Rosheen Kaul: 30 Under 30

Published on 15 June 2022

Photo: Rosheen Kaul (photo: Clint Peloso).

Rosheen Kaul is the head chef at Brunswick East hotspot Etta, where she cooks a menu as culturally diverse as she is over a magnificent redgum-fired hearth.

Born in Singapore to parents of mixed Asian heritage (Kashmiri, Peranakan Chinese, Filipino), she grew up bouncing between Melbourne and Southeast Asia. Before joining the kitchen at Etta, she spent her formative years at Lee Ho Fook, Ezard and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

Rosheen is also a food writer, cookbook author and Guardian food columnist. Her first cookbook Chinese-ish, with co-author and illustrator Joanna Hu, will be published in July by Murdoch Books.

Hi, my name is Rosheen Kaul.

Right now I’m the head chef at Etta.

Before I started here, I worked at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Lee Ho Fook and Smith & Deli. During the great lockdown of 2020, I found a parallel career in food writing, self-publishing an illustrated Chinese recipe zine series called The Isol(Asian) Cookbook

All up, I’ve been cooking for10-ish years.

And I’m passionate about deliciousness, first and foremost, but also exploring the intersection between my formal culinary training and my Asian heritage. As a POC cooking with Asian ingredients, I seek out small producers and POC-owned companies and products from within Australia. Ethical and biodynamic farming practices and forming relationships with farmers and producers all through the supply chain has been integral to the way I cook. Having a platform via a restaurant menu provides the unique opportunity to teach and share from my culture, and I feel a great responsibility to do it justice. I seek to learn from Asian chefs, acknowledge regional influences and learn the history before any ‘reimagining’ takes place. I feel empowered to share my heritage as knowledgeably as possible, using the best possible produce and ingredients.  

Which means I enjoy cooking things like charred whole cabbages with a hot oil and white sesame dressing and grilled, crisp-skinned mackerel with assam broth and citrus. The Etta kitchen is powered by a redgum hearth at its centre and not much else by way of heat, so using the smoke, embers and radiant heat and maintaining balance in the menu has been the goal. I also happen to love traditional pastry, so I always have a simple, classic dessert on the menu which I consistently work on to perfect the technique. It began with a mille-feuille with chamomile crème pâtissière and wild strawberries; when making the puff was simply too labour intensive for a small kitchen, it became a quince and leatherwood honey clafoutis. 

At 30 Under 30 I’ll be cooking a fun hot-cold number. A chilled raw oyster topped with a spicy, oily, lamb merguez sauce, with a smattering of charred cucumbers pickled in sherry vinegar and smoked soy. Hot, cold, crunchy and slurpy.

The person I'm most looking forward to cooking with at 30 Under 30 is... incredibly, this line-up is actually filled with new and old friends. I love the way Nagesh Seethiah and Ellie Bouhadana live and breathe their food, and I'm also keen to meet Hugh Allen and Bianca Johnston, I’ve followed both of their careers for a long time. Hannah Holleran and Hannah Watt are also good mates and excellent chefs, so I’m probably going to spend a lot of time chatting and being distracted during service.

My favourite thing to eat in Victoria right now is the Cubano sandwich from Nico’s Deli because, well, it’s magnificent. Crisp and soft, an ideal bread-to-filling ratio, layers of smoked pork belly, ham, koji chimichurri and melty Emmenthal cheese with the perfect amount of salty pickles, mustard and shredded lettuce to balance. So many salty, porky and fresh textures in one crisp bite. I don’t even particularly like sandwiches, but this one really is something else. Sandwich sorcery.

Finally, the key change I'd like to see in our food and drink scene over the next 30 years is more mental health days in hospitality, because as an industry, we need to do better. I’m adamant that physical and mental health issues should be dealt with similarly, where an ankle injury and a panic attack both require professional healthcare. I speak openly about my bipolar disorder to the kitchen, encouraging them to speak up and normalise the conversation. When my manic symptoms flare up, I share that with the team so they are clued in to my changes in behaviour. As always, you’ve got to practice what you preach, so learning to recognise my own triggers and keeping myself healthy are steps one and two. Encouraging healthy sleep hygiene, rostering for work/life balance and ensuring my team has a safe space to share is how I begin to make the changes I want to see in the industry.

Catch Rosheen Kaul at the 30 Under 30 Gala dinner on Thursday 28 July and at the 30 Under 30 dinner at Cutler & Co on Wednesday 3 August. Follow her further adventures at @rosheen_

 

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