Mike Tafe is a delight to talk to. A veritable treasure trove of knowledge, the veteran Sydney-based chef has spent three decades in the food industry. Through the years he has been chef in well known hotels like the Regent in Sydney, Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt and the Beverley Wiltshire Hotel, Los Angeles. Now, he runs his own restaurant in Sydney, The Red Centre.
Tafe combines his passion for spices, travel and all things culinary as he conducts themed promotions to highlight the very best of Australian produce.
In his capacity as the Corporate Chef for Mulwarra Export, Australia’s leading supplier of premium Australian produce, Tafe has been conducting food promotions throughout South East Asia, North Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Talking about his role as Corporate Chef, he says, “My job is to highlight the quality aspects of Australian red meats, whilst introducing new and innovative ways of presenting dishes to guests.”
At the Hyatt Regency in New Delhi, Tafe is presenting an epicurean journey of Australian lamb at Café, La Piazza, The China Kitchen and TK'S Oriental Grill. He wants the discerning diners of the Capital to relish the versatility, taste and quality of Mulwarra lamb in a special menu he has crafted paired with Penfolds, Australia’s iconic wine brand.
Talking about Mulwarra lamb, he points out, “It is a natural prime lamb sourced from the southern Australian state of Victoria, from its pristine lamb regions where specialist growers are dedicated to their craft. It’s simply the best, most consistent and flavoursome lamb I have ever worked with.”
In his present culinary tour, he has planned about 10 different lamb creations. “Counting in the lamb dishes we have planned at different restaurants at each of the Hyatts, I’d say about 40 lamb focussed creations in total,” he tells. “Four cities. And 40 versions of lamb on a plate! wow,” he screams.
Some of his signature dishes of the menu are Tataki of lamb loin prepared with ginger and sesame. Barbecued Mulwarra lamb leg in Greek spice and basil tzatziki is a big hit. Mike’s top favourites are breaded Mulwarra lamb cutlet in Italian herb and braised Mulwarra lamb shank in root vegetable and savoury herb. He also recommends braised Mulwarra “Aussie bucco” lamb shank pie and seared Mulwarra lamb loin in black pepper sauce.
Mike began his career studying hotel and catering management coupled with an apprenticeship at Sydney's Pavilion on the Park Restaurant. Awarded Australian Apprentice Chef of the Year in 1981, Mike followed up with individual and NSW team gold medals at the World Culinary Championships in Osaka, Japan in 1983. Appointments to the Regent Sydney, The Regent Beverley Wiltshire Los Angeles and the Grand Hyatt on Collins followed with the launch the first of the Wood Fired Pizza restaurants in Australia and the Red Centre at Crows Nest in Sydney.
Tafe has always had a passion for cooking with herbs and spices, spice related travel and a fascination with the origins and trading of spices. That’s why India has a special place in his heart. He loves Indian spices and cooks Indian dishes back home regularly. “On my recent visit to Chennai, the chef at Hyatt Regency showed me the hottest chilli in the world, the ‘Naga Jolakia’, I was so excited to see that and want to take loads of it,” he says.
In preparing a great dish, Tafe stresses that “forethought” is fundamental. One of the great enjoyments of a successful dish is in appreciating the forethought that has gone into every step of its construction.
“Imagine you are preparing every dish for your girlfriend,” Tafe tells his team and adds, “Then you will prepare with love and affection. Who wants to cut a sorry figure in front of the girlfriend,” he laughs.
Though Tafe has cooked for many celebs in his career, but he does not consider them any special. “It is a big deal if my guest is a celeb because for me every guest is special and I would rather think of them as my girlfriends rather than celebs, then the result will surely be better,” he emphasizes his point with a smile.
There are three pillars in Tafe’s culinary philosophy—no compromise on quality; maintain good quality no matter what happens; and let each dish speak about its original flavour.
Fusion, not confusion
Tafe likes to play around a bit with his dishes but he doesn’t let his fusion act become a confusion one to ruin the final result. “I am very particular about retaining the original flavour and texture of the classic dish, though I sometimes present it in my own signature style,” he says with a smile.
Think local, natural
“Every chef should be conscious of the environment he is working in,” Tafe points out. “We need to work with locally sourced ingredients as it is good for producers and environment. However, to maintain quality and volumes we need to find the balance between sourcing fresh regional ingredients while also using the best of traditional suppliers.”
As a parting note, Tafe recalls how he became a chef. "No one in my family was enthusiastic about cooking great stuff and I sulked a lot as a kid. So from the age of 7, I took the plunge and rustled up some fantastic creations. With this lamb extravaganza at the age of 53, don’t you think my life comes a full circle?”.