• Dust.Donuts' raspberry option is injected with a fruit-packed blast of fresh and freeze-dried berries, and is encrusted with raspberrry powder. (Dust.Donuts)Source: Dust.Donuts
Spoonfuls of stolen tiramisu and childhood Persian sweets: they've all played a role in the creation of Rod Shokuhi's Dust.Donuts.
By
Lee Tran Lam

2 Nov 2021 - 9:35 PM  UPDATED 3 Nov 2021 - 9:44 AM

Chef Rod Shokuhi can tell you a lot about Persian doughnuts. They're called bamieh and he has many childhood memories of these golden-ridged fingers of fried dough, dunked in a lavishly sweet syrup flavoured with rosewater.

"That was my favourite thing," says the Melbourne-based chef. "I'm from a Persian heritage and we were always surrounded by good food."

Bamieh shares its name with the Farsi word for okra. "I guess the similarity is there, because when you're piping the choux pastry, you're using a star-tipped nozzle and okra has that star shape to it as well," he says.

The dessert is also a key part of Nowruz (Persian New Year), where it represents the sweetness of life, says Shokuhi. He remembers it being served in a gold terrine dish, while sprouted wheat (resembling grass) also appeared on the table. "The growing of wheat is meant to signify the growth of life," he says.

"Food is always connected with stories and stories bring people together."

He credits his family for giving him his start in hospitality. At aged 15, he helped out at his mum's Middle Eastern restaurant, Nights of Shiraz; then he became a kitchenhand at his cousin's Spanish restaurant, Bolero's. His cousin would yell for CC sauce, Napoli, braised octopus and other things with which he was deeply unfamiliar. "I'm just doing 360s in the coolroom, just looking for a label: 'what's Napoli, what's occy?'"

"Go grab me the tiramisu," his cousin would say. Shokuhi recalls running in, unsure. 

"I saw this tray and it looked so nice," says Shokuhi. His cousin offered him a teaspoon and suggested he try a corner of the tiramisu – but only the corner. Shokuhi was knocked out by what he sampled. "What is that?" he asked. 

"Tiramisu," his cousin said. "One day I'll teach you how to make it."

"By the time he actually taught me, it was six years later," says Shokuhi. "I tried to make tiramisu in all the years leading up to that…It was never the same."

He did undertake a few unofficial lessons in dessert making at Bolero's – the corners that disappeared from the tiramisu trays were proof of this. He was obviously digging in with a spoon, savouring bites and (unsuccessfully) hoping no one would notice. "I'd get into trouble sometimes – because I'd be eating, but I wouldn't be doing the job."

"Food is always connected with stories and stories bring people together."

Once his cousin schooled him on tiramisu, Shokuhi didn't need to resort to looting trays of the coffee-soaked cake anymore. Tiramisu became his go-to dessert. If he was visiting a friend's house or knew someone who was struggling, "I would always whip out that recipe," he says. 

And when Shokuhi became the head chef at one of Melbourne's oldest sourdough bakeries, Natural Tucker, the recipe paid off once more. "I need to make that tiramisu into a croissant somehow," he thought, as he shaped loaves during production. After creating his tiramisu-croissant mash-up, he got some welcome media attention.

"That gift of what my cousin did that day in the coolroom, handing me a teaspoon…It's so connected. Everything is so beautifully connected in that sense," says the chef. 

Family memories have also influenced his latest project, Dust.Donuts. It's inspired by the years he's spent strolling Queen Victoria Market with his wife, Laura.

"We'd always go to the American doughnut bus. I even said to her back then: 'we need to do something like this when we're older. It's just so simple, it's so nostalgic'."

The pandemic ended up fast-tracking this idea. 

Like many people, the couple has experienced an eventful 18 months. Their first son Isaiah, was born last March, just as the country was in a COVID-19 shutdown. The pair welcomed their second son, Sebastian, in July, just before Melbourne began its sixth lockdown. It's been a challenging time to be a chef, with restaurants closing and eateries dealing with trading restrictions. 

Shokuhi's parents worked incredibly hard during his childhood (his dad juggled three jobs, "mum was sewing elastic into trackpants and selling them at the market to make some money") and he realised he wanted to run a business that allowed him to spend more time with his children.

Dust.Donuts might not resemble his original plan of selling doughnuts from an old van window, but it enables him to spend most of his hours with his children. In fact, they strongly influence the operation of Dust.Donuts. "We limit ourselves according to the schedule we have with the kids," he says.

He takes pre-orders for Dust.Donuts online and preps them from his home kitchen in Templestowe. They're ready for pick up on Saturdays, at a nearby cafe called Two Doors.

"We started with 90 [doughnuts] and then that sold out within two hours," he says. "So the next week, we went to 150, and we sold out again." For Dust.Donuts' third week of operation, he decided to prep 200 pastries. "I think I'm at capacity!"

They were specifically designed to be éclair-like, so there was no need to worry about it ruining your make-up (which is tricky with a face-smudging, ring-shaped version). The ladyfinger shape might also be easier to eat, so messing up your clothes with a trail of sugar and crumbs is less of a problem.

"I ended up making 14 trial doughs," Shokuhi says. His classic doughnut has a milky, honey-scented crumb. Sprinkling icing sugar over them at the right warmth allows a glaze to magically form. His raspberry option is injected with a fruit-packed blast of fresh and freeze-dried berries and is encrusted with raspberry powder.

The project has come together in record time: "From concept to first sale, it was a month," says Shokuhi. Dust.Donuts was launched in September, but it's also informed by a lifetime of eating pastries – such as Persian doughnuts. 

"If you know Middle Eastern sweets, they're really on the sugary side. I developed a really sweet palate at a very young age," he says.

Although he grew up with desserts such as faloodeh (which is flavoured with sugar syrup, cold vermicelli and a liquid hit of cherries), the chef knows that not everyone is used to high-pitched levels of sweetness. He's actually cut back on the doughnut's sugar quantity, so it's not overwhelming when he dusts plenty of icing sugar on top. 

Although there's demand for him to scale up his doughnut production, the chef is happy to keep things on a small scale. After all, he's doing this while parenting and studying to be an operating theatre technician. "This is literally to support the family during a mentally challenging time," he says of Dust.Donuts. Shokuhi also wants to create some (literally) sweet experiences for his children in the meantime – just like the sweet memories he grew up with. 

 

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