In his debut book, former Firedoor chef Jimmy Callaway takes us on a mouth-watering journey into the abundantly inventive world of the sando – Japan’s unique take on the western sandwich. Exquisitely designed with a white and cobalt konbini-themed layout, and with colour photography on every page, its recipes span classics like the egg salad and pork katsu, to Callaway’s original sando spins featuring ingredients from mortadella, to tofu, to ice cream. No matter your level of kitchen expertise, Cult Sando is a perfect, delicious, easy-to-follow guide to opening up your dining horizons at home.
Not long after it hit the shelves, we spoke to Callaway about the book.
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What is your personal relationship with the sando? When did it begin, how did you fall in love with it, and what place does it occupy in your dining life currently?
My personal relationship is that Sando is my first paper child. It was a concept first brought to me by my publisher Mark Campbell and I was given a clean slate with free creative reign over the recipes and text. As a chef I’ve always had a keen interest in Japan, not only culturally but especially their interpretations of yōshoku (western foods). It’s so interesting to see how far they can take something as simple as white bread, crumbed pork and white cabbage and turn it into a fine art. Even having restaurants dedicated to just Sando. In my current dining life, Cult Sando has been a great vehicle for having some fun in the kitchen with friends and teaching them some skills. It also helps that it’s delicious!
This is your first cookbook – congrats! How did you find the process of putting it together?
When it comes to discovering a new food subject, I can find myself getting obsessive, so I found it quite cathartic to not only do the research but compile the information and find my own interpretations that represent my style of cooking and things that I find tasty. Overall, I found it exciting, challenging, and ready for another.
Your partner Ryan was your ‘official taste-tester’. Was there any recipe which was dropped from the pages (or heavily revised) on the basis of his reaction?
I did try a Panna Cotta and let’s just say it wasn’t the most elegant dining experience. Somebody wore Panna Cotta down their shirt and in their lap. You can imagine it doesn’t ‘cut’ too well. I like pushing the boat out though.
As you explain in the introduction, sandos are a unique food group in Japan known as yōshoku, or ‘western food’ with a Japanese twist. What are some other yōshoku foods you’re fond of?
Omurice, which is a Japanese version of a French omelette, on top of sweet and savoury chicken fried rice. Also, Meat Doria which is based off a French gratin, made of rice, mince and cheese. I love the Omurice for the technical aspect, where you have it lightly sealed on the outside and roll it onto the rice, cutting a line the omelette when you serve, revealing the inside texture. And the Doria, just for its simplicity.
Had you encountered all of the sandos featured in the book before writing it? If not, was there a sando which you’d never had before which you’re now a big fan of?
The first chapter of the classics are Sandos that you would typically see in Japan. The remaining recipes (apart from a select few) are original recipes. Even the Strawberries and Cream, which is a classic, I flavoured the cream with sake to add another element.
Are there any places in Sydney which make a particularly delicious sando that you would recommend?
Yes, my kitchen! Haha just joking, but Sandoitchi Café on Oxford Street is quite good.
Aside from being a sando cultist, you’re a highly experienced professional chef, having worked at prestige restaurants like Firedoor and traveled the globe as a scholar of food culture. How has your philosophy of food changed over the years?
As a young chef, you assume that perfection is achievable and something worth attaining – but you are never going to allow yourself to change course. That is something that you need to do though if you are going to open your mind to other foods and cultures. The way I see food now is that every day is a school day, and you can learn anything from anyone. Be it a ‘lifer’ chef who has worked in the top of their field or a Nonna who is cooking a regional dish that she has been making for 60 years, or an apprentice cooking staff meal. Everybody has something to say about food, and we should listen.
Describe to me the last sando you ate (when and where you had it, who made it, and what was in it).
The last Sando I had was a classic pork Katsu with Nama Panko (a recipe from the book), which I had yesterday and cooked for myself and my friend Elly followed by a very relaxed afternoon on the couch.
Q&A by Kate Prendergast
Cult Sando by Jimmy Callaway was published in March 2023 by Harper Collins. Find signed copies in store at Roaring Stories (whilst stocks last).