Louis Tikaram knows all about homecomings. The Sydney-born chef started his career as an apprentice at modern Thai restaurant Longrain, followed up with stints at Bentley and Tetsuya's, before returning as Longrain's head chef in 2011.
Now, after five years leading the celebrated EP & LP in Los Angeles, he's back in Australia with a freshly minted head chef gig at Stanley, a soon-to-be-opened Cantonese restaurant at Brisbane's Howard Smith Wharves.
"Cantonese is a cuisine I've always felt comfortable with. It's the food I like to eat the most," says Tikaram, citing the influence of Tsingtao-soaked nights at late-night chefs' haunt Golden Century, and the food cooked by his late Fijian-Chinese grandmother in her home in Lami village, north-west of Suva. "She would be given freshly caught rock cod and would steam it simply with ginger, shallots and soy sauce," he says. "To this day, it's one of my favourite dishes."
Fresh seafood will be a top order at Stanley, with Tikaram already hunting down sustainable suppliers in Mooloolaba, Hervey Bay and Maroochydore; stir-fry dishes, too, will feature ingredients from Boon Luck Farm and Thai Hoa, a specialty supplier of South East Asian produce. "The owner is Vietnamese and grows amazing baby gai lan, Siamese watercress and garlic chive flowers. And the quality of his herbs is perfect."
The menu will feature Chinese roasted meats such as Peking duck and char siu, and Tikaram is searching for an experienced hand to lead the dim sum section. "We've reached out to a few chefs from China and Hong Kong," he says. "I'm a master at tasting siu mai and har gow, but my dumpling pleating skills are not great."
Tikaram is the latest Sydney chef to make the move to Brisbane: see Adam Wolfers (Gerard's Bistro), Patrick Friesen (Howard Smith Wharves) and Gourmet Traveller Best New Talent nominee Alanna Sapwell (Arc Dining). It's indicative, says Tikaram, of a city with an appetite.
"Brisbane's on the way up. On a Saturday night, there are lines outside restaurants and people on the streets. It's really thriving," he says. The Mullumbimby-raised chef is also embracing the opportunity to work with farmers in the Byron shire region. "To bring it all back to the place where I grew up – I've come full circle."
Stanley is slated to open in October at Howard Smith Wharves, 5 Boundary St, Brisbane, Qld 4000.