16 June 2023

Five minutes with Goutham Arya Thota, Sauce at Figtree

| Katrina Condie
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Goutham holding a chicken burger and smiling

The triple-fried Japanese burger is a “harmonious fusion of cuisines” and one of Goutham’s favourite dishes on his restaurant’s menu. Photos: Sauce at Figtree.

Who are you?

My name is Goutham Arya Thota, and I am the director and head chef at Sauce at Figtree. I was born in India and made my way to Australia in 2009 at the age of 21 to pursue a master’s degree in accounting at the University of Wollongong.

While studying, I worked as a dishy at Harbourfront, gaining valuable experience in the hospitality industry. It was during this time that I discovered my true passion lay in the culinary arts and serving others. My wife Nishita Koli opened Sauce in Figtree four years ago.

What is your business?

Sauce at Figtree is a modern Australian restaurant that offers a diverse range of culinary experiences and specialises in delicious brunch options. Our menu caters to a variety of tastes, featuring classics like eggs benedict and hamburgers, as well as unique dishes such as curry plates and Japanese chicken burgers.

We aim to capture the essence of modern-day Australia, a vibrant and multicultural country that embraces growth and diversity.

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What’s a dish that you make that best sums up your venue and why?

If I had to choose a dish that perfectly embodies our venue, it would be our triple-fried Japanese burger and Japanese loaded fries. These two menu staples truly capture the essence of who we are as a restaurant.

The burger combines the mouth-watering umami flavours of Japanese cuisine with the irresistible appeal of a fried chicken burger. It’s a harmonious fusion of cultures and tastes, creating a unique and memorable dining experience. Similarly, our Japanese loaded fries take the beloved Australian favourite of crispy fries and elevate them with Japanese-inspired toppings, adding an exciting twist to a familiar comfort food.

Favourite cuisine?

My favourite cuisine, without a doubt, is Indo-Chinese cuisine. It is a unique culinary creation, a fusion that even the Chinese themselves may not have heard of. However, I can guarantee you that it is a gift to the world from India. The magical combination of soy sauce and garam masala creates an unforgettable taste experience that is both comforting and exciting. Indo-Chinese cuisine exemplifies the beauty of culinary diversity and the harmonious union of different cultures through food.

An ingredient you can’t live without?

As a chef, one ingredient that I can’t live without is creativity. While I thoroughly enjoy exploring and experimenting with a vast array of ingredients, it’s the limitless possibilities and innovative combinations that truly excite me. The ability to imagine unique flavour profiles, unconventional pairings and unexpected techniques is what keeps my passion for cooking alive.

Who is your biggest culinary influence?

That would be Julian Cincotta hands down. Even though I only worked a few months with him, what I learnt in those few months still feeds my passion and paves the way for our success. And sometimes I also find myself asking “What would Gordon Ramsay Do?” I guess I love his no-nonsense approach to running a kitchen.

What’s inspiring you right now?

The potential to create something extraordinary and make a positive impact. However, if I’m being completely honest, my greatest inspiration comes from my amazing and beautiful wife. The challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have not only impacted our industry, but also taken a toll on my own spirit at times. It’s my wife’s unwavering dedication, hard work and belief in me that continually reignites my passion and motivates me to keep going.

Where do you dine out in the Illawarra for comfort food?

For a satisfying pub feed, Dandys in Dapto is a go-to spot. They serve up classic comfort dishes that hit the spot after a long day in the kitchen. When I’m craving delicious tacos, Ginga Tacos in Tarrwanna is the place to be.

Lastly, if you’re looking for something unique and underrated, I recommend checking out the food truck Foodiez in Fairy Meadow.

Where do you dine out for special occasions?

Il Nido pizzeria in Tarrawanna is a fantastic choice for a memorable dining experience. Their exquisite Italian cuisine and charming ambience make it a perfect spot for celebrating special occasions.

Bull n Bear, with its upscale setting and refined menu, provides an ideal setting for a special meal. For something unique and bursting with flavour, Balinese Spice Magic is not to be missed, and Ilu Ilu for their amazing cocktails and just amazing vibes.

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What’s your go-to coffee?

I have a special affinity for the offerings from Delano, a true master of coffee roasters located on Montague Street. It’s a full-circle experience for me, as they are the very same people who taught me how to make a good brew nearly 15 years ago.

Where would you take out-of-town visitors to show off the best of the Illawarra region?

Bald Hill Lookout in Stanwell Tops is the perfect spot to showcase the natural beauty of the region, with sweeping ocean vistas and the opportunity to witness hang gliders taking flight.

For a unique and culturally enriching experience, a visit to Nan Tien Temple and SVT in Helensburgh is a must and, to enjoy the coastal ambience and indulge in some local beverages, a stop at the Scarborough Hotel is highly recommended.

Who do you admire in the local food scene?

The Illawarra region’s local food scene is brimming with talent and promising developments, although there is still room for growth and improvement. One positive step forward is the council’s support for food vans, which opens up new culinary opportunities.

However, the Illawarra does face some limitations, such as parking issues in the CBD or the markets that bring in stall holders from other towns. The businesses that pay the rent and keep money within Illawarra should be looked after and given more preference.

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Where are you travelling to next?

We are eagerly looking forward to going back to India. Our marriage celebration has been long overdue, and we are excited to have a traditional Indian wedding surrounded by our loved ones. We have been yearning for a true Indian wedding experience.

Where are you excited to eat next?

Haha, that’s very easy, whatever my wife cooks because she is the best cook I ever came across, hence why I married her.

What are your top recipe tips?

I believe that there is no such thing as original; everything is an original imitation based on your own inherent knowledge you grew up with. Take the time to familiarise yourself with the steps involved and the techniques required. Knowing your ingredients well is also crucial in achieving the desired flavours and textures.

However, the true magic happens through practice and experimentation. Don’t be afraid to make a recipe multiple times, adding your own twists and adjustments along the way.

Follow Sauce at Figtree on Instagram and Facebook. It is located at 34 Princes Hwy, Figtree, 2525, and is open Monday to Saturday from 7 am to 3 pm.

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