In an exclusive interview with Restaurant India, Chef Sebastian Simon, Chef Instructor at The Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts, Melbourne, talks about the Australian Culinary landscape, what he misses about India, how he is experimenting with the flavours of his artisan salt brand-Lavasalt and how he is planning to launch it in India.
What are the changes you observed in the Australian culinary landscape after an upsurge of migration from India there?
I love food that is clean, fresh and delectable. It can be any cuisine. We are so blest to have a smorgasbord (a type of Scandinavian meal) of cooking styles and cuisines in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane. However, with many students making their way into Australia to enhance their culinary skills, we are seeing more restaurants opening up with a hint of their home cuisine, but with a modern approach and cooking styles. We as chefs have been focusing a lot more on the produce, and its sustainability. How we can buy local produce with food that has less food miles. Indian chefs are slowly making a name for themselves by associating themselves in 2 to 3 established restaurants and then branching off on their own. A lot of local chefs are also getting an education on how to use spices, work on regional Indian food that makes them niche.
Please tell us about your work at Lavasalt?
Lavasalt began with a desire to use my skills and knowledge in the hospitality space. As a food consultant and a chef, I help those who need menu development and evaluations and help improve their food costs. I work alongside the head chef to help set up SOP’s and recipes. I also have an artisanal range of smoked infused salts (in 8 variants) that are handmade in small batches. All the flavours are Australian and natural. At lavasalt I also get to travel the world and curate food pop ups with various restaurants. I am currently working with clients like Austrade that has given me a platform to showcase Australian indigenous produce on a grander scale. I believe that food opens boundaries and allows the person to see food via the chef’s perspective. Therefore the onus falls on the chef to ensure that his/ her food creates good memories and increases one's bandwidth on flavour and mouthfeel. I believe that is the ethos of Lavasalt events.
What is your personal style of cooking?
I love food to be fun, playful and tasty. I have a soft spot for creating dishes that uses the produce as a focus. Once you get the produce in the bag, you can then add techniques and secondary ingredients to enhance the product. I was very much inspired by Mum’s cooking because she was very particular about the core ingredient. Her food was tasty, simple and unpretentious.
Which cuisine interests you the most and why?
I love any food that is low and slow for technique. Any food on ambers of coal or smoked is beautiful to eat. Coastal cooking such as Kerala and Goan have such a special place in my heart. In my recent visit to Osaka and Tokyo I loved the simplicity and freshness of their street food.
Finally, I have been spending the last two years researching and learning our Australian indigenous foods or bush foods as we call it. And because of its unique flavour profile I have loved cooking and eating anything that is sourced from the bush.
Which restaurant would you like to visit over and over again?
I have my favourites all over the world. But in Melbourne I cannot go past Maha for Chef Shane Delia’s modern take on Middle Eastern inspired recipes.
I like to go to the Chin-Chin restaurant for Asian fusion, Ryne for modern French, Attica for clean indigenous inspired dishes by Chef BenShewry, Amaru for beautiful approach to gastronomy and finally Scott Picketts Matilda 159.
In India I am a fan of the ideas and flavours behind The Bombay canteen and Papaya; the Table in Mumbai, anything that Chef Amninder sandhu cooks and Burma Burma India. In terms of desserts I cannot get enough of Chef Avin’s bread and Chef Vinesh’s desserts of Lavonne in Bangalore.
What do you miss about India in terms of its food?
I always miss its diversity, the varieties of cuisine and a myriad of spices to choose from. Each region is so diverse and being so close to the equator there are such incredible vegetables and fruits from Kashmir all the way down to Tamil nadu. I also have a soft spot for India’s street food and the play on its various dishes designed by some of India’s top chefs. The micro climates allows chefs to use very unique ingredients that are only available in the subcontinent .
Are you planning to launch your lava salt products in India?
Yes. I am working with a few partners to make this happen. I understand we have a lot of competition. But good products made well do stand out. I believe my artisan salt products are natural and add a subtle punch to one’s food.
What are your future plans? Any new project you are coming up with?
I look forward to partnering with Austrade and promote our Australian produce in incredible India. I also look forward to travelling the world and learning more about this incredible cuisine. A cookbook is in the pipeline and three more lavasalt flavours inspired by Australian indigenous ingredients has been in testing stage.
I am looking to open a taste kitchen that speaks about the science behind cooking. I want it to be interactive and fun. I am also looking to travel a lot more and curate a few more pop ups with Lavasalt. I also hope to continue my efforts to empower young chefs and students that I am a mentor to. There are many young chefs who need directions as the market is so vast and diverse. Finally I will continue to eat my way to more knowledge on various foods and recipes. You go to cook. To be an inspiration to others one must first be inspired first. People don’t care about what you do but why you do it.