Meet the Maker – Tom Sarafian, Sarafian Melbourne

Tom Sarafian’s hummus is a classic case of predestination. An Armenian-Australian chef with 15 plus years’ experience in Australia and the UK, he hails from a family obsessed with food, personally and professionally. Handmade on Wurundjeri country (Melbourne) with premium ingredients sourced from local Victorian farms and the finest tahini from Lebanon, it really is as good as everyone says it is.

Tom was gracious enough to give us some time away from blending chickpeas in the third of our Meet the Maker series of interviews. 

What was the food culture like in your family growing up?
I always wanted to be a chef. There was nothing else I wanted to do. I came from a very food-focussed background. Every family gathering, we’d be sitting around a table filled with all these different foods. Mum was a great gardener. She’d grab veggies from the garden and dad would show me these really cool ways to use them. I was incredibly lucky; we may not have had very much but we always had good food.

How did you get started as a chef?
I made my mind up at a young age that I was going to be a chef. I used to help Dad out after school standing on a milk crate in the kitchen peeling prawns or podding peas - those kind of handy jobs.
After High School, I started my apprenticeship straight away. I went to work at a cafe in St Kilda called Il Fornaio. That then led me to working at Stokehouse around the corner where my dad worked. I finished my apprenticeship there and stayed for 4 years before going to work with Greg Malouf.
I’d eaten that food growing up in my Armenian-Egyptian family though I'd never cooked it professionally. When I started working for Greg, that’s where I fell in love with it. I'd never seen it in a really finessed way.

Why hummus?
Hummus was always something that I’d eat as a kid at my grandparents’ house so I knew how good it could be which was a world away from what came out of the plastic tub from the suprmarket.

Before I opened Bar Saracen, I went for a research trip to the Middle East and for the second time I visited Lebanon. I ate some really incredible hummus and saw some pretty eye-opening dishes. Sometimes hummus was garnished very simply with lots of olive oil, beautiful bread and pickles. Sometimes they’d take it to the next level with lamb slowly cooked in lamb fat with lots of onion and spices. They’d place that on top of the hummus to be served as a main course.

I had this idea to make hummus the star of the show when we opened Bar Saracen. Take that idea and those flavours but use different ingredients like barbecued calamari, pumpkin, mushrooms and so on. When it came to summer the following year, I came up with a king prawn and crab topping. It never came off the menu after that. I still cook it everywhere I go such as pop-up events. Soon I’ll be cooking at Cumulus for a couple of weeks and it'll be on the menu there as well.

What would you cook for family and loved ones?
This time of year I'm loving hummus on grilled sourdough with beautiful local organic heirloom tomatoes with lots of sea salt flakes, freshly cracked black pepper and lots of olive oil. Coming into autumn I'll be making a similar thing with barbecued mushrooms, butter, garlic and some Turkish chilli flakes.

Describe your ultimate cheese toastie
I love the basturma, the spicy Armenian cured beef with Gruyère (or Comté). It’s a pretty common cheese combo over in Armenia and Turkey in pastries like boreks.That in a toastie with lots of butter is really awesome.

Here's where you can order your jar of Sarafian Hummus

photo credit - Kristoffer Paulsen