Chef Tom Sarafian on Australian Food – Dani Valent

Chef Tom Sarafian

Tom Sarafian was chef at Melbourne’s sadly closed Bar Saracen and a fellow hummus obsessive. He’s kindly shared his signature hummus with prawn and crab – it’s one of Melbourne’s best dishes so it’s beyond exciting to have the recipe!  To coincide with Australia Day, I asked him to muse on what Australian food means to him.

Many Australians – myself and Tom included – have misgivings about celebrating Australia Day on the date that the British planted a flag at Sydney Cove. I empathise with the characterisation of this day as ‘invasion day’ by many indigenous Australians and would be happier if we could celebrate a shared history and hopeful future on a different day.

Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Tom Sarafian on Australian food

My father’s side is Armenian, and my mother’s side is Australian. We grew up eating Armenian food at my grandparents’ place but there was also an Egyptian influence because my grandparents and father were born in Egypt. Both my dad and grandpa (also chefs) cooked in French restaurants, so there was always a great mix of foods on the table – I think that is as Australian as anything!

It’s hard to pin down what Australian food is, or what it should be. Native ingredients should be the answer but I think a lot of chefs and home cooks struggle with the confidence to use them. It’s amazing seeing places like Attica, or Orana, or the Noma pop-up in Sydney in 2016 – they use ingredients that most of us know so little about. It would be great to do more with them but no-one wants to do the wrong thing.

I cook Middle Eastern food using local  produce, to give it an Australian accent. Seafood is something that most Australians find approachable and, of course, our wild fish is native. Prawns are very Aussie and so is cooking on the barbecue. At Saracen, we cook pretty much everything over Australian charcoal, a gidgee root from Byron Bay. When you light it, it has a beautiful smell, and it adds a really lovely smell and flavour.

I also think hummus has become an Australian staple. Everyone has it in the fridge. I’ve developed a hummus recipe that is topped with local prawn and crab. It’s an Aussie-Middle Eastern mix. For Australia Day, I would love to see people make their own hummus and serve it at a barbecue. It’s only five ingredients…make it the day before if you like, then just take it out of the fridge an hour before. One thing Australians don’t always get right with hummus is that it’s not meant to be eaten cold from the fridge. Think of it like cheese and let it come to room temperature.

Heavenly hummus


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