Dimitri Rosli is a 23-year-old student making his way through a Law degree at a university in Britain. He confesses that while time tends to move annoyingly slowly when he’s cracking open his textbooks, the reverse is true when he’s whipping up delicious concoctions in his kitchen.
“I find it hard trying to settle down for half an hour reading Law books and journals and articles – but leave me in the kitchen all day filleting fish or making pasta, and it’ll feel like time just flew by. It’s not just the kitchen that I feel a connection to, but also the produce,” he says.
Dimitri is a passionate home cook. He grew up watching his mother and grandmother in the kitchen, but was generally on the sidelines as an enthusiastic observer. That changed when he was at college and he had to raise money for a humanitarian trip.
Dimitri and a friend set up a stall selling spaghetti aglio olio and it did pretty well. After that, there was a night when he decided to make the dish again. And that was the night that turned an interest into a passion.
“For some reason, something was triggered that night. I went through cookbooks the rest of the night, just to find similar recipes to compare, and also other simple recipes that I could replicate.
“I started experimenting with other pasta dishes, and cooking for the family from time to time. The thing about me is, I always try to be a perfectionist in every little thing I do – and I apply that to cooking,” he says.
This perfectionist streak often resulted in Dimitri doing what others said he couldn’t. Like mastering souffles, which are often temperamental and have a high failure rate.
“The only reason I decided to try that was because someone told me it was hard and that I couldn’t do it. I messed up royally the first time but after the first trial, it just got better and better. Souffle-making is now one of my favourite things to do – the possibilities with flavour combinations are unlimited, not to mention the joy of watching them rise,” he says.
Dimitri documents his many, many tried-and-tested creations on his Instagram account Dimitri0608, where his love of cooking is palpable, even as a student with little time to spare. Over the years, he has developed a fondness for cooking Italian-influenced food and has become adept at churning out fresh pastas.
“I cook predominantly Italian, because it’s my favourite cuisine. I love cooking things that give me a challenge – things that people tell me are too hard for a simple home cook to do, that you’d only be able to get a good dish of that kind at a “proper” restaurant.
“That’s how I got into making fresh pasta. I could be in the kitchen rolling and cutting pasta all day – which I have done on many occasions!” he says.
His love of cooking even extends to shopping for his favourite produce at markets or driving to seaside towns like Sekinchan – just to get a single fish!
“My mum goes to the market at 7am … I go at 4am. Because I know that’s when I get the freshest produce (fish especially) and I have the opportunity to stroll the markets and have my pick, while avoiding the hustle and bustle that comes a few hours later.
“I do admit, this has caused me to become somewhat of a social outcast among my friends, as I’ve turned down so many invitations to hang or to party, and picked having a market day or a kitchen day instead,” he says.
Dimitri relates a funny incident when he was stopped by the police at 3am, while on his way to buy fish at NSK supermarket (the workers there told him that was the best time to go).
“The officer asked what I was doing at such an hour and when I told him I was going to buy fish, he pulled me over, thinking I was crazy or drunk. He let me go after, of course, when he saw the ice cooler in my car boot for the fish!” he says.
Ultimately though, Dimitri says cooking creates a sanctuary for him. It is his way of releasing stress and finding some peace.
“I find the most peace in the kitchen. There’s a certain type of calm there that is like no other, even in situations some might call ‘hectic’. What started out as a hobby has now turned into a great passion,” he says.
Serves 4 as an entrée or 2 as a main
1 cup basil leaves
a handful parsley leaves
a handful coriander leaves
1 clove garlic
30g parmesan cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2 x 250g salmon fillets
olive oil, for oiling salmon and baking
Preheat oven to 130°C.
In a food processor, combine breadcrumbs, herbs, garlic, cheese and olive oil. Process until well-combined and the crumb mixture is green. Be careful not to overdo it. You don’t want a sandy texture, you’re looking for rough crumbs. Once done, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Oil the salmon lightly before putting it into a dish, skin side down. Sprinkle with the crumb mix, until the fish is fully covered. Drizzle over a little more olive oil and place in the oven for 10 minutes.
