Weekend Herald

CHART­ING A NEW COURSE

More than 9000 work­ers are thought to have lost their jobs in New Zealand’s hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try due to the pan­demic but some of them are back in dif­fer­ent kitchens and turn­ing up a new kind of heat

- Lin­coln Tan

Un­til early this year, Rus­sian chef Sam Shevchenko used to sup­ply food to cruise ships dock­ing in New Zealand ports.

But af­ter Covid- 19 killed the in­dus­try, the 34- year- old i s fol­low­ing his pas­sion of be­com­ing a sushi chef and cre­at­ing a mod­ernised take on the dish.

Joel Singam, 33, trained as an Ital­ian chef and used to work in Non Solo Pizza and Fa­rina, but is now go­ing back to his Malaysian roots and carv­ing out a new ca­reer as a chef spe­cial­is­ing in nasi kan­dar — a pop­u­lar north­ern Malaysian style of eat­ing.

The coro­n­avirus pan­demic has hit New Zealand’s hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try like a steam­roller, with the Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion es­ti­mat­ing the clo­sure of more than 540 restau­rants and at least 9300 hos­pi­tal­ity work­ers los­ing their jobs.

Some top chefs are weath­er­ing this re­al­ity by start­ing food stalls at mar­kets, but oth­ers — like Shevchenko and Singam — are com­pletely trans­form­ing the t ype of food they of­fer.

Orig­i­nally from St Peters­burg, Shevchenko said he had dreamt of be­com­ing a sushi master since he was a teenager and saw this as an op­por­tune time to re­alise that dream.

“Cruise ships are not go­ing to come back any­time soon, so what do I have to lose?

“I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated with sushi, and how you can cre­ate thou­sands of vari­a­tions and dis­cov­er­ing new flavours and ways of pre­par­ing it.”

Shevchenko said he was cur­rently work­ing on a con­cept and im­ple­men­ta­tion of a pro­ject called “Sam’s Sushi” and was look­ing for a com­mer­cial kitchen base.

“My sushi is not a quick snack like what’s com­mon here. It’s a proper full meal that har­mo­niously com­bines taste, quality of in­gre­di­ents and aes­thet­ics,” he said.

“I am very at­ten­tive to the quality of the prod­ucts, I buy all the in­gre­di­ents my­self, be­cause one of the main rules of Ja­panese cui­sine is that the taste of each in­gre­di­ent should be felt, while they should be as fresh as pos­si­ble and har­mo­niously com­ple­ment each other.”

Shevchenko said his sushi cre­ation would be sim­i­lar to what peo­ple get at top Ja­panese restau­rants in St Peters­burg — lots of in­gre­di­ents, but lit­tle rice.

“My main rule i s that ev­ery­thing should be sim­ple, bright and yummy,” he said.

Singam said he had mulled over what to do since leav­ing Fa­rina and be­ing made re­dun­dant as a car sales­man with Holden when it closed early this year.

“I spe­cialise in Ital­ian cook­ing, hav­ing been trained by great chefs like An­to­nio Crisci and Dave Scouller, but in times like these, there is no job for an Ital­ian chef who is In­dian,” he said.

“Then I thought to my­self, ‘ my wife is not only a great cook but she also has amaz­ing Malaysian In­dian recipes. Why don’t I go back to our roots and carve out a new ca­reer cook­ing food that is clos­est to my heart’.”

Singam said that back in Malaysia, he had a favourite restau­rant in Pe­nang called Nasi Kan­dar Mer­lin — serv­ing rice meals with a va­ri­ety of cur­ries and side dishes in a style that was pop­u­larised by Tamil Mus­lims in In­dia.

The rice, ei­ther plain or flavoured, is ac­com­pa­nied by dishes such as fried chicken, mut­ton curry, sam­bal eggs, beef ren­dang and fried fish.

“There i s re­ally noth­ing like it in Auck­land, and I thought we could give it a go,” Singam said.

So with the help of his wife Alexan

Cruise ships are not go­ing to come back any­time soon, so what do I have to lose? Sam Shevchenko

I spe­cialise in Ital­ian cook­ing, hav­ing been trained by great chefs like An­to­nio Crisci and Dave Scouller, but in times like these, there is no job for an Ital­ian chef who is In­dian.

Joel Singam

dra Ku­maran, 35, they started a nasi kan­dar stall at the Auck­land Night Mar­kets and now op­er­ate five times a week at Botany, Hen­der­son, Pa­p­a­toe­toe, Paku­ranga and High­bury.

“It is a huge risk plan­ning to open a busi­ness dur­ing the pan­demic, we don’t re­ally have a busi­ness plan ex­cept for a gut feel­ing that no one can re­sist de­li­cious food,” Singam said.

Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive Marisa Bi­dois de­scribed chefs as a cre­ative group.

“Many will try dif­fer­ent styles of cui­sine, if only for per­sonal plea­sure,” she said.

Bi­dois said it was com­mon for chefs who spe­cialised in one style of cui­sine to re­turn to the flavours of their child­hood.

“Sid Sahrawat is a great ex­am­ple of a chef that spe­cialised in clas­si­cal fine din­ing be­fore open­ing up t wo restau­rants spe­cial­is­ing in In­dian in­flu­enced flavours,” she said.

How­ever, Bi­dois said it does take years to build up a good knowl­edge of one style of cui­sine.

“So to tran­si­tion from be­ing a se­nior chef in an Ital­ian restau­rant and go in at the same level in a restau­rant that spe­cialises in a dif­fer­ent style of cui­sine is chal­leng­ing,” she said.

“There will need to be a de­gree of learn­ing be­fore that chef can reach the same level.”

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 ?? Photo / Sylvie Whin­ray ?? Alexan­dra Ku­maran and hus­band Joel Singam now sup­ply night mar­kets with Malaysian In­dian food.
Photo / Sylvie Whin­ray Alexan­dra Ku­maran and hus­band Joel Singam now sup­ply night mar­kets with Malaysian In­dian food.

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