CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! with CHEF TOM ARNEL
I have been trying to think of ONE word that would best define Tom & Serg. After a lot of mulling, and mulling some more, I believe ‘simplicity’ is the word. At Tom & Serg they have kept things simple – from décor (it’s something I would imagine you would find in New York) to the menu choices. And because of this ‘simple’ fact, at Tom & Serg you don’t feel overwhelmed, alienated or awkward. It’s a nice bright airy space where you immediately feel you fit in – whoever you may be.
So here goes!
Name: Tom Arnel
Restaurant: Tom & Serg
From (Country): Australia
Culinary School: Gordon Institute of TAFE, Geelong, Victoria, Australia
Knife Hand: Right
Twitter Handle: @TomandSerg
Were you a good kid, did you eat your veggies as a child?
As a child I was a very fussy eater. But at about 18, I got a job in a sushi bar and watched everyone eating good food and enjoying it. That was my turning point, I started eating everything. Today there is nothing that I would not eat or at least try.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I really did not know what I wanted to be growing up. I was interested in graphic design and economics and I guessing being a Chef has a mix of both.
That has to be my stint at Vue de Monde in Melbourne under Chef Shannon Bennett. I worked there for three and a half years and it was the hardest job I had ever had. It is where I got my technical training and learned an incredible work ethic. At the restaurant, and even today, I look for perfection on a plate everyday.
What did you have for lunch yesterday?
I had the smoked salmon bagel at Tom & Serg.
Place you eat most often on days off?
It’s a small dining place in JLT which serves Vietnamese food called Hanoi Naturally.
What’s your favourite ingredient/ condiment to work with?
Lemons. Its acidic and I believe all savoury food needs a bit of an acidic flavour to enhance the sweetness.
If it’s the last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in and what are you eating?
I would be at Newton Circus in Singapore eating Chilli skate (the wing of a sting ray).
The most exotic destination I have been to is South Sumatra in Indonesia and the place that I would like to visit would be Vietnam.
If you left Dubai to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
I would move back to Australia and cook in my favourite coastal town Port Fairy (south-west Victoria).
What has been your most embarrassing cooking moment?
A few years ago I cooked a truffle risotto for Rod Stewart and as I brought the dish out, I dropped it. Rod Steward witnessed this entire fumble. I had to go back into the kitchen and cook it all over again. But I guess it all turned out ok when Rod Stewart said it was the ‘’best thing he had every eaten”.
Who is the person you would most like to cook for?
I think I would like cook for Tiger Woods. I have heard he enjoys his food but I think it would also be interesting to get to know what’s inside his mind.
I eat the salad sandwich with pickles which we call Veggie Sanga. It is light, healthy and has great flavour.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
Definitely just to keep it fresh and simple. As long as I have all the elements on my plate I am satisfied.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
It was in Japan at a sashimi restaurant in Hokkaido. There was a tank with a live octopus which the restaurant claimed to be 30 years old and had only 4 legs. They chopped one of the legs off, cut into smaller pieces and served it to us as is – raw and still pulsating. With only add on was a dash of soya sauce and wasabi. I have to admit, it wasn’t great, but it definitely was interesting.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
This would be at the high end Spanish restaurant Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain. This restaurant was ranked No. 8 in the world in 2014 and had 18 courses each one had interesting flavours and were very well balanced.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure food?
Definitely has to be salt and vinegar chips.
If you were an ingredient what would you be, and why?
Sugar, because sugar is sweet.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
The best piece of advice was given to me as a child by my father, Bredan who said, “If you (Tom) did the right thing by him (Brendan), he (Brendan) would do the right thing by you (Tom)”.
If you weren’t a chef, or in the food business, what would you be?
I would love to be an artist.
Most underrated ingredient? Garlic. People don’t understand the importance of it and don’t put enough of it. For me, more garlic the better.
Best culinary tool? Knife
A chef that inspires you? I am inspired by Jeff Cruz, a Chef at Tom & Serg everyday. I have watched him progress
from not taking cooking seriously to becoming one of the best Chefs I have worked with.
Favourite cuisine? Thai. They know how to use flavours and ingredients the best.
One dish you can’t live without? It would have to be my mother, Pauline’s roast lamb.
What’s one food trend that needs to end? Molecular Gastronomy. Its taking food too far making the food unrecognizable.
Favourite food from your childhood/ Describe one of your first food memories. It’s still my mother’s Roast Lamb.
Something in your fridge or freezer that would surprise people? Fermented Yuzu juice. It’s a Japanese lemon juice which I use in my cooking.
Last thing you cooked for yourself? A simple mozzarella and tomato pizza with basil.
THIS OR THAT
Food on a skewer or food in a tiny spoon?
Hot curry or haute cuisine?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Mints or gum?
Soup or salad?
Greek yogurt or labneh?
Butter or olive oil?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Baked or fried?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
And lastly, cake or pie?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!