--- Discover the comforts of Indian home cooking with Adam D'Sylva, Helly Raichura and Sandeep Pandit on India Unplated, Thursdays 8.00pm on SBS Food and streaming on SBS On Demand. Visit the program page for recipes, articles and more. ---
Raised in an Indian-Italian household and surrounded by food, Adam D'Sylva was destined to become a chef. He decided to pursue this career in grade four and hasn't looked back ever since. Adam is now co-owner and executive chef of two award-winning Melbourne restaurants, Coda and Tonka, and is looking forward to sharing more of his heritage as co-host of SBS Food's new program, India Unplated.
D'Sylva's food journey began in his nonna's backyard in the outer Melbourne suburb of Fawkner. His Italian grandparents were what he considers "typical immigrants" and grew everything they ate from scratch. When he and his brother weren't climbing fig trees or chasing the chickens, they would help their nonna to collect fresh eggs, water the veggie patch and pick grapes from the vineyards. All this fresh produce would then be brought to the kitchen and transformed into a delicious lunch.
D'Sylva says his favourite meal of his nonna's was handmade gnocchi with passata. As a kid, he ate the dough raw but soon came to appreciate the superiority of her fresh pasta to the dried varieties sold at the supermarkets. His nonna's ability to make simple ingredients shine has shaped D'Sylva's current food philosophy, which he defines as "simple, tasty food that you want to keep on eating."
Pasta lessons were an opportunity to learn about the traditional flavours of his nonna's hometown. D'Sylva's mother and grandparents immigrated to Australia from Sulmona, Abruzzo, in the 1960s. Along with them, they brought generations of traditions and recipes, which revolved around simple and seasonal eating.
Every labour day weekend, D'Sylva's maternal family would gather to make a bulk batch of tomato passata, just as they had in Italy. They would then sit down for a traditional Italian lunch spread consisting of spaghetti aglio olio, lasagna and a variety of meats that they'd either cured at home or sourced from the butcher where his parents worked.
Celebrations and gatherings with D'Sylva's paternal family from Chennai were equally as impressive. Each uncle and aunt would bring their own signature dish and the table would end up covered with all sorts of curries and biryanis. This contrasted the simple mealtimes D'Sylva enjoyed with his immediate family, which typically featured a combination of dishes from both Italian and Indian cuisines.
"I grew up with a bowl of pasta, a curry, and a bowl of rice on the kitchen table, and that was the norm for me," D'Sylva says. "I was proud of my heritage, but I didn't really realise how much it would influence me later in life when I became a chef."
Throughout his career, D'Sylva has worked in award-winning restaurants around the world, cooking everything from Thai to modern Australian food. In 2009, he drew on all these experiences and together with partners Mykal and Kate Bartholomew, opened Coda. The menu at Coda takes inspiration from across the globe, blending Asian and European tastes and techniques.
"I took everything I learned at all the places that I worked and did it in a style that I like to eat," D'Sylva explains. "I like to eat little bits, sharing small little dishes of flavour."
"I took everything I learned at all the places that I worked and did it in a style that I like to eat."
Tonka was born four years later and pays tribute to his paternal heritage, celebrating the vibrancy of Indian spices and culture. The menu features family recipes but with a modern twist, such as the Spencer Golf kingfish with star fruit and pickled muntries.
"I think Australia does all cuisines almost better than what they do in their countries, because of our produce we have available in Australia," he says.
D'Sylva is hoping to share these tastes of India and demystify the intricacies of Indian cuisine on India Unplated. He gets to practise every night with his three kids who enjoy learning the stories and history behind the meals they eat.
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Photographs supplied by Adam D’Sylva