Hot Talent Award: Time Out Food Awards 2018

Playing with fire is all in a day’s work for this intelligent young chef
Ahana Dutt at Firedoor
Photograph: Anna Kucera
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Winner: Ahana Dutt, Firedoor

They say if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen, but it’s the heat that drew 25-year-old Ahana Dutt to Firedoor, and it’s the heat that has kept her there for the last two years, working her way swiftly up from the pastry section as a new graduate (the furthest point from the glowing maw of those famous ovens) to the pass. Head chef Lennox Hastie calls her the yin to his yang, and her cool under pressure is essential because in an open kitchen there’s nowhere to hide. “That’s where future chefs need to be going,” he says. He credits her balance of intelligence, passion and hard work as the driving force that has seen her rise to senior chef de partie. “Very rarely have I seen someone at a young age taking on responsibility like this, taking ownership of something, even if they don’t own it. It’s amazing to see.”

What makes Dutt one to watch is not just how far she has come in a short time, but how hard she had to fight to get here: in India as a young chef she was expected to serve the senior chefs tea. Now she’s an indispensable part of one of Sydney’s best kitchens, and she has her eyes on the famous Firedoor grills. “You don’t know how hot it gets when you first start, but you build your relationship with the equipment,”says Dutt. “Every day it’s new, because the fire is different every day. Lennox says, ‘the fire is not your friend, don’t trust it’ and it’s true. It’s so temperamental. Every day you have to change how you cook and it’s so addictive to get things perfect. It’s what makes life at Firedoor so exciting.”

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