Good food spreads across Oz

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LENA PEACOCK and SHERYL DIXIT get ready to plate up, because it’s that time of the year again: Good Food Month

It’s October, which means it’s time to get ready for The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Month presented by Citi, as it overtakes dining tables across Sydney, regional NSW, Canberra and Brisbane. Oh, and for the first time, there’s going to be a little sister food festival too, The Age Good Food Month, which will be held in Melbourne and regional Victoria in November.
Indian Link chatted with Festival Director Joanna Savill, as well as some of the chefs involved with the Sydney festival, including Ajay Mathur, Ajoy Joshi, Kumar Mahadevan and Nasir Siddiqui.
“It’s a celebration of great food and restaurants,” Joanna Savill told Indian Link. “And is Australia’s largest food Festival”.
Stomachs across Australia will tremble with delight at the line-up of events which range from Pop-Ups and parties, night noodle markets, Let’s Do Lunch, Hats Off Dinners, Taste Food Tours progressive dinner for Parramasala and World Dinners.
“Kumar Mahedevan is a fantastic chef and the events he is doing are a reflection of his great creativity and also his flair as a restaurateur,” says Savill. “His book, released this year with his wife Suba as co-author is also wonderful, and is a reflection of the strong family bonds behind Kumar’s two restaurants, named after his sons Abhi and Aki”.
Savill also describes Ajoy Joshi as “another longtime Sydney star. His contribution to the Sydney dining has been enormous. He was one of the first to really show us the breadth and depth of Indian regional cuisine at a fine dining level. He has also been a long-term participant in Good Food Month, initially doing cooking classes with his son, other children and their families. And this year, a Diwali and Dussehra celebration, which will be a real treat, I’m sure,” she adds.
On another note, Savill says the festival is “thrilled to see the Spice Queen Christine Manfield doing a glorious one-off lunch at Cafe Sydney”.
“All in all, there’s a great masala happening across October!” says Savill.
Delicious delicacies at debut
Ajay Mathur is pretty ecstatic to be involved in such a quintessential event in Sydney’s hospitality scene. It’s even more exciting because this is the first time Ajay will participate in the Good Food Month festival. “The festival is a fantastic event which is an amalgamation of a variety of cuisines and restaurants coming together to celebrate a passion for food,” says Ajay enthusiastically.
“We were very eager to take part in this event and showcase our talent to the passionate foodies out there! We anticipate that our new, and existing customers will love our food and the experience that we have to offer. We look forward to being involved again in upcoming years too,” he adds.
So what specialities does Ajay have in mind for patrons of good cuisine? Based on our cultural heritage, and inspired by the name of our restaurant, we are planning a Rajasthani night at Bijolias,” he says. “The princely state of India boasts exotic flavours and spices, which we hope to represent in our food on the night. When in Rajasthan it is a must to savour the food, and what we serve here will pamper your tastebuds,” promises Ajay.
Bijolias is located in Seaforth, NSW and has been operating for 9 years. Ajay has 25 years of experience in the industry, having graduated with a degree in Hotel Management in India. He started his professional career managing kitchens in 5-star hotels in both India and Australia.
“I accumulated a wealth of knowledge across various cuisines and have gathered a breadth of experience over the years,” says Ajay. “The culmination of this experience inspired me to open up my own restaurant, one which followed the meticulous training which I learned in my earlier years, yet celebrated my own history and Indian background,” he explains.
Ajay admits that he has a different outlook when cooking Indian food in Australia. “We have incorporated the healthy, low calorie, Australian way of life into our cooking by making leaner meals with reduced fat quantities,” he says. “Modern Indian Australian cooking is a lighter, healthier version of the traditional way of cooking Indian food. There is an emphasis on minimising the calorie content, yet we have incorporated modern Australian cuisine through our sophisticated presentation style of innovative dishes”.
However, it is helpful that there is such a wealth of fresh produce available here, that enhances the culinary experience.  “Australia’s fresh local produce, and premium quality meat and seafood has allowed us to create more flavoursome dishes,” he says. “We use a number of fresh ingredients, such as blueberries, mung bean sprouts, snow pea sprouts, mesculan lettuce, fresh mangoes, raw papaya, beetroot, lime leaf, dill and chives. These ingredients would not generally be used in Indian cooking in India, yet we try and capitalise upon the abundance of wonderful produce available to us,” states Ajay.
