out of the locations we are in at the time.

I am currently running COYA’s Jeddah Kitchen in Saudi Arabia and the chefs we are working with have had to adapt to an unfamiliar kitchen layout, a different environment and different logistics for the ingredients used.

The main challenge is maintaining the quality of the end product as this truly depends on the skill level of each chef and the ingredients available in each location.

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