LOUIS TIKARAM tak­ing Fi­jian cui­sine to L.A.

Fiji 7s wins first out­ing Fi­jian dancer makes head­lines in UK Hik­ing into the Fi­jian Heart­land

mailife - - Front Page - By MA­RINA KAY pho­tos by VIN­CENT LONG

That Fi­jian food is ac­ces­si­ble in Los An­ge­les, one of the world’s most ex­cit­ing food cities, hardly comes as a sur­prise. LA’s bur­geon­ing, im­mensely cul­tur­ally di­verse restau­rant scene lends it­self to tasty, healthy is­land fare. Fur­ther­more, chefs the world over are re­lo­cat­ing to this food cap­i­tal. Take Louis Tikaram, who spent much of his life zigzag­ging be­tween Fiji and Aus­tralia. He worked at top restau­rants, most no­tably Syd­ney’s Lon­grain, which gained two chefs hats from the Syd­ney Morning Her­ald Good Food Guide un­der his tute­lage. In 2014, he won the pa­per’s Josephine Pig­no­let Young Chef of the Year award. De­cid­ing whether to helm the kitchen of EP&LP, an Asian eat­ing house and rooftop bar in West Hol­ly­wood was a no-brainer. When the in­vestors said go, he said yes. He has been serv­ing Fi­jian dishes there for more than a year now. “I knew that when it was time to have my own restau­rant I would show the food I grew up with,” Tikaram says over a tall glass of wa­ter in the EP din­ing room (which stands for “ex­tended play” to the LP rooftop’s “long play”). It’s a late Septem­ber af­ter­noon and as hot as a Suva sum­mer. On this Tues­day, a ma­jor de­liv­ery day, boxes are carted through the door ev­ery few min­utes, com­pro­mis­ing the restau­rant’s air con­di­tion­ing. Tikaram, how­ever, re­mains un­fazed. He’s been busy (restau­rant prep starts at 7 am in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a 6 pm ser­vice start), but re­mains cool and col­lected. Tikaram was 28 when he was given the op­por­tu­nity to head EP’s kitchen. Rooted in Thai cui­sine with Chi­nese, In­dian, Fi­jian, and Viet­namese in­flu­ences, the menu reads like a blue­print of his years work­ing in Syd­ney, trav­el­ing through South East Asia, and liv­ing in Mul­lumbimby near By­ron Bay, Aus­tralia, as well as at Lami in Fiji. “A lot more of my child­hood is com­ing out now be­cause of the pos­i­tive re­sponse to the Fi­jian dishes. No one in LA has re­ally tried Fi­jian cook­ing. It’s been even hard to find tra­di­tional food in Fiji,” he says, re­fer­ring to a fix­a­tion for serv­ing spaghetti Bolog­nese and piz­zas to tourists. “I’ve kind of taken it on as a per­sonal goal to ex­pose Fi­jian cook­ing and to cre­ate a lot of buzz and in­ter­est around it.” Be­tween the ages of five and 18, Tikaram spent much time liv­ing in Fiji and hang­ing around the kitchen of his pa­ter­nal Fiji In­dian grand­fa­ther and Fi­jian Chi­nese grand­mother’s Lami Bay home. “I would wake up in the morning, and smell cu­min, co­rian­der, curry leaves, onions, and gar­lic for the din­ner my grandma was al­ready cook­ing. She’d make the most amaz­ing chow mein noo­dles, steamed fish with ginger and shal­lots, wa­ter­cress soup; the best In­dian roti and dal, cur­ries, samosas; also re­ally awe­some tra­di­tional Fi­jian food like palusami (us­ing taro leaves), ota (Fiji’s na­tive tree fern), kokoda, and nama.”

Cue EP’s menu and its Nama Sea Pearls dish, a mix of sea­weed and freshly squeezed co­conut milk, sea­soned with chili, salt and lime – flavours that con­jure Tikaram’s ear­li­est food mem­ory. “Nama was one of the first dishes I put to­gether. It’s a great for LA be­cause there are so many ve­g­ans and veg­e­tar­i­ans here… I re­fer to it as a sea­weed ce­viche. It’ll al­ways be on the menu.” On the flip­side, for sashimi lovers— “Ev­ery­one loves Ja­panese here”— the restau­rant’s ren­di­tion of kokoda, dubbed Fi­jian ce­viche, uses long line New Zealand snap­per. Tikaram pays homage to his grand­mother not only on the plate, but also in the kitchen, where ev­ery­thing is made from scratch daily: the spices, the curry paste, and the co­conut milk, ex­tracted from fresh co­conut flesh squeezed through muslin. “Yes, we could prob­a­bly do it a dif­fer­ent way, but it’s cool teach­ing the guys [kitchen crew] the tra­di­tional tech­niques I grew up with, and then hav­ing the cus­tomer eat the dishes based on how I learned to make them. It’s where my pas­sion and back­ground come from,” Tikaram says. Nor does Tikaram com­pro­mise on qual­ity in­gre­di­ents—another les­son gleaned from his grand­mother. Re­call­ing their trips to Suva’s Satur­day morning pro­duce mar­ket, he says: “If some­thing was picked too early or picked too late, she wouldn’t get it. She wouldn’t buy a wilted bunch of wa­ter­cress.”

Tikaram’s daily sup­ply of fresh herbs is im­me­di­ately washed, placed in wa­ter, and sprayed with pu­ri­fied wa­ter through­out the day, mak­ing the walk-in cool room look like a nurs­ery. Another stand­out on the EP menu is turmeric and co­conut curry with clams and soft shell crab, a nod to Tikaram’s fa­ther. The for­mer Air Pa­cific bag­gage han­dler turned car­pen­ter—now re­tired and liv­ing in Si­ga­toka, Fiji—was known about town for his sig­na­ture party dish, mud crab curry. “Grow­ing up, we didn’t have much, but be­ing known as the son of the ‘mud crab curry guy’ meant a lot. Peo­ple would say, ‘Oh­hhh, how do we get in­vited?’ It was such an amaz­ing feel­ing to hear dad be­ing praised for his cook­ing.” Tikaram re­calls help­ing his fa­ther cook, who in turn had learnt the skills of the trade from his own mother. “My dad’s five broth­ers and sis­ters took turns ev­ery night to make the meal (my grand­mother cooked on Sun­days), so each child is an amaz­ing cook.” When Tikaram’s fa­ther isn’t surf­ing at the beach, he’s spend­ing time in the yard or in the kitchen. “It’s amaz­ing how mum and dad pre­pare meals right out of the gar­den and use the abun­dance of fresh fish avail­able at the lo­cal mar­ket. That’s dad’s spe­cialty these days.” Come May 2017, Tikaram will cel­e­brate two years at EP & LP “I say that LA found me, I didn’t find LA. The cui­sine fits per­fectly here, peo­ple just get it,” he says. “Mum and Dad vis­ited when EP opened, which was a blur be­cause I was so busy. But their sup­port and en­cour­age­ment gave me a huge boost in con­fi­dence and helped get me through the first few months of business.” What does Louis’s fa­ther thinks of his son’s culi­nary suc­cess in L.A.? “My dad al­ways taught us to be proud of who we are and where we come from, so cook­ing and shar­ing Fi­jian food amongst the bright lights of LA is def­i­nitely putting a smile on his face.”

Turmeric and co­conut curry of cloudy bay di­a­mond clams, sea beans and Thai basil.

“Kokoda” of Baja Rock shrimp. Fi­jian style ce­viche with Baja Rock shrimp, pick­led Ser­rano chilies, co­conut and cilantro Mango pud­ding with roast co­conut ice cream

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