At The Stag Public House, chef de partie Rashad Cassim is cooking Sri Lankan curries for the first time since joining the team almost a year ago. “I was cooking steaks, parmies – pub food [before],” Cassim tells Broadsheet. “I cook chicken curry quite often at home … I wanted to show how simple curries can be, but also how delicious they can be at the same time.”
He’ll be doing that every Friday night from now on, in collaboration with drink delivery service Big Easy Drinks.
Though Cassim has been eager to share Sri Lankan food with the people of Adelaide, he never imagined the opportunity would arise under such circumstances. With the hospitality industry hit hard, migrant workers such as Cassim (who moved to Australia from Sri Lanka in 2016) have been scrambling to find new ways to make ends meet. Unlike Australian residents, migrant workers don’t have access to Australia’s welfare system and can’t access Centrelink’s Jobseeker payment. They’re not eligible for the Jobkeeper subsidy either – a point of frustration for employers and employees alike. International workers across the spectrum have been affected: from those on student and working-holiday visas right through to those with sponsorships.
Cassim’s employer, Oliver Brown (owner of Big Easy Group venues Nola, Anchovy Bandit, Yiasou George and The Stag Public House), developed the curry night idea to make up for the lack of government support for one of his best workers.
“After all of the stimulus was announced, that allowed us to support a bunch of our staff,” Brown says. “I think we brought back about 14 of our staff through the [Jobkeeper] initiative. And then we realised, it didn’t cover some of our staff, like Rashad. It didn’t sit well with us.”
And so Rashad’s Sri Lankan Curry Night was born. Every week, Cassim cooks dishes he learned to make growing up Colombo: curries (both chicken and vegetarian); fried eggplant salad; yellow rice (infused with turmeric, pandan leaves and curry leaves); and Sri Lankan egg rolls (crumbed, deep-fried crepes filled with egg, potato, onion, cumin, chilli and curry leaves).
The success of the curry night could mean a world of difference to Cassim. “[Without it], it would mean that all the savings that I have would be used slowly. Eventually, without any support, I would have to leave Australia,” he says. (And he’s trying to help out his family in Sri Lanka, too.)
It’s going well so far: his food sold out last week, and if demand keeps up, Brown plans to hire more chefs in the same position to work alongside Cassim.
“I think, because it’s a smaller community [in Adelaide], everyone helps each other and supports each other really well,” says Cassim. “I was really happy that he [Brown] was able to come up with a plan to support me … to showcase my skills, and share my story."
Rashad Cassim’s Sri Lankan menu is available for pick-up or delivery from The Stag Public House on Fridays between 5pm and 8pm. Find out more and place your order here.