O Tama Carey, or Tama as she’s known, is the head chef at Berta restaurant, in Sydney, where she turns out relaxed modern Italian share plates. Her food philosophy celebrates and centres on fresh, seasonal produce, her deep love of Italy, and a little of her Sri Lankan heritage thrown in for fun.
By
Catherine Osmond

10 Aug 2013 - 11:50 AM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2014 - 3:55 PM

What’s for dinner tonight, Tama?

We’re going out, hopefully. My boyfriend, Mat, is a chef and he’s recently opened a restaurant (Ester, in Sydney’s Chippendale), so it depends when we both finish work. Chinatown is a favourite place to go.

 

On nights when you’re staying home but you’re exhausted, what will you throw together?

Brown rice and vegetables.

 

Really?

Yes, that’s a standard go-to for when I’m tired, with a sambal on top.

 

What’s your failsafe dish for when friends are coming over?

Sri Lankan crab curry. It’s relatively easy and it looks impressive – and it tastes good. It’s a nice dish cause you can all sit around and eat it with your hands.

 

You’re into shared food, aren’t you?

Yes, I tend to get quite bored if someone just puts a whole plate of food in front of me … I like lots of little things, and it’s more interactive.

 

What’s your food philosophy?

Seasonality is really important to me – it just makes sense. I’m also quite a fan of vegetables in general, and of letting their individual flavours shine.

 

Tell me about Berta’s Sagra (“festival”) dinners.

One night a week we pick an ingredient and base four courses around that. We’re doing balsamic [right now] and we’ve done cheese, blood orange, pickle …

 

Pickle for dessert?

We did a cheese plate with pickled grapes, pickled apple chips, bread with pickled cranberries in it … it was pretty delicious!

 

What does a typical work day look like?

There’s no kind of normal day for me – I sleep in a little if I can, but that’s rare. I start at the restaurant anytime between 9am and 3pm … other things (like writing, recipe testing, making salumi or honey) get weaved into my days.

 

How big a part of your life is your Sri Lankan heritage?

I’ve got a big extended Sri Lankan family on my mum’s side, and in my twenties I spent quite a lot of time there. In my work, I’ve done Chinese, French, Japanese and now Italian … but even with the Italian, I slip some curry leaves in sometimes.

 

I have to ask: what does the “O” stand for in your name?

My Dad’s story is that it’s after Omitama, a precious jewel in Japanese. But it does pretty much come down to having hippie parents!

 

What’s an unusual food we could be eating more of?

One ingredient I really love using is oca – it’s from the yam family. It looks a little like a witchetty grub and it’s pink; it tastes almost like a lemony potato.