The fusion chef

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Chef Desmond Carneiro shares his insights on multiculturalism in cuisine with Indian Link

Desmond Carneiro

Executive Chef Desmond Carneiro’s fascination for flavour has not only led to a successful career but is also a continuation of a family legacy.

Carneiro’s family journey with food began with his great-great grandfather, who sailed the spice routes of Macau and Goa, as a chef in the Indian Merchant Navy. His legacy inspired four generations of chefs and hoteliers.

Carneiro names his grandfather, Chef Simon Fernandes, as his mentor. His father Tony Carneiro is general manager at The Holiday Inn, Darling Harbour and Desmond is now the youngest Executive Chef at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Brisbane’s CBD.

“I learned that to be a good chef, you have to be an artist, a scientist and an entrepreneur,” says Carneiro.

He believes that the demand for “fusion food” really began when merchants and cooks in Goa traded spices and recipes that melded West African, Arabic, Portuguese and Indian influences.

Carneiro’s passion for food stems from his Goan culture as well as his Australian upbringing.

Carneiro was born in India but grew up in Australia. He developed an interest in cooking at an early age. His culinary career began at the age of seventeen as an apprentice at the Intercontinental Hotel School in Sydney.

“I was the last generation to be trained in the kitchen by chefs I call the Rolls Royce’s of the industry,” he avers.

“They were classically trained French chefs who followed the French food bible, Escoffier: Le Guide Culinaire. It was hard work and everything I learned was hands on [such as] deboning 90 chickens…I wasn’t allowed near a stove for 2 years”.

During his 4-year apprenticeship, Carneiro was selected to travel to Thailand where he experienced a very different food culture.

“I ate street food and curries in incredibly humid conditions and discovered flavours that were actually refreshing despite the heat,” he reminisces.

Before landing his current position, Carneiro underwent training at Four Points by Sheraton, Darling Harbour. He was then moved to Sheraton on the Park, Sydney where he progressed to become Executive Sous Chef in 2012.

“My style originates from traditional French provincial cooking and adopting those rustic flavours and cooking techniques to the wonderful and abundant Australian produce,” he says.

His restaurant, The Eatery, and café, Wrapped, both showcase Carneiro’s approach to food. His signature dish, twice cooked pork belly with Jervis Bay seared scallops, cauliflower puree and white truffle essence, exemplifies Carneiro’s desire to use local produce while developing new tastes.

As Australian cuisine is a melting pot of tastes, Carneiro prefers to tailor traditional food according to changing demographics.

“There’s a real change in Brisbane,” he says, “it’s an emerging market and its residents are adventurous and bohemian- they like to try new things.

“In 1991 Australia was very anglicized, my friends were still having “tea”. As a chef new to Brisbane I can see it will have a totally different landscape in communities, schools and food in the next few years”.

According to Carneiro, South American, Mexican and African influences will be the next wave in culinary trends. He says he uses Chimichurri, a traditionally South-American chutney relish, on lamb to lift the palette.

However, Carneiro is not just about being new and experimental. He credits his Australian upbringing for his ability to take traditional recipes and modify them.

For the international clients of the hotel, Carneiro cooks up variations on the typical Aussie hamburger and lamingtons.

“The beetroot in the hamburgers always surprises them as does the delicious Wagyu Spaghetti Bolognese,” he says.

“As a commercial cook I want to create great food that’s made with care and love. I’m aware that lots of our business clients want comfort food that’s flavoursome and healthy. This includes Pad Si U,a Thai street food dish, with rice noodles, egg and chicken”.

In relation to his opinion on Indian food in Australia, Carneiro says, “Indian food in Australia is now being cooked for Indian palettes, it’s no longer anglicised and diluted and Australians love it. You can buy the same ingredients here as you can in India”.

His favourite dish is an Indian curry called Prawn Caldine, which is his mother’s recipe.

“My mum’s prawn curry is a Goan recipe that uses coconut, garlic, coriander and tamarind”.

Carneiro offered me a tasting of his Aviyal vegetarian curry. Carneiro adapted the traditionally South Indian blend to create a delicious paste of ginger, garlic, coriander root and leaves, mustard seeds and red and green chilli with coarsely ground coconut. The result is a refreshing “tropical” curry which can be consumed alongside a seafood dish of Moreton Bay Bugs, reef fish or even yabbies.

“Combine it with cucumber, coriander and fresh lime salad and you have a recipe that goes perfectly with a cold beer and a warm climate,” Carneiro says.

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