There is one signature dish for which Ajay is renowned.
Barramundi Tawa Kebab is our signature dish. This is a combination of local seafood with traditional spices, ingredients and flavours, which summarises the innovation Bijolias strives to achieve,” reveals Ajay who is rather coy about sharing the recipe. Instead, Ajay invites readers to come and experience a night at Bijolias. “Our wide variety of Indian flavours fused with a modern twist along with our monthly specials offer an unusual gourmet journey to please the palates of a wide range of diners,” he claims. “Bijolias offers sophisticated Indian cuisine, out of the ordinary and sensationally modern, but the tools of the trade are age old in concept, it’s the style, ingredients, flavouring and delivery that sets it apart from any other,” he adds in conclusion.
Expect more than a ‘curry’
For chef Ajoy Joshi, the Good Food Month festival is yet another opportunity to showcase his considerable culinary expertise. Having been an active participant in the festival since 2001/2002, Ajoy has presented various themes and cuisines from India through the years, including Indian cooking classes and cooking with kids, among others. For this year’s festival, Ajoy intends to present four different types of distinct cuisine from India, from the metros of Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai from the kitchens of Nilgiri’s, his restaurant in St Leonards.
“Each of these cities has a special style of cuisine and numerous dishes that are unique to it,” explains Ajoy. “Over four weekends during the festival, Nilgiri’s will present a dining experience from each of these cities, bringing out the flavours of their cuisine that has existed and been enhanced since centuries”.
Epicures will enjoy the best of Hyderabad through the Charminar Bazaar, which will present delicacies like the indomitable biryani, as well as local dishes like Pathar ka ghosht, nehari (slow cooked lamb) and bakarkhani (royal bread). The Bandra Festival that is dear to all Mumbaiites will have the inevitable Chowpatty chaat, Kolhapuri mutton and Kolivada fish. Purani Delhi will offer the best in kebabs and parathas; and Pondi Bazaar will present a selection of seafood dishes true to the region, as well as the Kanjeevaram idli.
“We have a balanced selection of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, and our signature dosa for which we are renowned, will feature throughout the festival,” says Ajoy. To ensure a fitting conclusion to the dining experience, a selection of Indian sweets from each region will be on offer.
Nilgiri’s will certainly be on the route of gourmands looking for an exciting array of Indian cuisine. But then, the restaurant has been operating since 1997, and is extremely popular with a regular and loyal clientele comprising of local Australians, as well as those of Indian origin, among others.
“When I started out in the food industry in Australia, Indian food wasn’t even considered as a cuisine,” says Ajoy. “A ‘curry’ was what constituted Indian food”. My aim was to demystify the cuisine and to take it beyond this concept. I am happy to say that at Nilgiri’s we have succeeded in doing just that. My patrons now know that Indian cuisine is varied, comes from different regions and that each dish is prepared using specific ingredients that are put together for a reason,” he adds.
“In my cooking classes, I emphasise the use of certain spices such as the use of haldi (turmeric) or green chillies, to educated attendees on the reason why these spices are used in certain dishes. There is a reason behind the combination of spices that gives food from different regions in India their distinct flavour. Indian cooking has been evolving since 4,000 years, and it will keep evolving,” states Ajoy.
He is delighted that the perception of Indian cuisine has changed dramatically now, and that epicures of fine dining even recommend certain wines that compliment different Indian dishes, a situation that didn’t exist a few years ago. “I try and stay true to the original recipes,” says Ajoy. “While some Australians prefer less spicy options of dishes until they get used to the spice, the essence of each recipe remains unchanged. That’s what makes Nilgiri’s so attractive to people seeking authentic Indian cuisine,” he adds.
For Ajoy, introducing patrons to the various regional cuisines of India is also a challenge, but an interesting and rewarding one. “It is important for people to know that different regions enjoy diverse dishes, and I try and make them aware of this through themed cuisine each month. In November, we aim to present Kashmini cuisine, with a combination of the best of Hindu and Muslim dishes,” he says.
