His father wanted him to join the army, but as a fourteen-year-old, Sid Sahrawat had already made up his mind. “I loved food and it gave me a great amount of satisfaction to create something and watch it being demolished by another person and to see the satisfaction of my creation shared,” he said. “There is no art form like it.” Sahrawat has taken this passion and craftsmanship into two of Auckland’s premier restaurants, Cassia and Sidart.
At age 17 Sahrawat was doing an apprenticeship in the Middle East. “I worked under an Italian chef and I was quite taken by his cooking techniques and the depth of flavour he imparted to every dish he created.” This philosophy has stuck with Sahrawat as his career has progressed, and he now tries to match ingredients to the cooking technique which suits them best. “However sous vide cooking is one technique that has crept into my toolbox,” he admits. “It is very precise and very versatile. Ingredients like mushrooms, fish, red meat, for infusing oils and creams – there is no other technique that gets you such results.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sahrawat is also a big fan of charcoal. “I love cooking ingredients on charcoal whether it be the yakitori grill at Sidart or the tandoor at Cassia. I love the charred and smoky taste charcoal imparts to the food.”
While kitchens are notoriously hectic places, Sahrawat does his best to keep his own calm and controlled. “All the prep is done every day so we get the best out of the produce we have,” he said. “We strive for 100 per cent consistency, which can be a bit intense at times.”
Sahrawat is always innovating and trying new things. “Our menus change constantly – weekly at Sidart and seasonally at Cassia – so there is no single dish that has remained on any menu.” Underrated and foraged ingredients are inspiring him right now, such as wild garlic, nasturtium and sorrel. “Jerusalem artichokes are probably my favourite ingredient to work with,” he said. “They are deceptive in the way they look but are packed with flavour.”
Travel has played, and continues to play, a big part in Sahrawat’s inspiration. He and his wife are travelling to Scandinavia and the UK in July, having been to Bali in December and Melbourne in January. “We particularly loved Kaum in Bali that served traditional Indonesian fare,” he said. “Melbourne was solely research and I was really inspired by what Ben Shewry at Attica has accomplished, especially with the service. Melbourne is just exploding with smart casual places.” If he could work anywhere overseas, he would choose Maaemo in Norway, Sepia in Sydney and Saison in San Francisco.
For now, Sahrawat is staying put. Both Sidart and Cassia are both in the Metro Top 50 Restaurants for 2017, with Cassia having taken out the top prize last year.