Naze Nair occasionally bakes lamingtons for fellow Australians who find their way to her Kent fish-and-chips shop from such far-flung places as the Tri-Cities, but she's sure to have plenty of the iced sponge cakes available tomorrow in honor of Australia Day.
"I make meat pies, schnitzel sandwiches, potato scallops and banana fritters," Nair says of the annual celebration at Naze's Seafood. "It's Australia Day, so I'll be making more lamingtons."
On the advice of her brother, who runs a successful fish-and-chips joint in Bondi Beach, Nair five years ago opened her fish-and-chips counter. Although 2008 was a rotten year to break into the restaurant business, Nair says loyal customers hungry for Australian-style fried fish helped blunt the recession's force.
"If any Australians come and eat here, they say 'wow, this is what we're missing'," Nair says.
According to Nair, Australian fish and chips are distinguished primarily by freshness.
"Over here, people make food and put it under the heat lamp," Nair says. "Here, we have nothing cooked and sitting. Everything is cooked fresh."
Although Naze's offers a lengthy menu of fish for frying, Nair says Australian whiting is the traditional choice. "People here know about cod only," she says. "When we opened, people said 'this is something different'." The whiting is coated with a seasoning mix that Nair makes each morning according to a family recipe. But Nair says the real secret to perfecting fish and chips is oil control.
"The key is the temperature of the oil," she says. "You don't need to play with the oil. We seal in one oil and cook in another: We don't mix our French fries with the fish."
Alluding to the open kitchen arrangement at the small restaurant, she adds, "You can watch us."
Although Nair was born in Fiji, her parents relocated their family to Melbourne about 50 years ago. Nair moved to the Seattle area because her husband's family lives here, but her six brothers and two sisters are still in Australia. Before opening the restaurant, she returned home once a year, but says she's now overdue for a visit.
"We put chicken salt on fish and fries for Australians," Nair explains. "Americans don't like all these things, but talk to any Australian, they'll know chicken salt."
Since Nair hasn't found a chicken salt source in the U.S., she stocks up on the seasoning when she visits Australia. But it's been two years since her last trip.
"My supplies are getting low," she says with a laugh.