Years of experience working in the hospitality industry as a chef in renowned hotels, as well as owning restaurants individually, or in partnership in India and Australia, have put an edge of finesse to Ajoy’s cuisine. That he is passionate about his restaurant and its offerings is obvious, and the testimony to this exists in the success of Nilgiri’s. Ajoy is certain to enjoy wide patronage during the Good Food Month festival, and it is hoped that his array of regional cuisine on offer, apart from enhancing the tastebuds of his patrons, also entices them into experiencing the various regional dishes and flavours that make India a conglomeration of fascinating cuisines.
To share the Good Food Month culinary experience at home, try one of Ajoy’s signature dishes.
Dum ka Murg
1kg whole chicken, skinned and cut on the bone into small pieces
1½ tbsp salt
2 cups sliced onions
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger
1½ tbsp green chilli paste
1 tbsp ground sesame seeds (tahini)
1½tbsp ground cashews
1tsp turmeric
2 tbsp poultry garam masala
2½ cups full-fat yoghurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup chopped mint
In a mixing bowl, add 1 teaspoon of the salt to onions and mix. Heat oil in shallow frying pan. Add onions to caramelise and set aside.
For the marinade:
In a clean mixing bowl, add garlic, ginger and green chilli pastes. Then add, one at a time, sesame seeds, cashews, turmeric, garam masala, remaining salt and yoghurt. Fold together. Add the chicken to the marinade and rub marinade onto the meat. Set aside for about 15 mins. Place marinated chicken in a large saucepan, making sure that the meat only takes up one-third of the saucepan space (this allows the steam in the rest of the pan to cook the chicken).
Place frying pan on medium heat. Let pan heat, then place the saucepan with the chicken into frying pan. Cover saucepan with a heatproof mixing bowl.
Reduce heat and add half a ladle of water to mixing bowl. Cook chicken until all the water in bowl has evaporated (about 50 mins to just over 1 hour).
Remove lid and sprinkle with lemon and mint. Serve with a bread of your choice.
Authenticity is key
Chef Kumar Mahadevan’s theme for the Good Food Month festival is ‘Let’s do Lunches’. But it’s not just ordinary lunches that this talented chef, a veteran in the business, intends to prepar for patrons of his two renowned restaurants, Aki’s and Abhi’s.
Kumar will create a feast of Italian food, featuring cuisine from the Campania region in south Italy for patrons, a move away from the traditional Indian cuisine that is the hallmark of his award-winning restaurants.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Aki’s restaurant in Woolloomooloo in the same month, he will present a degustation menu.
Aki’s was awarded a Chef’s Hat in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide in 2011 and 2012. “My cuisine is authentic and traditional, it’s the real thing,” says Kumar emphatically. “I don’t create local versions, what you get is actual Indian food the way it is prepared back home. This is the testament of my culinary expertise, I never compromise on the taste and authenticity of the menu. So if you order sambar, you will get exactly the same dish that is prepared in, say, Chennai,” he adds.
This, says Kumar, is the main reason why both his restaurants are popular among Indians and non-Indians alike, and have been so since the past 25 years, with the advent of Abhi’s in North Strathfield.
Kumar is no stranger to the Australian cooking scene, having appeared on cooking show Masterchef, and having more recently published his first cookbook titled From India: food, family and tradition.
Kumar began his tryst with Indian cuisine from an early age, learning family recipes passed down from generation to generation in his mother’s kitchen as a child. He instinctively veered towards culinary education, studying and then honing his natural skills through experience at the Taj Intercontinental Hotel in Mumbai. He moved to Australia in 1985 to work, and was soon heading up the kitchen at the highly regarded Mayur restaurant, where he cooked for the likes of Prince Phillip and Mick Jagger.
Kumar has taken his natural flair for the combination of flavours and fresh aromatic spices to create signature dishes for which he is now renowned. He delights in creating dishes that combine the best of local seafood and fresh produce, rich with the flavours of his native Southern India, a contemporary approach to a traditional cuisine that has won him praise and respect. Kumar makes regular visits to continue his education on both the historic and contemporary aspects of Indian food.
