When Paul Carmichael arrived at Sydney’s Momofuku Seiōbo – Korean-American restaurateur and movie star chef David Chang’s first (and nonetheless solely) venue exterior of North America – in 2015, the restaurant was troublesome to classify. It was notable for its anything-goes vibe, and that utilized to the delicacies as effectively. It blended Asian, Australian and North American flavours, and served roast pork after dessert.
That willingness to play with conference and break guidelines suited Carmichael, who first labored with Chang at Momofuku’s now-closed New York diner Má Pêche.
Carmichael took over from Seiōbo’s govt chef Ben Greeno, and it wasn’t lengthy earlier than he launched dishes that tapped into his Barbadian heritage. Nonetheless, it was a shock when one of many nation’s most celebrated eating places started devoting its total menu to Caribbean delicacies.
For a lot of it was their first substantive style of Caribbean meals, and it arrived at a time when diners had been more and more able to problem the slender Eurocentric lens by means of which wonderful eating has traditionally been considered.
“I actually assume that some of the essential issues we did was put a special delicacies on the map,” the restaurant’s basic supervisor, Kylie Javier Ashton, tells Broadsheet.
Carmichael’s meals favours daring flavours, and he isn’t afraid to faucet into the tales behind the dishes he grew up with. He’s additionally launched many he didn’t uncover till later in life, and maybe one in all his biggest expertise is with the ability to incorporate so many influences from his residence area.
Each Caribbean island has a definite meals tradition – every one formed by First Nations folks, colonisers, slaves and indentured servants introduced from world wide. It’s why components corresponding to curry powder and Spanish-style salted cod had been important components within the residence kitchen the place Carmichael realized to cook dinner, whereas different dishes from the area bear unmistakable echoes of French, Chinese language and West African cooking.
A first-rate instance of the latter is Puerto Rican mofongo which, at Seiōbo, is served in an enormous mortar, and diners are invited to grind the components collectively. Much less interactive (however extra confronting) is the marron, which is famously offered reside earlier than reappearing later, grilled and slathered in piquant sofrito.
Carmichael says his precedence is giving everybody who walks by means of the door a memorable expertise. “There are many locations I’ve gone that I’ve appreciated however do not bear in mind as a result of there’s restricted capability for reminiscence. So if we will do one thing that occupies a type of little slots I’ve achieved that aim,” he tells Broadsheet.
Because the restaurant of almost 10 years counts down to its final service on June 26, the softly spoken chef insists he’s far too busy to consider his legacy. He does, although, hope he’s helped to make Caribbean meals extra accessible to Aussie diners. “It was a very essential factor for me to showcase my area in a special mild reasonably than it simply being a spot to go and drink rum and celebration in your vacation.”
Earlier than Covid struck, Carmichael had deliberate to journey to each nation in his residence area so he may immerse himself within the many meals cultures. As a substitute he discovered himself navigating Sydney’s lockdown and subsequent restrictions. And whereas Seiōbo reopened with a smaller capability, the announcement of its closure in March got here as a shock (the restaurant stated it had determined to not renew its lease at The Star).
“It’s bittersweet for certain,” Javier Ashton stated on the time. “It’s unhappy, however I really feel actually good concerning the resolution we made and to have the ability to finish one thing like that on a excessive notice is very nice. It sounds loopy however we by no means adopted any guidelines at Seiōbo, we’ve at all times been the masters of our personal future, so it solely felt proper that we completed what we began on our personal phrases.”
As for what’s subsequent for Carmichael, he isn’t giving a lot away. “I’d like to remain in Australia, however I actually don’t know,” he says, laughing.
That stated, he does need to be answerable for making not less than one dish – or perhaps a snack – so frequent that it transcends its origins. “I don’t anticipate Caribbean meals to turn into a serious a part of Australian delicacies, however I’d like it if there was only one merchandise that you could possibly discover all over the place, one thing easy like a croissant.”
There are many others hoping he’ll keep in Australia, too. For Simon Bryant, who has invited the Bajan chef to cook dinner at South Australia’s Tasting Australia a number of occasions, Carmichael’s affect transcends the meals he’s serving.
“Paul may put one thing superb collectively out of vacuum-cleaner baggage as a result of he executes at such a excessive degree, however he’s simply so cool and laid again … It’s actually good for my youthful cooks to see optimistic position fashions like him, folks operating empires underneath unimaginable stress who aren’t puppetmasters. He nonetheless cooks in a good looking calm means and is basically blissful to mentor and share data.”
Carmichael takes undisguised pleasure in cooking, so it’s no shock he needs to foster an atmosphere the place others can do the identical. And as a part of the management workforce alongside the restaurant’s basic supervisor Javier Ashton (who has a Filipino background), he’s a extremely seen counterpoint to the overwhelmingly white male cooks at Australia’s fine-dining establishments.
There are numerous components which have mixed to make Seiōbo particular, and so they’re unlikely to be replicated any time quickly. Even the common-or-garden Carmichael is conscious of simply how distinctive the venue is.
“This restaurant is basically distinctive, and never simply to Australia however globally,” he says. “There’s nothing like this place so when it dies, it’s gone.”