Remove the salmon and crank the oven up to the highest heat, set to grill. Place the salmon directly under the grill, until the breadcrumbs start to crisp up but not burn. This should take no more than a minute or so.
Remove from the oven and serve while the crust is still sizzling.
800ml vegetable stock
2 banana shallots, chopped finely
1/2 stalk celery, chopped finely
1 star anise
2 green cardamom pods
200g Arborio rice
1/2 glass white wine (optional)
3 medium-sized beetroot, roasted at 150°C for 2 hours, then peeled and chopped into 1cm cubes
a handful of beetroot leaves, roughly chopped
15g blue cheese, roughly broken up into chunks
30g parmesan cheese, finely grated
a handful parsley leaves, finely chopped
Preheat your stock on the stove and leave it to simmer gently on the lowest heat possible.
Over medium heat, in a large flat-bottomed pan, add half the butter and gently sweat the shallots and celery, along with the spices for a good 5 to 7 minutes until the vegetables are translucent and the spices fragrant. Then add the rice to the pan. Cook, stirring, for about a minute, until the rice has absorbed the base flavours.
Once the rice is toasted, add the wine if using, and give it a stir to allow the rice to absorb it. Add a ladleful of stock into the pan, give the rice a stir and leave it to absorb the stock. When it is almost absorbed, add another ladleful of stock, but this time continue to stir gently, to release the starch in the rice. This is what makes the risotto creamy. Repeat until almost all the stock in the pan has been absorbed, before adding another ladleful of stock into the pan.
Continue ladling stock and stirring for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the risotto is almost al dente. Add in the chopped beetroot and then continue ladling stock and stirring for another 3 to 5 minutes.
Once the beetroot bleeds into the risotto, the colour will turn a shiny pink or purple. When the risotto has completely changed in colour, add in the beetroot leaves. Continue to stir and add stock for another 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove the risotto from the heat and add the remaining butter into the middle of the pan and sprinkle the grated cheeses over the risotto (don’t season risotto yet, as the cheese is salty). Cover with a lid and leave for about 3 minutes. This allows the risotto to rest, and the cheese and butter to melt. After 3 minutes, remove the lid, sprinkle parsley and taste to see if risotto needs salt or extra cheese. Give the risotto a final stir before serving.
CHAI MASALA SOUFFLÉ
35ml double cream
35ml single cream
1 cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods
1/4 nutmeg, grated
1 orange, zested
1/2 lemon, zested
1 vanilla pod
1 black teabag
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp flour
5 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch
3 egg whites
butter and sugar, for lining ramekins
icing sugar and cinnamon powder, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 175°C.
Gently heat the milk, creams, spices, fruit zest, vanilla and teabag over medium low heat in a pot, until the mixture starts to bubble – do not let it boil. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool completely, and the flavours to infuse, for about 30 minutes. Strain the mixture and return it to the pot. Gently heat again, but do not bring to a boil.
In the meantime, add the egg yolks, flour and 2 tablespoons of sugar into a bowl and whisk until the mixture is thick and pale.
Once the milk mix has almost reached a boil, pour a little of it into the egg mix and whisk it in until smooth.
Pour the remaining milk mixture into the bowl of eggs and sugar and whisk until fully combined. Then pour everything back into the pot and whisk gently over medium low heat, until the mixture starts to thicken. You’ll know it’s done when the mix starts to dribble down from the whisk. Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl and leave it in the fridge to cool. This is your pastry cream.
In another bowl (you can do this in a mixer if you like), add the egg whites and whisk till foamy. Then gently add in the remaining sugar, a teaspoon at a time. Whisk until you have semi-stiff peaks.
Take the pastry cream out of the fridge and mix 1/3 of the egg white mixture into it, until smooth. Gently fold in the rest of the egg white mix, 1/3 at a time. Do not get rid of the air in the egg white mixture.
Butter two ramekins and then sprinkle the insides with sugar. Divide the soufflé mix between the ramekins, and run your fingers around the edges of the ramekins to create a ridge. This will give your soufflé a better chance of rising up straight. Place the filled ramekins on a baking tray and then transfer them to the oven and allow to bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove the soufflés and sprinkle them with some icing sugar and cinnamon powder before serving.