Tom Sarafian has worked in some leading kitchens both in Australia and the UK. The chef, who grew up in Melbourne, honed his craft with award-winning chefs like Greg Malouf - Tom worked with him at the middle eastern-inspired Momo and followed Malouf to London to cook at Petersham Nurseries. While still in London, Tom cooked at Fergus Henderson’s St John and with Sam and Sam Clarke at Moro. Back in Melbourne, Tom was head chef at Brunswick landmark Rumi with Joseph Abboud before taking on the kitchen at Bar Saracen on Punch Lane.
It’s a striking resume; one that highlights a focus on technique but also carries a clear interest in the precise craft of simplicity steeped in culture. Sarafian’s background is rich, with good food as a central family theme. His Armenian father – a classically trained chef who was born in Egypt - and Australian mother made for a delicious upbringing that inspired him to also become a chef. Although now he is a chef who makes Hummus. Tom Sarafian Hummus has been flying off the shelves across Melbourne and we’re thrilled that he is this month’s Mount Zero Hero.
Tom discovered Mount Zero in the first year of his apprenticeship at bakery Il Fornaio in St Kilda in 2005.
“I remember seeing boxes of Mount Zero olive oil in the dry-store and hadn’t seen olive oil at that volume before, but the longer I worked there I realised we needed so much of it!” he laughs. As a young apprentice, he had thought that ‘good olive oils’ only came from Spain and Italy.
“I was blown away by the freshness and that an olive oil of that quality was grown and made here. I’d never tasted anything like it before,” he says. “I still love the freshness of Mount Zero olive oils.”
It was in London at St John that Tom really started to explore the different types of olive oils available. “They used an Arbequina at St John and it was so versatile and light. They made mayonnaise using an Arbequina and olive oil is usually too strong to make mayo, it really opened my eyes to different kinds of olive oil and ways to use it,” he says.
When Tom returned home, he knew he wanted to find an Australian Arbequina to use in restaurant kitchens – and found it with Mount Zero, “it’s such a great all-rounder,” says Tom, “not too strong, just delicious!”
Establishing the Tom Sarafian brand has been a goal for a few years. Tom gained a cult-like following from his hummus-led dishes at Bar Saracen and he wanted to show the public just how delicious a good quality hummus can be.
“The general mentality with hummus is that it’s easy to enjoy as a dip - and it is - but it can be so much more than that,” he says. “It’s more than what you find on a supermarket shelf, and I want people to experience that.”
Tom hand-picks the chickpeas that go into his Sarafian Hummus. “It sounds time-consuming, but I know how to do it quickly. Every single jar of hummus we make must have the best quality chickpeas, if there’s one that’s not quite right - a bit discoloured or hard - it could ruin the batch. Maybe it’s my chef training but I think it’s really important.”
This insistence on quality shows in the jar. The Hummus sells out whenever a new batch is sent to food retail across the state. “Hummus should be a star of a dish, it works so well with grilled vegetables and meats, and seafood…”
The recipe Tom has shared with us highlights the hummus with slow-cooked octopus on toasted olive bread. “It’s simple and tastes so good together, the hummus and octopus balance each other really well,” he says.
Tom’s commitment to the Sarafian Melbourne brand will see some new products coming soon – stay tuned – but in the meantime, his love of quality produce and of quality businesses is steadfast and also humbling.
“I really love Mount Zero. From the delivery drivers, to the admin, everyone from top to bottom, they are my favourite supplier by far,” he says. “Now that I have my own business, I only want to work with great people, people who make you feel good and Mount Zero is definitely one of them.”
Thanks Tom, we love your work and can’t wait to watch Sarafian Melbourne evolve.
the fast five
1. If you weren't a chef, what would you be doing?
"I love music almost as much as I do food, if for some reason I couldn’t cook anymore I’d look for some kind of career in the music world. Either that or I’ll open a bar on a beach somewhere hot with no mosquitoes and wear Hawaiian shirts and make drinks."
2. Last place you dined out?
"Viet Pearl in Northcote. Vietnamese food is one of my favourites, and I’m lucky to have some great locals on High Street close to home. Everything is super fresh and delicious here, I love their salads especially."
3. What's your favourite Melbourne restaurant?
"Izakaya den. It’s always been a favourite of mine and I think it’s better than it’s ever been. Jarrod Di Blasi’s food is delicious, interesting and fun, which are all the things that for me makes a dining experience most enjoyable."
4. Favourite season of the year for produce?
"Autumn. The late summer harvest ingredients lend well towards my cooking and I love pickling and preserving the bounty this time of year."
5. Do you have any special projects scheduled for 2022 or beyond?
"I’m looking forward to launching some new seasonal products to add to the Sarafian Melbourne range. Also excited to cook collab events around town with friends and chefs that I have had to postpone during lockdown. Hopefully I will be able to make my dream come true and open my own restaurant as well."
By Hilary McNevin