A symphony of taste

At the age of three, Adam D’Sylva learnt to make gnocchi. So it is no surprise that by 38, he has cooked in some swanky restaurants around the world — Per Se in New York, Pearl in Melbourne and Cosi in South Yarra. He won the Lexus Young Chef of the Year award twice, appeared on MasterChef Australia and opened his celebrated restaurant, Coda in 2009, followed by another popular restaurant, Tonka, four years later.

So what did he aspire to achieve when he started out? “It’s not about aspiration, but rather, inspiration. Every time you achieve something, you find something new to aspire for, and you aspire because you have passion,” said Chef Adam, adding that he just pursued what he loved, not knowing back then how far it would take him.

The chef made his first visit to Chennai recently to put together an eclectic dinner menu for the Australian World Orchestra, led by celebrated music conductor Zubin Mehta. He arrived here, straight from New York, jet-lagged and exhausted, but still found time to set out and explore the city.

“I have roots here,” he revealed, sitting by a window in ITC Grand Chola, looking at the lush green garden outside and sipping on wine. His Anglo-Indian father, a butcher, was originally from Madras, and his mother Italian. “They both migrated to Australia like a lot of people did through the 1940s to 1960s. That is where they met. Growing up in an Italian-Indian household felt normal, but we ate pasta and curry as part of the same meal. Both cultures are quite strong, not just in terms of personality, but also food.”

His family grew a variety of vegetables and fruits in the backyard. They also made wine, sauces and salamis at home. Food, he explained, was always the focus. “I think growing up in a butcher’s shop and having relatives in the wine business made cooking a natural progression.”

At 22, he set out to see the world. “It would have been silly not to; regardless of whether you are going to cook around the world, you travel to experience cultures and learn things. I think it’s just fortunate that chefs can travel the world and work in pretty much any country.” And so, his culinary journey began. He travelled far and wide — America, Mexico, London, France, Turkey, Singapore, Jakarta, Fiji, New Zealand and Japan — and cooked in a majority of these places. “You cook your own food, but learn the local cuisine.”

His travels also brought him back to his heritage: Italy in 2005 and India in 2012.

Though he can whip up a wide range of cuisines, including Malay, Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese, he’s a purist — he doesn’t do fusion food. Why not? “Because I respect each culture for what it is. Fusion doesn’t always mean better; sometimes it just means con-fusion, where you don’t respect something that existed thousands of years for a reason.” 

So what’s his favourite cuisine? “I always get asked this question; I don’t have one, because I’m not one-dimensional. I cook an eclectic range of cuisines, which I think is what defines Australian food.” What he cooks, usually depends on what he can source. “It becomes a bit of a struggle trying to cook my food in India, Vietnam, Hong Kong or Cambodia, because the produce varies. It’s a challenge, but I don’t mind it.” And what does he love to cook? “No one thing. If that’s the case, then I’ll lose motivation once I master it.”

Even when he cooks at home, the spread is eclectic. The menu usually depends on the chef’s temperament. His kids, four-year-old son and six-year-old daughter, love being his helpers in the kitchen — they whip the batter when he makes cakes or knead the dough when it’s time for gnocchi. Has the love for cooking been passed down generations? “Regardless of that, I think kids are getting more involved in the kitchen with shows like MasterChef. It’s also a really good way of spending time with them.”

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 8:27:04 AM |

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