Kumar is particularly proud of his recently released cookbook, From India: food, family and tradition. The book presents traditional and modern recipes alongside their personal story of arranged marriage, international adventures and their ultimate move to Australia. Recipes are arranged according to their taste, ‘sour’, ‘sweet’, ‘salt’, ‘bitter’ and ‘spice’, perhaps emphasising the Vedic concept of six tastes.
Among the many signature dishes that are presented from Kumar’s kitchen, the most special ones are Patrani machhi, which consists of an exquisite fillet of wild barramundi wrapped in banana leaves and steamed with fresh mint, coriander, ginger and lime; Palak patta chaat; Double ka meetha, a sweet dish; and Railway Goat Curry, which the chef shares here.
Railway goat curry
100mls sunflower oil
Whole garam masala
3 bay leaves
1 inch cinnamon stick
6 pods green cardamom
9 cloves
1tsp mace threads or powder
2 Spanish onions
11/2 tbsp ginger paste
½ tbsp garlic paste
3 tomatoes
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp coriander powder
11/2 kg goat meat with bone
5 sprigs fresh coriander leaves
Heat the oil in a casserole dish over low to medium heat and add the whole garam masala, except the mace. The mace will be added right at the end. Once the whole garam masala has released its aroma, add the sliced onions and cook till the onions are golden brown. Add the garlic paste first and cook for a minute. Add the ginger paste and the powdered spices and cook for a couple of minutes sprinkling some water (1 tbsp) in order to stop the powdered spices from burning.
Add the tomatoes and let the tomatoes work with the powdered spices till you see some oil separation around the edges. Now add the diced goat, and season with salt. Coat the meat with mixture and stir for a further 5 mins till the meat releases its juices. Now add a litre of water and cook over low to medium heat for an hour and a half. Check for the consistency of the sauce (should not be too thin). Add the fresh coriander leaves (4 sprigs) and the mace powder and remove from burner.
Sprinkle with fresh coriander leaves for garnish before serving. (A slow cooking process will ensure tender cooked meat).
Flavours of home from Haandee
Good Food Month is also joining forces with Parramasala and Taste, to highlight Indian food in Parramatta. Nasir Siddiqui and his team from Haandee Restaurant are thrilled to be a part of the festival. “We are very excited about our involvement in the Parramasala feast because it is one of the premiere events for the Indian community,” says Nasir. At Parramasala, along with involvement from other restaurants in the area too, there will also be a Chai Temple, Indian food markets and a vibrant street parade to spice things up in the city of Parramatta.
“This year, we are planning a couple of specialities particularly for the festival,” says Nasir. “One of them will be our Parramasala meal deals, and the other will be our grill specials night at which we will serve our signature dishes such as chicken tikka, seekh kebab and seafood items all cooked on charcoal”.
The cuisine at Haandee Restaurant is traditional Pakistani-Indian cuisine, and has been running for a few years now on Church Street, in the heart of Parramatta. The team who all hail from Punjab, have collectively over 20 years of experience in Indian and Pakistani cuisine.
“We believe that Australia in particular has been very generous and accommodating to cuisine from all over the world, especially food from the Indian sub-continent area,” says Nasir. “People here have developed a strong bond and association with Indian food, which has allowed hundreds of Indian restaurants and outlets to flourish and prosper. We believe that Indian food has been positively influenced by Australia, with so many dishes using great Australian produce, like lamb and other key ingredients,” he avers.
When asked about the differences between Indian cuisine in India and what’s on offer here in Australia, Nasir says, “every cuisine including Indian, has a certain taste, which should be original and consistent across geographical boundaries. Most of our dishes are prepared and served in the same way as they would be in most parts of the Indian sub-continent”.
And of modern Indian-Australian cooking, Nasir explains, “it is a blend of Indian spices and ingredients used in a mild and gentle way. This genre of modern cuisine has been influenced by the easy availability of most of the ingredients and spices that were not found here a decade or two ago. These days, I can’t think of any ingredient that we use in any of our recipes, that is not used in Indian food”.
According to Nasir, Haandee has two special signature dishes, chicken karahi and mouth-watering haleem, which are both on the festival menu. These will certainly be worth tasting, as they reflect not just the essence of the restaurant, but also a taste from back home.

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