Rediscovering Chinese Cuisine with Chef Hamish Ingham of Redbird Chinese

Co-owner and executive chef at Redbird Chinese, Hamish Ingham, tells us about returning to his love of cooking Chinese cuisine, his favourite food combination and who he would cook his dream dinner for.

Following an exceptional career that has seen him helm some of Sydney’s best restaurants, Hamish Ingham launched Redbird Chinese in Sydney’s Redfern with his partner Rebecca Lines in November 2022. The opening marked the next step in the pair’s culinary journey, during which they’ve opened Barangaroo’s Banksii, Surry Hills’ Bar H, and their other current business, Tequila Daisy.

Now, at Redbird Chinese, Hamish and Rebecca have created a restaurant centred around unique modern Chinese cooking with a western sensibility, while ensuring that Australian produce and ingredients are championed and celebrated.

The venue’s namesake Redbird is a rotating selection of red-braised bird: typically duck, chicken, spatchcock or even pigeon, depending on what’s in season and available. The bird is poached then steeped in a red braise, which features flavours of cinnamon, star anise and mandarin peel, amongst other ingredients!

“I’ve always been heavily into simplistic, produce-driven cooking with bold punchy flavours that knock your socks off,” Hamish says.

His Redbird is developed from the traditional Chinese master stock recipe, and turning it into the restaurant’s signature dish has been a wonderful journey. The end result is a braise which has a complexity to it – a rich dish that Hamish balances out with a fresh fennel and Geraldton wax salad.

Hamish also enjoys working with Indigenous ingredients and makes a conscious effort to ensure they have a purpose on the plate, rather than just being added to a dish for the sake of it.

From teenager to top dog

Hamish started his career at the age of 16, working his way up quickly and becoming a head chef at the age of 19 at Boronia House in Mosman. From that point, he learned everything he could on the job and by reading as many books as he could get his hands on.

Then in 2000, Hamish landed the head chef role at Kylie Kwong’s seminal Surry Hills-based restaurant, Billy Kwong. For Hamish, it was one of the most creative environments he had worked in, where he learned from a chef at the top of her game, including the various aspects of running a hospitality business and insights into working on TV shows and book projects. The role also opened the doors for Hamish to travel extensively throughout China, where he sampled and experimented with different regional dishes, ultimately developing what has become a deep love of Chinese cuisine.

In 2006, Hamish won the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year Award and travelled to the USA, working with one of his idols, Alice Waters, at Chez Panisse.

“What an eye-opening experience that was!” says Hamish. “It taught me how important produce was when it comes to cooking – a mantra I still follow today.”

Hamish then discovered the art of using simple flavour combinations and how to do these well, while working Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern in New York. To this day, he works with the underpinning philosophy that simple ingredients blended well are the best way to create quality dishes.

For the love of the job

There is no doubt that being a chef is a tough job, says Hamish, highlighting the long hours, hot environments, working on your feet all day and wielding dangerous implements that can slice your skin at a moment’s notice. But overriding all of this is the joy of creating food that makes people happy.

“The most satisfying part is when experimenting with different ingredients and a flavour combination comes together – a real light bulb moment.”

Hamish’s sashimi sauce is an example of this – he makes it with smoked barrel-aged Japanese soy, mandarin-infused extra virgin olive oil and a few secret ingredients, added to slightly fatty kingfish sashimi.

On a personal level, Hamish’s favourite food combination has to be Chinese jellyfish and pork salad, due to the extraordinary texture the two main ingredients have combined, accompanied with a simple sauce.

His dream dinner would involve cooking for the celebrities who have inspired him outside of the kitchen – rocker Jim Morrison, aviator Amelia Earhart and photographer Annie Leibovitz (Hamish is a keen photographer and experienced food stylist also) – and there would be mostly seafood on the menu. As Hamish does every Christmas for his family, he would cook up a large banquet with fresh oysters, sashimi, a classic prawn cocktail with a twist, and baked lobster with XO. Other dishes would include porchetta, whole baked Murray cod, cucumber salad, braised Roman beans with agrodolce and a fresh herb salad.

Four Seasons in one day

Hamish recalls his worst experience working as a chef, while at the Woods Restaurant, created by he and his partner and co-owner, Rebecca, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney. The restaurant had just opened and one night, during Vivid, the restaurant very quickly got busy with customers lining up to get in.

“We just didn’t expect the crowds to be as big as they were, and customers just kept pouring into the restaurant like a tidal wave. The docket machine was non-stop – I can still hear it now!” Hamish recalls.

Hamish and his team ended up running out of food and had to scramble around the hotel to source more produce and make up dishes as they went along.

What’s hot in Hamish’s kitchen

As far as food trends go, Hamish believes diners will increase their fascination with the playful flavours of ‘Itameshi’ – a fusion cuisine combining traditional elements of Japanese food with Italian food.

For inspiration, Hamish would love to get a sneak peek into the kitchen at Asador Etxebarri, to get an insight into the way its chefs carry out its wood fire cooking, due to the immense skill it takes. It’s one of his favourite methods to cook with, requiring both skill and a delicate touch.

When Hamish isn’t cooking, what food does he personally enjoy at home? He says it has to be foie gras on toast with strawberry jam, something he truly loves and makes sure he has every time he travels to France.

Hamish can be found sharing his latest dishes on Instagram at: @chefhamishingham and @redbirdchinese