26 September 2023

Five minutes with Adam Shaikh Ali, Dum Dickson Indian Restaurant

| James Day
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Adam standing out the front of his restaurant, with menu items behind the window.

For the last seven years, Adam has been cooking Mughlai dishes for the people of Dickson. Photo: James Day.

Who are you?

My name is Adam Shaikh Ali and I am the founder of Dum Dickson. I was born and raised in Kolkata before starting my culinary career in Bangalore. Over nine years, I worked at the five-star hotel, Le Méridien.

Service is very good and a lot cheaper in India because there are so many assistants in the kitchen. Everybody’s doing something: washing, cutting, cooking, boiling, and so on. When I began my time there as one of the many kitchen hands, the work was very difficult. My shifts were 10 or 11 hours at a time and I was paid 200 rupees a month.

After working up the chain of command, I decided to move to Singapore in 2001 for a better living. I was employed by the Mandarin Oriental, another expensive five-star hotel which was quite different to all the work I’d done before.

The restaurant was made up of sections, with each representing a different cuisine and one chef making it. During my five years there, I learnt how to make Thai, Tandoori, Mexican, South Indian, and desserts like Rasgulla Gulab Jamun.

My training was very rigorous. It took six months to go through my Tandoori education and four years to get curry right. The reason curry takes so long is because of the delicate timing involved, 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there, but if you miss the deadline, the whole dish has to be restarted. Thankfully, I’m a lot more experienced now and can fix the mistakes, but it was quite stressful before.

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What is your business?

It’s my own restaurant serving Mughlai cuisine dishes, which I’ve learnt to make throughout my career.

Dum means ‘power’ or ‘to keep food on slow fire’ in Hindi. It’s a style of cooking that comes from the Mughlai, who were Persian descendants that dominated the Indian subcontinent in medieval times.

When I first came to Canberra in December 2005, I began working as a chef at Bollywood Masala, which was the previous name of this place. Then I moved on to Chalisa in Tuggeranong and Hungry Buddha in Belconnen before returning to Dickson and buying the place from my old colleague.

Everybody’s on social media these days, but most of them make bad food. I’ve always said to focus on the food first, then advertise.

What dish best sums up what Dum Dickson does?

The Mughlai style leg of lamb, which has a sauce mix of cream and cashew nut. It’s not too spicy, but I’m happy to indulge those who ask for more.

From my experience, the water tastes different everywhere and changes your taste as a result. India has 26 different states and they all have their own cuisines, in part because of the variety in [water] taste.

While Indians who come to eat here ask for the dish’s full strength of spice, there are only two or three Australians I know who want it extra hot. Maybe they’ve had some water from home!

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What are your top 3 recipe tips?

Don’t stress, have fun. It’s always up and down in the kitchen. Sometimes, it’s chaos, then all of a sudden it stops.

Take your time. Many things are happening at the same time, but you must always do one thing at a time. I remember being alone in the kitchen one night and having 20 orders arrive over five minutes, three times in a row. That’s four orders a minute.

Mistakes happen, but you can’t make everyone happy if it goes bad. One order might be late, but the rest are in.

The corner of Cape and Challis street with Dum Dickson on the right, people walking along the footpath to the left.

Adam’s brought his incredible on-the-job training and coal-face experience to Dickson. Photo: Lodging World.

Dum Dickson is located on the corner of Challis and Cape streets in Dickson. They are open for dinner from 5 pm to 10 pm every day of the week, and lunch from 12 noon to 2 pm (except for Monday and Friday). Orders can be phoned through on 6257 7333.

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