When Teo is not busy preparing orders for her catering business, you can find her volunteering at the Wat Phrayortkeo Dhammayanaram Lao Buddhist Temple in Bonnyrigg, Sydney. Every Wednesday, Teo arrives early in the morning to cook lunch for the monks, who eat their second and final meal of the day at 11am. It is during this time, that Teo also prepares the monk’s first meal, usually soup, for the upcoming day at 6am. The Temple’s large, outdoor kitchen, bustling with cooks and helpers, can cater to up to 200 guests. A streamlined process; among the chatter, volunteers weave between the benches and stove tops, slicing, dicing, plating dishes and washing pans. At 10.55, the tables are set and the volunteers welcome the Monks as they file into the communal eating space to begin their meal. Once the Monks have eaten, visitors, guests and volunteers start their lunch.
Originally born in Laos, Teo fled in 1976 and spent eight months living in a refugee camp in Thailand before seeking refuge in Australia in 1978. Arriving in Australia as a qualified maths and French teacher, one of Teo’s early jobs in Sydney was a Bi-Lingual Vocational Support Officer at Chester Hill High School. Teo also initiated a Laos Community Newsletter, something that she would type in the early hours of the morning, whilst her children were asleep. “I like to try and I like to learn. Since I came to Australia I always worked in, and with the community”.
One of eleven children, Teo began cooking from an early age, inspired by her parents who were both passionate home cooks. A veteran in the hospitality industry, Teo owned and managed two restaurants in Sydney. A natural educator, Teo’s teaching and cooking skills intertwine and materialise through the Laos cooking classes and food tours she often runs in Western Sydney, where she specialises in Vietnamese, Laos and Thai cuisine.
Teo's Larb Kai (Chicken Salad)
2 Onions - finely chopped
2 Garlic cloves minced
1 tablespoon of finely chopped lemongrass
200g Chicken giblet/chicken heart or liver
400g Chicken mince
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon finely chopped red chilli
1 tablespoon of finely shredded Galangal
2 tablespoons Fish sauce
1 teaspoon chicken stock
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste
Roast rice powder
Dried chilli powder
Mix of fresh herbs: mint, coriander, shallots, kaffir lime
Fry onion, lemongrass and garlic in oil until golden and crispy, set aside.
Using any leftover oil from the garlic, lemongrass and onion, In two separate pans, fry the chicken mince and chicken giblet/ heart or liver
In a large bowl, combine the chicken mince and giblet.
Once combined, add lemon juice, chilli, galangal, fish sauce, stock, salt, sugar, chilli powder and roast rice powder and mix thoroughly
Add the fresh herbs and toss the salad again.
Garnish with the fried onion and garlic.
Story and photos by Eleni Christou/Community Kouzina.
*This is the eleventh post in a special series dedicated to SSI’s collaboration with the Community Kouzin project for the New Beginnings Festival for Refugee Week 2017.