'As a kid, I mostly dined with a plateful of pasta on one side and a bowl of curry on the other.'
When you hear that from a chef, you know what's about to be served will be nothing short of surprising. And it had to be. With an Indian father and Italian mother, Chef Adam D'Silva embraced the best of both cultures.
He is a man of few words; his hands do most of the talking. His food is as exciting as his travels across Europe and Asia. It is a combination of local, national and international influences - with a personality all of its own. He is constantly experimenting with modern techniques and ancient traditions.
Adam D'Silva won The Age Good Food Guide's Young Chef of the Year title back in 2008, he was twice a finalist and third time lucky. That was a start. In June 2009, he launched his first restaurant in Melbourne. CODA is a stylish bistro with an edgy menu that skips between Asian and European. More recently, he opened the doors to its sister restaurant, TONKA, with food that is Modern Indian inspired. He is a regular guest chef on Channel 9's Mornings and has been featured on MasterChef Australia.
Speaking at an event in New Delhi in a brief interview peppered with his easy smile and understated humour, Chef Adam gives me a peek into his culinary world.
Your style of cooking ..."My food defines who I am, my culture and the diverse environment that I have lived in. From Thai to Japanese and European, I love to experiment with different cooking techniques. I wouldn't regard my food as fusion cooking but it's more about using the fresh, local produce that Australia offers and combining it with modern techniques while retaining the original flavours. The ingredients are the cornerstone of good cooking." We're interrupted with the aroma of hot-smoked salmon. My face lights up and my eyes give it away. I sheepishly tuck into some only to be lost in vibrant flavours of fresh coconut, green papaya and coriander that lace the fabulously cooked and tender flesh.
This is his third time in India. The exquisite menu at the event is designed by him. It features his signature cuisine with certain ingredients like farm-reared lamb, quality grown chickpeas, traditionally-inspired pasta, a variety of cheese and wine that had been flown down especially from Australia.
What ignites your interests? "You can find inspiration in many things - whether it's dining out, walking through a food market, watching a TV show, flipping through a magazine or working in a foreign kitchen. But most of all, travelling has been my biggest culinary influence."
An ingredient that you use a lot... "Chillies! It is a predominant ingredient in most of my dishes, all types and varieties, fresh or dried. I love spicy food and also use lot of Indian spices like cumin and coriander. We source some of these ingredients directly from India. Not only spices, we also source Basmati rice, gram flour and even papadums from India."
Enter a platter of gorgeously grilled lamb cutlets. I bite into a succulent piece, dusted with harissa, wrapped in honeyed yogurt and accompanied with thyme flowers and toasted Kashmiri chillies. The aroma fizzles-fast but flavours are ever-present. Whether it was the tea-smoked loin or the crumbed cutlet with chimi churri sauce, each of the lamb dishes stood out for me.
The pumpkin and feta ravioli dressed with sage butter prompts me to ask him what he thinks about food trends. "Trends are temporary. I like to cook what's in season and is available- be it cauliflower or shiitake mushrooms or pumpkins. My food doesn't quite resemble eating out at a restaurant; it's more like being invited into someone's home for a meal cooked lovingly with excellent ingredients. I like to cook with a range of flavours and try new techniques. The possibilities are endless and variety is what people are looking for."
I would agree with him, Australia is like a melting pot and its cuisine as diverse as its population. But the Australian palate is now heavily leaning towards the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia. This is, in fact, the globalization of gastronomy which is slowly sweeping the world.
The seriousness of our conversation transforms into smiles when I ask him about his most-loved meals.
Best meal of 2014... 'I've had a lot of good meals, so this is really hard. But I have to say that it was a whole suckling pig at the Flower Drum in Melbourne. It had the most amazing, glossy, crackling and juicy meat. I love my pork."
What do you like most about Indian cuisine? "I love biryani. We do chicken biryani in Melbourne but I love lamb biryani. I'd also love to go to Rajasthan and Chennai to explore their cuisines. I serve a lot of Indian dishes like tandoori chicken, tikkas, lamb curry, Goan fish curry and people love it. Australians have a growing taste for Indian food."
And the worst thing you tried in 2014...'One of my chefs cooked duck tongues and I am not into duck tongues! It's just not my thing.'
Duck tongues? I suddenly feel the need to soothe my senses. I grab a cup of Tiramisu which was a delicate reincarnation of an otherwise creamy dessert, but then couldn't resist myself. I dig into some young coconut jelly and gobble a chocolate pot decked with coffee foam. I feel fed, well enough. And as I tell him how each one of his dishes indulged me, he bursts into a sweet smile and professes, 'Cooking is all about love, really.'