(Photo courtesy: Tourism Victoria)
Head Chef and Owner of Coda in Melbourne, Adam D’Sylva is a die-hard Australian, who is half-Indian, half-Italian and is highly influenced by Asian and French cuisine. He talks to Time ’n Style Luxury about how his worldly exposure translates into his unique and distinctive culinary creations.
A boy's life
As a child, I was encouraged to work around the kitchen with my grandma and aunt, when they used to look after us as kids. From a very young age, I developed this love and fascination for cooking, and it was then that I had an epiphany of sorts, and figured that this was something that I loved to do. As I grew older, I fuelled this love by continuing to work around the kitchen and when I realised that the passion was still there, I decided to take it down a professional path. In my heart, I knew I wanted to be a chef since I was only sixyears- old.
Mastering the basics
The cornerstone of good cooking, according to me, is undoubtedly the use of the freshest produce possible. I try to give my signature spin to some very traditional preparations, while also respecting the traditional aspects of the dish. I believe that you shouldn¡¯t play around with the produce too much as it most often destroys its integrity. I keep my food honest, to both the produce and the cultures. Using local produce is a good idea because it's cheaper, more sustainable and fresher, but there are some things you can't help, but import. Also, I cook with love, for people I love, because at the end of the day, you can have an excellent plate of food, but if you're eating it all alone, it tastes lonely.
Traversing the globe
Every place is unique and can add something to a chef's repertoire. Japan, Italy, Vietnam, France and now India have got to be my top five food destinations because each place is gastronomically diverse and culturally rich. That said, to me, Australia is over and above that. (Laughs)
A chef's signature
Signature dishes of a restaurant are defined by the diners themselves and not the chef. The reason being.I can create a dish that I think is phenomenal, but if it doesn't sell, it's not my signature. It's not what people want to come and eat, and it's not what they know me for. My Sugarcane Prawn dish is my signature because people come from all over to eat it, so it doesn't matter if I love it or not. But, as of right now, the closest to me is my Yellow Duck Curry, simply because curry is something I've grown up with. Pasta is comfort food for me, but it just doesn't sell on the menu of my restaurant, Coda, so it's just the way it works.
It's all about consistency. I had the good fortune of working under some great chefs like Geoff Lindsey, at his restaurant, Pearl, as well as with Martin Boetz, at Longraine, Melbourne. I even had the opportunity to travel to New York to work with Thomas Keller at Per Se in 2008, when I won The Age 2008 Good Food Guide’s Young Chef of the Year award. What I’ve learnt from these great chefs is that consistency is key. Everything, from food and service to ambience, needs to be consistent; that is the only way you create a good reputation for your restaurant. There is a fine line between cooking to please yourself and cooking as a business. If you say you don’t care about the customer, you are going to be a broke chef, but instead if you do care, you will be successful. The other side of the coin, when running a successful restaurant, is to treat your staff well and that will be evident in the quality of the food, as well as the service. I wouldn’t be able to travel the world and do what I do if I didn’t have a team that I trusted.
In my opinion, Chef Andrew McConnell is one of the best chefs in Australia today. Geoff Lindsey is one of my mentors; I worked under him for many years. Also, there’s Martin Boetz, and internationally, it would have to be Thomas Keller.
Of ideas and flavours
I make sure to go out and eat as much as I can, so that I know what’s out there. Also, travelling gives you a lot of insights into what you could possibly take, conceptualise and make your own. When you’re a young chef, it can be daunting to create a dish, and so you tend to over-compensate by trying to fit too many elements into a plate, but as you gain more experience, you realise that restraint is what you really need to create an award-winning, tasty dish. It’s not so much about marrying flavours, but more about the technique I choose. I try to use Asian techniques with European flavours and vice-versa. Asian flavours are more complex because they’re all about balance and so you have to be very precise and almost scientific when it comes to the flavours in Japanese and Thai, for instance.
Food and wine pairing
The wine made in Australia tends to be quite bold and there is such an eclectic range growing in different climates that you can almost always find something that goes with your food. Other than that, we import a lot of German Rieslings, Burgundy and Pinot Noir wines. But, ultimately, I think that it’s all about personal preference. There are no rules because you’re the one drinking it, so you should drink what you like.
On competitive cooking shows
Shows like Masterchef Australia have opened up the average home cook’s eyes to what actually goes into being a professional chef. It shows the difficulty, the skill and the level of pressure that goes into creating one dish at a restaurant. It also builds the appreciation and empathy for what goes on in the kitchen in case something that came out wasn’t up to the mark. It’s also an educational process that encourages people to take up this profession.
Your Favourite Dish: A bowl of pasta.
The Most Memorable Meal You've Eaten: We used to make gnocchi all the time with my nonna (my Italian grandma), and freeze the extra so that we could use it later. So, when she passed away, we took out the last batch of gnocchi we made together, and my brother and I made a meal out of it, knowing that this was the last time we would ever taste something she made. It’s a meal that is close to my heart.
One Ingredient You Must Have In Your Kitchen: Good salt and olive oil.
Favourite Gadget Or Tool In The Kitchen: A good wok and a good knife.
The Most Unusual Thing You've Eaten: Frog’s ovaries in Hong Kong.
Best Thing About India So Far: Understanding the history and culture and witnessing the wide economic disparity first-hand and obviously the rich food heritage.
Cooking Tip: Invest in good core ingredients like salt, olive oil, vinegar, pasta and keep it simple.
Favourite Item To Cook With: Seafood.
One Thing About Diverse Cuisines That Interests You: The freshness of Vietnamese cuisine, and the classical techniques of French cuisine are what really grab my attention.
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