Three questions: Momofuku Seibo's Chef Samantha Alice Levett
When Oz Harvest's wonderful charity drive Oz Harvest Bites announced they had Momofuku Seibo's Sami Levett cooking, my heart healed just a little. For up until then, I'd been crushed by the missed opportunity of dining one last time before the restaurant shuts in June. Announcing their closure on March 15, David Chang's famous Sydney outpost Momofuku Seibo at The Star was fully booked up until closure by the next day.
However, an opportunity presented itself to have a little chat with Chef Sami, and I was blown away by the warm response: 'Yes', she said. 'I'd be happy to answer questions for your blog'. Wow.
Chef Sami has always been completely consumed with food in some way from a very young age. She says, 'Be it mixing cakes with my mum, having afternoon tea with my nana or cooking meals for my friends, food has always been a large part of my personality and culture'.
Having completed the research for a Masters thesis in psychology purely because her parents were determined to get their daughter into a 'real job', Sami became increasingly unhappy.
Acting on a suggestion by a friend, Sami applied to apprentice in a kitchen.
Says Sami, ' I thought, I will only apply to one place and if that one place accepts me, maybe it is meant to be. During my apprenticeship, I had the opportunity to work at Stefano Manfredi’s Osteria Balla, BLACK by Ezard and Sokyo by Chase Gojima'.
With all these experiences in some of the best kitchens in the country, Sami was completely consumed by the concepts of NOMA, the chef Rene Redzepi and just wanting to learn to cook from them in Copenhagen.
As luck would have it, NOMA was about to launch it's short but much remembered pop-up in Sydney. In January of 2016 after a few tentative emails with their PR manager, Sami discovered that NOMA was looking for interns.
Says Sami,' I signed up that moment, and spent the first third of 2016 cracking macadamias, foraging the seasides of Sydney, and making small banana cones to house the ant and mango dessert, amongst other jobs'.
' I have learnt that cooking is not just about a recipe, but what the food says. Not just to the person eating, but also the person cooking. Food speaks to us, it whispers “hey I think we are done” as the scent of cookies waft through the kitchen, it shouts “the pan is too hot!” as garlic pops and snaps entering hot oil.'
Sami says learning to cook from executive chef Paul Carmichael has elevated her cooking through precision, but also through attention to that moment, being completely present and attuned to the task at hand. Career highlights ? Sami says: definitely include working at Noma Australia, being a part of Oz Harvest
I asked Chef Sami to answer three questions:
Tina: What's an early food memory, Sami?
Sami: One of my earliest food memories is standing on a dining chair in our home kitchen and baking cakes with my mum, or “helping” her cook dinner. This generally entailed myself licking the beaters from the cake mixer (almost always chocolate cake) or my hands being covered in a vast array of spices mixed with water I had poured into a bowl she had given me. Pikelets are a memory of my childhood also actually, I remember the smell coming down our driveway after I had walked home from school. I loved – and still love – pikelets. I remember cooking them for my parents once when I was really young, maybe 7 or 8, and I burnt almost all of them, their rebuttle to my tears was “burnt? That’s exactly how I love them!” as they slathered them in butter and strawberry jam. Tina: Naughty secret food obsession?
Sami: There are so many! Right now salt and vinegar kettle chips. I’ve also been pretty obsesssed with wicked wings since they came out.
Also, literally anything in gummi form. Tina: What are your never fail pantry ingredients?
Sami: The ones I buy are Lao Gan Ma, Doenjang, Shao Xing Wine and a brand of instant ramen that has no English instructions that I get from the Miracle Market at Marrickville Metro. Alto Extra Virigin Olive Oil. Also Heinz Ketchup.
The ones I make are fermented garlic and chilli sauce, vegetable pickles, preserved lemons, and tamarind syrup.
What plans after Momofuku Seibo closes? I ask.
Sami laughs, ' My relationship with Seibo has been like a love affair. I'll have some time off after the 'break up', and then let's see what happens!'
All images supplied by Sami. Thank you!