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Cheong Liew’s ingredients of a good life

Synonymous with fine dining in Adelaide for years, legendary chef Cheong Liew reflects on his rise to fame, from Neddy’s to The Grange, and shares his thoughts on Instagram, gardening and being ‘Gung Gung’.

You were a big part of the food movement in the 70s and 80s. How do you reflect on that?
When I first came to South Australia, the popular restaurant was the pizza shop – that was the big night out. I worked in a Spanish restaurant in Hindley Street, and everything came out of a tin.

One of the first things I did back in the 70s was open Neddy’s restaurant. It was probably one of the first places where we would go to the market, buy all the ingredients, bring them back to the restaurant and start on the menu. That is how we started – everything was always on the blackboard.

People started saying that Neddy’s was cooking interesting food. Then we started getting all these hobby farmers bringing in produce for us like flat leaf parsley. That was very hard to get in the 70s. You could always get the curly but not the flat leaf Italian variety. Now it’s so common, it’s like a weed in my garden. The same with lettuce – so much variety now.

Neddy’s had a fabulous reputation without social media. Do you think Instagram has changed things?
We never thought about taking pictures of our food. Even in the 70s we hardly took any photos of our food at Neddy’s. Now, everything I cook, I always take a picture.

After Neddy’s, you then moved on to the Grange at The Hilton?
The Hilton era was great. The success of one place is everyone working together. It takes a team like the one at The Grange, it is next level. It was food for people that wanted to excite themselves, once in a lifetime. Something more extraordinary!

Can you tell us about your early years?
As a boy, I lived on a farm. We would walk for miles to catch a bus to get to school.

Why Adelaide?
I went to Melbourne and studied engineering for a couple of years before moving to Adelaide to visit my brother Khai. Adelaide was much better for me because in Melbourne I wasn’t mixing with other people. My brother had so many different friends – Malaysian, Italian, Czech and Polish.

What’s been happening in 2019?

I celebrated my 70th birthday earlier this year and went back to my home in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. We had a family reunion; like a clan gathering. There were about 60 people including my cousins and their offspring – all my family from Australia, Canada and America too.