25 January 2024

Five minutes with Chester Mok, Dear Prudence

| Claire Sams
A man standing in front of a shelf of wine bottles

Chester Mok studied economics before making the jump into hospitality. He hasn’t looked back since. Photo: Prue Baker.

Who are you?

My name is Chester Mok. I’m the sommelier – otherwise known as ‘the wine guy’ – at Dear Prudence and Verity Lane Group.

What is something people may not know about you?

I make gin, vodka and liqueur on the side under the brand Winechest – that’s my side hustle where I make weird spirits out of wine. For the smokey bacon vodka or maple bacon liqueur, for example, I’d spent a bit of time working in a smokehouse and wanted to try getting the smell of the smoke into a drink.

I tend to make the flavours that I have loved for years, and seeing if someone else likes them. But I only do things that I’m fairly certain are going to work.

What does your day-to-day look like?

I have the very hard job of working with a team to select the wines, and we do a lot of training with the team. There’s also a lot of tastings and working with different suppliers to find the wines that are exceptional.

We do a lot of customer interaction at Dear Prudence – we don’t like people only looking at our wine list. We want people to tell us what their vibe is and what they are feeling so we can give them some suggestions. It’s about getting people out of their comfort zone and having them try something that they may not have picked off a list at first, but they’ll end up loving.

How did you get involved in your current industry?

I finished a business degree where I studied economics, but I found that a bit boring and didn’t want to work in the field, so I started a cafe. The goal was I would manage more of the business side, but I ended up taking over the kitchen.

Many years ago in Tasmania, I was working as a chef. When they didn’t have anyone to do the wines, I started getting into matching food to wine. When I later moved to Canberra, I was managing some wine-centric businesses, and that’s where I studied with the Court Of Master Sommeliers.

Chester says we should all step out of our comfort zones the next time we sit down for a drink – it just might give us a new favourite. Photo: Ash St George.

What are the top three wines that really show what your venue can do?

For me, number one is a 2008 Mt Moriac Blank de noir, a wine that’s been aged for 14 years and was made from red grapes. It’s an absolutely amazing textured champagne-style wine from Geelong.

Number two is a Skin Shady, a Zibibbo blend. This is one of our most popular lines and this is a skin contact wine, or an orange one – that’s when you make a white wine like a red wine. It smells like mangos and pineapples but is quite dry.

My third one is one of my favourite picks. We acquired most of the vintage of a small producer based in the Southern Highlands called Serere Wines. This one is a Serere shiraz. It has amazing intensity of fruit, blackberries and a little bit of spice, but a really well rounded red wine to drink.

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What is your favourite or must-use ingredient when cooking?

I’ve always loved native ingredients. For the last couple of years, I’ve loved adding Tasmanian pepper [in my gin] and using lemon myrtle when I cook or make cocktails. They always seem to come back up with my life – just when my friends and family and customers think that I’m over that phase, they tend to come back out again.

What is Canberra’s best-kept food secret?

There are two venues that I’ll go to.

The first is Verity Lane Market – I really like the fact that all the vendors are doing a couple of dishes, but they can do them really well. We’ve got some amazing Indonesian food from Rasa Rosa that has really authentic flavours. Pizza Artigiana has really authentic pizzas.

I’ve also always been a fan of chef Sean McConnell at Rebel Rebel. I’ve always found his food to be pushing trends and being a quite modern-style food food, without being over-the-top.

Chester and his team take on the challenge of making sure Dear Prudence is stocked with “exceptional” wines for the public to enjoy. Photo: Ash St George.

What TV show or movie are you watching right now?

I’ve been going old-school and re-visiting a classic movie called Heat staring Al Pacino, Val Kilmer and a great cast. It’s a heist that goes wrong and the conflict with the cops. Next on the list is Oppenheimer!

On the TV side, I’ve just finished Boy Swallows Universe on Netflix, which was a great Australian TV series.

What are your tips for people when they go to buy a wine?

The first strategy is to find someone – whether it be in a bottle shop or in retail – and then ask them what they’re excited about. No one in this industry will ever recommend anything they’re not really proud of.

In Australia, there’s an amazing push for weird and wonderful varietals that we don’t normally see – that means we can find some amazing wines. If you get out of your comfort zone and move away from the big wine labels, then you’ll find something nice.

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What is your comfort food?

I find that I revert to old Asian food as my soul food. I have a dish that we nicknamed ‘medicine beef’ – when you eat it, you just feel better. If you’re sick or rundown, slowly braise beef in an Asian master stock with anise, ginger, garlic, cloves and spices. Eat that with some fresh Asian vegetables and rice.

Who do you admire in the Canberra food scene?

I admire my close colleagues. At Dear Prudence, Harry’s level of knowledge has come an amazing way in a short time.

Stu Inger at Volstead Repeal [in Braddon] makes cocktails that are absolutely bang on. Those guys are fantastic.

An easy one to finish – what’s your go-to coffee order?

A soy latte. But I am trying to move away from coffee – I used to be an absolute coffee fiend – so now it is a reward or a treat.

Dear Prudence is located in the Sydney Building, at 100 Alinga Street in Civic. It is open from 3 pm to late from Monday to Saturday, and 2 pm to 7 pm on Sunday. It is part of the Verity Lane Market and you can find more information at Verity Lane Market.

Original Article published by Claire Sams on Riotact.

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