Louis Tikaram, 28, is the head chef of Longrain Restaurant & Bar in Sydney. Recently, he was voted Young Chef of the Year in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Awards 2014. We ask about his diverse heritage, current fridge favourites, and what he eats after basketball.
By
Catherine Osmond

15 Jan 2014 - 10:00 AM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2014 - 3:54 PM

What’s for lunch today, Louis?

When I get into Longrain around 11 or 12, I normally cook up something for me and the guys from leftovers, like fried rice and an omelette with some Thai greens. Then around 5 o'clock I'll make dinner: a soup or a broth or something light like that ...

 

It's not usual for the head chef to cook for the staff, is it?

It's normally the youngest who have to do that but it wasn't that long ago that I was one of them. I always think they have the most pressure on them in the kitchen, and then to have to cook staff dinner as well, and have all the older guys trying to give them shit … it's better this way, and I enjoy it!

 

What's in the fridge at home right now?

I always have eggs, milk, sourdough, vegies, iceberg lettuce (my favourite), a good butter, and Vegemite.

 

So you do cook at home a bit?

I normally cook Monday nights – before I go to basketball, I put on a slow roast or something like that, and leave written instructions for my wife, Jorja, to finish it off, then we can sit down together when I get back.

 

Your heritage is an interesting mix: Fijian, Australian, Chinese, Indian, Irish and Scottish ... have I missed anything?

Ye,s but we won't go back that far! Mum is Australian with Irish and Scottish parents, Dad is Fijian with a mix of Fijian, Chinese and Indian. I lived in Fiji from age eight to 10.

 

Has that been a big influence on your attitude to food and your style?

Definitely. Fijians only got TV in the 1990s, and before that the main entertainment was food: ceremonies and weddings, sitting around and talking and eating and more talking and eating. That's where I got my respect for food and how it brings everyone together. Also, the freshness of the food – Pacific cuisine hasn't really been fully explored but there are lots of interesting ingredients that people are discovering because of the trend for foraging.

 

What unusual ingredients are you cooking with?

One of the first things I ever cooked (with my grandmother in Fiji) was a soup based on a type of seaweed called nama. Recently, a guy from Mooloolaba offered me some fresh seaweed, or "sea pearls", and it was just the same as nama. I made it into a soup with coconut cream for a dinner event and it worked really well. It was really cool to show people a real Fijian dish. I might put it on the menu in January...

 

Who taught you to cook and what was your first creation?

I used to watch my grandmother in Fiji; I think the first real dish I ever learned from her was chicken curry. All of us – me, my brother, father, aunties and uncles and grandma – still do the same Indian-style chicken curry, but with our own little twist.

 

What's a favourite of yours on the menu at Longrain?

I've put in a woodfire grill and have started to move towards produce-driven food; my favourite new dish is a chargrill beef rib with a yellow bean and ginger and garlic relish.

 

You've travelled widely what's the most challenging thing you've eaten overseas?

In the far north of Thailand, I always tried to follow the locals and eat what they ate. Early one morning, I lined up forever for a dish that ended up being a bowl of offal topped with noodles. I didn't want to look like a wuss so I held my breath and ate most of it. I’ve never forgotten it!