Chef Chung is the head chef of the Happy Dragon Chinese Restaurant in Gisborne where he spends his days preparing his famous sweet and sour pork dumplings, or what he refers to as White people Chinese food. Set entirely in the chef's kitchen, Sweet & Sour Dilemmas has Chef Chung questioning his decision to migrate to Australia with the approaching birth of his first child.
Partially based on his father's experience of moving to Australia, Brendan Wan finds great sensitivity in his retelling of a migrant story that we don't often hear about; Chef Chung lived a life of luxury and wealth but gave it all up when he came to Australia for love. The soon-to-be-father welcomes a new chef to his restaurant and amidst their training he begins to share his thoughts on uprooting his life and if it has actually been worth it.
Wan makes some considered observations on belonging and identity as Chef Kung grapples with the choice of moving back to Indonesia where there would be a sense of community and acceptance but life would be hard, and staying in Australia where everything is relatively easy despite constantly being seen as an "other". His cooking throughout the show plays as a reminder of his pride in his roots and culture but at the same time, it seems like the only acceptable employment for him is to work in a Chinese restaurant, where he puts on an accent to his customers and must beguile them with ancient stories about how his recipe for sweet and sour pork dumplings came to be.
While Wan provides much food for thought, there are moments where the writing needed be tighter and focused. The story we are listening to may lack dramatic elements but it is extremely fascinating to hear, especially with Wan's warm presence, so it's disappointing when he falls too much into stand-up territory. We want to hear Chef Kung's story and understand more as to how and why he is conflicted about staying in Australia and sometimes it feels like this is sacrificed for the sake of a laugh.
Sweet & Sour Dilemmas is a sweet yet sour tale of how following your heart doesn't always line up with following your head. It's a sympathetic story that unpacks a lot about the migrant experience, told with affection and sincerity by Wan.
Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts, Carlton.
Season: until 20 September | Tues - Fri 8:30pm
Length: 50 minutes
Tickets: $20 Full | $17.50 Group 6+ | $15 Conc, Cheap Tuesday
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival