Top Sydney chefs reveal their favorite dishes from mum’s childhood – Advice Eating

The heart of the home is undoubtedly the kitchen, where so many aspiring chefs first discovered their love of cooking. There they watched as their mothers, grandmothers and aunts created culinary magic. From handmade noodles tossed in a tiny Hong Kong kitchen to stuffed zucchini flowers picked fresh from the garden, these are some of the standout dishes that inspired Sydney chefs to make cooking their profession .

Sharon and Violet Salloum

Sydney-based chef, restaurant owner and cookbook author Sharon Salloum says her highlight of the week is meeting her family for dinner on a Monday night. Her mother, Violet Salloum, usually prepares her favorite Syrian dish: Mukloubi bi lahmi.

“It’s an upside-down dish of layered, slow-cooked lamb, fried eggplant and basmati rice,” explains Sharon. “This is my absolute favourite.”

Sharon, along with sister Carol, drew inspiration from their family’s kitchen for their acclaimed Darlinghurst restaurant, Almond Bar, which has been closed during the pandemic. They continue to welcome guests to their Ashbury cafe, 3 Tomatoes.

Mukloubi bi lahmi is a time-consuming labor of love as the ingredients are cooked separately before being layered with rice and simmered in the final pot of broth. Violet uses homemade ghee to roast almonds and pine nuts to add texture to the dish, then serves with a dollop of chilled yogurt on top.

The smell of the ghee as it simmers on the stove brings back fond childhood memories of Sharon watching Violet slowly and meticulously work in the kitchen.

“I probably used to annoy her, I always stood in her way and asked a lot of questions because I just wanted to know everything,” says Sharon.

Chef Sharon Salloum with her mother Violet at her mother's home in Granville.  In the garden harvesting parsley for Tabouli Photo Nick Moir May 6, 2022

Sharon and Violet Salloum harvest parsley for Tabouli. Photo: Nick Moir

“But I learned a lot from her and my grandmother and all the aunts in my life.”

Now it’s Sharon’s behest to serve her mother’s mukloubi bi lahmi on Monday nights, but it’s a risky business. The dish must be carefully flipped from the pot onto a large plate, and one wrong move can turn a nice dinner into a dog breakfast.

“It’s a very big pot. It feeds 10 of us!” Says Sharon.

“A few weeks ago I wasn’t there and someone else tried… it was an absolute mess. rice everywhere!”

3 Tomatoes, 121 Holden Street, Ashbury, 02 8065 1288,

Jessi Singh and Prem Kaur

Chef and hospitality entrepreneur Jessi Singh spent his childhood days on a farm in the northern Indian region of Punjab, sneaking off from milking the buffalo to watch his mother, Prem Kaur, cook in the kitchen.

“Men traditionally worked in the fields, they didn’t get involved in the cooking at all,” says Singh.

“But I was always in the kitchen and they were always yelling at me to get out.”

In a shared household where several members of the extended family lived under one roof, the kitchen was always full of mothers, aunts and grandmothers vying to see who could cook the best dahl or who had the best saag recipe.

For Singh, it was his mother’s mustard green saag that came out on top.

“It was my absolute favourite. It took her two or three days to cook because she had to take the mustard greens and boil and simmer them over low heat,” he says.

“Then she served it with tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic and a large chunk of homemade whipped butter. It was very simple but it was the most comforting food.”

Singh owns and operates the ‘non-authentic’ Indian restaurants Don’t Tell Aunty in Surry Hills and Daughter in Law with locations in Melbourne, Adelaide and Byron Bay.

He credits his success as a chef to the women of his family, who eventually gave in to his pleas and taught him their tricks of the craft, preparing him to begin his international culinary career.

“They are all so proud that they tell their friends how they taught me to cook and how I use their recipes,” he says. “I still call her for cooking tips.”

Don’t Tell Aunt, 414 Bourke Street, Surry Hills, 02 9331 5399,

Arnold Wong says his grandmother Bi Show Fen lives on in the memories of her traditional northern Chinese cuisine.

Arnold Wong says his grandmother Bi Show Fen lives on in the memories of her traditional northern Chinese cuisine. Photo: Delivered

Arnold Wong and Bi Show Fen

Every day until she was in her mid-80s, Bi Show Fen walked the streets of Hong Kong for more than half an hour to deliver home-cooked meals to her baby grandson, Arnold Wong, who was a 2021 Good Food Young Chef of the Year finalist.

“It was her way of showing us her love,” says Arnold.

“She died when I was 12, but I always think she’s up there watching me cook for others. I think she would be proud.”

Wong has been working at Cafe Paci restaurant in Newtown for the past few years, where he began to explore his own style of cooking.

He says his grandmother brought a wealth of culinary knowledge with her when she fled northern China during the Japanese invasion of the 1930s. However, his favorite dish was her Zha Jiang Mian.

“It was like a fried, salty, fermented bean sauce with ground beef poured over wheat noodles. She made the pasta herself when she was young.”

Wong says his grandmother’s simpler dishes, like her scrambled eggs with tomatoes, are still a reminder that good food doesn’t have to be complicated.

“It’s a very healthy, comforting Chinese dish,” he says.

“I remember my grandmother’s version was so simple and so easy to make, but when you eat it you realize that’s enough. You don’t need the expensive stuff.

“While she didn’t directly inspire me to become a professional chef, looking back, the thought of her cooking inspired me to rediscover my cultural heritage.”

Cafe Paci, 131 King Street, Newtown, 02 9550 6196,

Anna Polyviou says that mother Eugina always does everything for her family, especially in the kitchen.

Anna Polyviou says that mother Eugina always does everything for her family, especially in the kitchen. Photo: Delivered

Anna and Eugina Polyviou

After a visit to her mother’s house, pastry chef and TV personality Anna Polyviou’s suitcase is so full of homemade halloumi, grape leaves and freshly baked bread that she struggles to get through airport security.

“That’s how she’s always shown love by cooking for people and feeding people,” says Anna.

“I remember seeing her in the kitchen as a kid. The smell, the flavors… I wish I would have appreciated it more like I do now, but I didn’t understand how much love was put into it then.”

“Now I’m the same. I learned that from her.”

As a Greek Cypriot woman, Eugina Polyviou can prepare a delicious moussaka, pasticcio or fish soup any day of the week. But Anna has a weakness for her mother’s stuffed zucchini flowers.

“You know, it’s funny, zucchini flowers are considered a bit fancy these days, but we grew up with them. We used to pick them straight from the garden,” says Anna.

“She fills the flowers with rice, ground beef, and ground pork…then she puts in lots of lemon, lots of parsley, and various spices.

“It’s oven roasted and so delicious.”

The mother-daughter team will open XO Bakehouse on Illawarra Road in Marrickville later this year.

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