Dai DuongCo-Owner, Head Chef Uncle Restaurants

I was born in Vietnam and moved to Melbourne with my family in 1979. My passion for cooking has been ingrained in me from an early age; fond memories as a young boy remain vivid where I remember closely observing and assisting my grandmother and dad in the preparation of meals in the family kitchen. The Vietnamese culture is akin to many others around the world in that the love of food and sharing of meals and conversations around the busy dining table is integral to daily life. This upbringing has helped carve out and develop my interest and love of my Vietnamese heritage and subsequently its cuisine.

In 1999 I began my chef apprenticeship starting in a busy South Melbourne cafe and moving onto the well established fine dining restaurant 'Punch Lane' in Melbourne's CBD. After this, I finished my apprenticeship at 'Veludo', St Kilda during a time when the restaurant upheld one hat from The Age 'Good Food Guide'.

In 2002, I moved to the UK to broaden my culinary knowledge and learn more about European techniques in the kitchen. In Edinburgh, I took up rank as Chef de Partie and was quickly promoted to Junior Sous Chef in the kitchen of 'Zinc', an establishment owned by renowned designer and restauranteur Sir Terence Conran. I later took up position in 'Ricks', a Montpelier group boutique hotel and restaurant in the New Town area of the city. A brief spell in Brighton, England in 2003 allowed me to further my knowledge of modern British and European fare in 'Hotel du Vin', a predominantly French restaurant with its main focus on old world wines.

In 2004, I moved to Canada, where I initially worked in a fast paced waterfront establishment in Toronto. A move to Vancouver allowed me to pursue a role as Sous Chef in a top end seafood restaurant 'Global', and later in 'Sanafir' a tapas restaurant owned by the same company located in the prestigious Yaletown precinct in downtown Vancouver.

I moved back to Melbourne in 2006 where I took up the position of Head Chef in the busy St Kilda institution 'Pelican Restaurant' and remained there until 2011. During my time there, I maintained a consistent score of 14.5/ 20 in The Age 'Good Food Guide', using my knowledge of Vietnamese and South East Asian cuisine to refresh and expand the menu.

Prior to Uncle, I worked as Head Chef at 'Dandelion Restaurant', a one hat establishment in Elwood, under the ownership of Geoff Lindsay. This recent role has allowed me to manage a team of passionate chefs, all of whom share a love of Vietnamese and fusion cuisine.

My passion for travel has led me to many locations around the world including Mexico, USA, Eastern Europe, Egypt, Morocco, Japan, South East Asia and back to my homeland of Vietnam. My main focus of travel is always to learn about new cultures and to explore the local cuisine giving me renewed inspiration for menu ideas when I return to work. My past travels and experiences in world kitchens have allowed me to develop a strong understanding and network of connections in the hospitality industry. I am perceptive to the ever changing market in Melbourne and understand what it is that customer want and how their taste buds and culinary demands continue to evolve over time. Through every position I have upheld in my career, I have taken a pearl of wisdom away with me, but at the same time have brought to the table my own flare and fusion through my Vietnamese influence.

My aspirations have been realised by opening up my own business, Uncle Restaurants, which came from an amalgamation of all past experiences. I clearly see a successful and professional business partnership developing through creating an affordable, high quality and fast paced Vietnamese inspired dining concept for Balaclava and Melbourne's CBD.