Chef Sunny De Ocampo
Chef Sunny De Ocampo’s personality and his sunshine yellow chef’s coat live up to his name. The Australian chef was at Frangipani at Mumbai’s Trident hotel for the Australian Seafood and Wine Festival. With his shell neckpiece and gelled hair pulled back into a ponytail, he looked like he should be riding the waves on his surfboard, instead of slaving in a kitchen. However, when we forked up the first bite of his signature dish My Australian Dreaming, we were happy the kitchen won over the beach. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Beach boy: De Ocampo says Aussies love their barbie; (below) his signature dish, My Australian Dreaming.
Name one dish that’s representative of Australian cuisine.
That would be my signature dish, actually. I designed it six months ago, inspired by the life of the barramundi fish. They migrate from the ocean to the mangroves and then up the rivers into freshwater billabongs. So I created a base of spinach puree with truffle oil to represent the billabong, over that comes sweet potato and macadamia nuts sauteed in garlic to depict land. A fillet of barramundi smeared with tamarind molasses is placed on that, to show a fish on land. Then it’s topped with prawns marinated in Darjeeling tea and sea salt.
I have incorporated a lot of ingredients native to Australia, such as the seafood, tamarind and sweet potato. Dots are a very prominent characteristic of native aboriginal paintings, so I garnished it by dotting a coulis of rosella, an Australian flower.
What is modern Australian cuisine?
It is a mix of all the different cultures that have come from all the neighbouring countries such as China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and also from Greece, Lebanon and Italy. I’m a migrant myself, from the Philippines. Everyone brought their flavours and spices and shared it with the Australians. The chefs learnt all these styles of cooking and mingled them to create modern Australian. I use coriander, chilli and turmeric, which could be Thai or Italian, but they’re also Australian.
What are Australian desserts like?
They are very European-style, but modernized. You would get small portions of desserts with different tastes and textures, such as brandy snaps and chocolate mousse, but the presentation is delectable, like jewels.
Is there one dish that cuts across all regions?
Not a dish, but seafood is everywhere. We are very spoilt with our produce. We have a wide coastline, so in the west you get barramundi, grouper, snow crab and snappers; oysters and scallops in the south, and crab in the east.
What kind of street food is popular?
Street food is not really cooked on the streets as it is in Asia, but we love fish and chips wrapped in a newspaper, or squid rings and crab rings. And kebabs as well.
What type of meat is a favourite with Aussies?
Aussies are red-meat eaters, that’s why they’re so big. We eat beef, but lamb is one of our loves, big chunky bits, thrown on the barbie (barbecue). Every home has a barbie in the yard; it’s like having a car. The man stands behind the barbie with a cold one and grills Aussie bangers (sausages) and lamb chops. Now they’re being adventurous and putting their own flavours and marinades, such as tandoori.
What’s the drinking culture like?
Most Australians love beer. We have lots of boutique-style beers, and each town will have their own boutique beer. There are also flavoured ones such as honey, chilli and chocolate. And, of course, wines. We’re surrounded by wineries.
- Parizaad Khan
Chef Francesco Apreda
Ch ef Francesco Apreda from Rome’s Hotel Hassler’s newest restaurant Imago (the restaurant got its first Michelin star last month), was in Mumbai at Vetro, The Oberoi, with his team for a week-long Italian food festival. Chef Apreda is inspired by the cuisine of every city he has worked in. We got a taste of Tokyo—our roasted fillet of sea bass with shallots and cannellini beans had a gingery aftertaste. And when he’s back in Rome, his regulars will get a taste of Mumbai, as he’s taking back some masalas. Edited excerpts from an interview:
If you were asked to serve a meal representative of your cuisine, what would you include?
Star chef: Chef Apreda, whose restaurant Imago just won its first Michelin star; (below) Spaghetti a la Carbonara, a traditional favourite.
Parmigiana di Melanzane, which is a traditional baked eggplant dish from Sicily made with Parmesan, mozzarella, basil and tomato. The pasta course would be Spaghetti a la Carbonara, followed by the main course, which would be Veal Milanese Style, a breaded veal cutlet. For dessert it would be the Neapolitan Babba, a traditional dessert made from sponge cake soaked in rum liqueur and served with cream.
Besides Tiramisu, what are the other traditional Italian desserts?
Tiramisu originated in the north and is very easy to make, which is the reason it’s so popular. But other traditional desserts are the Babba and Cannoli Sicilian Style, which is a crepe rolled with a centre of Ricotta or Mascarpone.
Which other cuisines are popular in Italy?
Japanese is most popular. People love to eat sushi. Besides this Mexican, Greek and even Indian food—curry rice, shrimps and tandoori—is very popular.
Most fine-dining Italian restaurants here don’t serve pizza. Is that the case even in Italy? What is an authentic Italian pizza?
Pizza originally comes from Naples and the only pizza that they made was margherita with tomato base and buffalo mozzarella. Some add anchovies and oregano. In Italy, if you want a pizza, you go to a trattoria or pizzeria. A ristorante will only serve you a four-course meal. A ristorante chef may not even know how to make a pizza.
Which ingredients are must-haves in an Italian kitchen?
Tomatoes, dry pasta and Parmesan.
Describe the three meals of the day in Italy.
Italians will usually start their day with cappuccino and croissant, lunch will be pizza with beer or pasta with wine and a three-course meal for dinner.
What is the most popular street food in Italy?
Arancini di Riso, which is fried rice ball stuffed with mozzarella and meat. Suppli is a similar dish from Rome where it’s made with baby pork cooked in herbs.
How are the food preferences in the south different from the north?
The south is closer to the Mediterranean and that’s where their cuisine is inspired from. They use more tomatoes, oils and food from the sea. The north is inspired by Germany and France. It’s colder there so they use more butter, cheese and meat in their cooking.
One favourite item that cuts across regions and cultures.
Everyone likes Tiramisu. It’s easy to prepare and is a dish that’s popular everywhere.
How authentic are Italian restaurants in India? What mistakes are they making?
Restaurants tend to add too much garlic and spices here. Besides that, they’re doing a good job. But it’s just a start. They need to better understand the cuisine and it’ll take about five to six years for them to get there.
- Rachana Nakra