Chef Dany Karam talks childhood food memories, no-waste cooking and shares a recipe for smoky, creamy hummus bi tahini.
The conflation of luxury and excess is finally beginning to unravel in our fine-dining restaurants. Instead, the concepts of seasonal eating and no-waste cooking are becoming covetable both for diners and for at-home cooks.
Sustainable, season-focused eating has always been a large part of chef Dany Karam’s relationship with food and cooking. This dates back to his childhood, when his mother would turn old fruit into jam and his green-thumbed father would turn the family backyard into an abundant spread of seasonal produce. Now, as an Executive Chef at The Star, Dany brings these lessons – as well as the flavours, ingredients and techniques of his Lebanese heritage – into his elegant and flavoursome menus.
In light of the recent opening at Bar Tikram at The Star Sydney, we sat down with the chef to talk about his cultural heritage, the kitchen lessons his mother taught him and the inspirations behind his fresh and modern Middle Eastern-inspired menu for Bar Tikram. He also shares an exceedingly luxurious hummus recipe.
What did your childhood in food look like?
Growing up we ate only fresh produce; there was no concept of using or purchasing canned products in my household. I ate according to the season; whatever ingredients were in season, my father would grow them in our backyard. Once they were ripe or ready to harvest, my mum would prepare our meals around what we had. When zucchini season came around, for instance, I’d have it for days on end because that’s all that dad grew!
We heard your mother was an early influence on your cooking. What lessons did you learn from her in the kitchen?
I learned the ethos of using everything from start to finish; nothing is wasted. Mum would say she’d never throw anything away. If fruit was going off she’d turn it into jam, while vegetables would be pickled and used as side dishes or accompaniments for meals in the following season.
When you cook Lebanese food, do you stick to traditional recipes or do you experiment?
Of course I experiment! But I like to incorporate some basic techniques within traditional Lebanese cuisine that I have learned from my mum. For example, when hummus was made, mum was very particular with how chickpeas were prepared. The water was changed three times [during the soaking process] to make sure it was nice and clean.
How did you channel your childhood influences into your Lebanese-inspired menu at Bar Tikram?
The inspiration comes from my mum’s recipes, my experiences working around the world and the ability to showcase what I love about my background into the food at Bar Tikram.
What are the flavours, textures and styles you wanted to represent on this menu?
Pickles are served with almost every order at Bar Tikram – pickled radish, peppers, garlic and olives, to name just a few.
The best thing about this menu is that you get to enjoy all kinds of textures, from smooth to crunchy, and a mixture of traditional Lebanese flavours, from vibrant spices and fresh herbs to zesty dishes, all in one sitting.
Was it more important to you that this menu was coherent or diverse?
None of the above! What’s important is that it tastes great and that you feel the care that has gone into the dishes served to you. The menu is designed to share with all your friends and family, just like how I would share these dishes with my family growing up. Bar Tikram is like a small extension of my culture, experienced in an open setting.
What is the most significant dish on the menu for you?
The standout item would definitely be the bug tail kibbeh, a seafood twist on the traditional spiced ground meat kibbeh. I still use the same traditional techniques to create the dish, but have used fresh local produce and given it a contemporary spin. It’s a warm yet fresh and modern take on traditional Lebanese cuisine.
Recipe For Dany Karam’s Hummus Bi Tahini
- 200g dried organic chickpeas
- pinch bi-carb soda
Smoked paprika oil
- 200ml grapeseed oil
- 10g smoked paprika
- cooked chickpeas (using the above)
- 20g tahini
- 30g grapeseed oil
- 2g pink salt
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 5mL lemon juice
- 2g crushed ice
- Soak dried chickpeas overnight with the bi-carb soda.
- Once soaked, strain the chickpeas, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, reduce to simmer and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours on low heat. Strain chickpeas once cooked.
- For the smoked paprika oil, combine the ingredients together, cry-vac and sous-vide at 58°C for 5 hours. Strain through a muslin cloth once infused.
- For the hummus, blitz all the ingredients together and adjust the consistency with crushed ice.
- Serve hummus with smoked paprika oil and chickpea cress.