Tom Zahir, the Big Dog of Hot Dogs

Tom Zahir is the chef behind Decatur, a pop-up that's been bringing Louisiana flavours to London foodies since 2014. He brought the heat to the Double Standard Garden BBQ back in August, as part of our chef summer series. 

Launching December 2023 and extending through January 2024, Tom developed Sausage Fest in partnership with The Standard, London and Two Tribes serving up hot weiners and cold beers to Double Standard eaters — introducing the Andouille Campfire Dog and the Vegan Muffaletta Dog both spicy and smoky to keep you warm during these chilly, dark months. 

We sat down with Tom and chatted multicultural comparisons between London and New Orleans' cuisine scenes, heavy metal glory days and personified sausages. 

Read the interview below...
What's the backstory of Decatur? What is it and where did it get its name?
A very long story begins with me playing drums in punk bands throughout my teens & early twenties. I wound up on tour with a band, Thou, from Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana - and through those connections (including my best friend marrying someone from New Orleans) my affinity for New Orleans and Louisiana grew. After moving to Brooklyn for a job in the early 2010s, I wound up spending all my spare time in the South, visiting friends, traveling, eating and seeing heavy bands! At this time I was also transitioning into a career in the kitchen through stage shifts at restaurants in NYC. When I returned to the UK in 2013, the move to cook Southern food from there felt like a natural thing - there was a lack of Southern food in London, and what there was didn't feel like a good representation of what I'd been lucky enough to have been eating in New Orleans and the American South. The name Decatur comes from a Street that runs through the French Quarter in New Orleans, adjacent to the Mississippi.

New Orleans has a unique and multicultural culinary landscape, in what ways is it different and similar to London?
I think New Orleans and the region, in general, is unique in its multiculturalism, and that has found its way into the cuisine. New Orleans was a main port during the trade of slaves - so West African, Indian, Native American and European cultures all found themselves where the Mississippi met the Gulf of Mexico. The regional identity of New Orleans, specifically, is one of Creole culture - which in itself is the confluence of multiple cultures and races not only coexisting but thriving and creating an entirely new identity. This plays out through food, which literally traveled across oceans; in seeds kept in pockets of those forcibly removed from their homes, knowledge of farming practices, recipes and culture around food. If you pull at the strings of any recipe from New Orleans you can uncover hundreds of years of history - in everything from Gumbo (translated from the West African dialect word for Okra - Gombo) - to King Cakes (Rosco de Reyes from Spanish, Catholic countries and Galette de Rois from France) to Courtbouillon (a kind of New Orleans version of the classic french strew Bouillabaisse). The history is rich and deep and important and I love being a custodian and respecting that, but the root of the cuisine is with the multiculturalism that is woven in the very fabric of the city. 

I think the big difference (and I say this as a mixed-race kid) is that New Orleans learned to embrace multiculturalism, and let it become a part of what makes it brilliant, but I think the UK still struggles with the idea of integration. Historically, we didn't so much as assimilate cuisine and culture in the UK, as much as plunder and even when that happened, it was met with skepticism. That being said, in 2024, the UK is much more willing to embrace new cuisines, and you can find so many different unique diasporas and their restaurants in this enormous city. New Orleans, while also being a much smaller metropolis, can also be very traditional and slow to move with modern trends and embrace different cuisines. People are so proud of their culture and fight to preserve it, even if that is at the behest of change, and I absolutely respect that. It's an interesting duality of the city and one of many hundreds of reasons that keeps me returning, to learn, eat and cook.
For those who love to travel through food, how does Decatur offer a culinary journey that allows diners to experience the essence of both Louisiana and London on one plate?
All I've ever tried to do with Decatur is cook food that someone from Louisiana, or someone who has an affinity for the region, would recognise and think was a pretty damn good version of what you would find in the city. Obviously, being so far from the Gulf, we use British ingredients, and I love showcasing our incredible array of shellfish and other ingredients through techniques and recipes that are directly influenced by Louisiana. I would hope that as a non-native Southerner, eating Decatur's food is as close as you might get to eating at a New Orleans restaurant here in London - you know we put that love into every dish! 

In your culinary travels, what similarities have you noticed between London's dining culture and other global cities?
I think we're doing pretty damn good, actually - there is truly a restaurant for every moment in this city - and as a city we're starting to learn what really good food is all about. I guess we still have some distance to make up on a city like Paris, when it comes to our relationship with eating and food, which is so ingrained in the culture of being a Parisian, but we do damn well when it comes to the variety of exceptional quality cuisine across the city. The thing I find really wonderful about London is that so many cultures exist shoulder to shoulder with others, and there are pockets of community all across the city, whether that's South Asian in Forest Gate or Middle Eastern in Park Royal. I'm so excited at the second and third-generation diaspora restaurants opening in London which take influence from what their parents might've done - Singburi, Mangal 2, Donia, Ling Lings too - I think this evolution of cuisines and restaurant culture is something all big cities are starting to really see the benefit of in their culinary scenes.

The collaboration with Two Tribes beer adds an interesting dimension to the Decatur experience. How do you think this partnership enhances the overall dining atmosphere and the flavours on the menu?
We love Two Tribes and know Justin Hutton, one of the head honchos there really well. He loves New Orleans and we've spent many an event together talking about the city, so it was great to have a chance to work with them and use some of their beer to cook with for this collab! Their beers are so complex so it almost feels like cheating to add something with so much inherent flavour to a dish - to really ramp up the complexity with all those beautiful bitter and fruity notes. From a brand perspective, working with a brewery that has such a passion for music and art suits us, as a business with New Orleans at it's core, down to a tee.
Hit the town! Favourite spots in London for…
A classically British feast: Quality Chop House.
All-night dance parties: Damage is Done festival.
A bit of nature: High Beech, Epping Forest.
Shopping: Home Goods & Cookware - Kitchen Provisions. Books - Pages of Hackney. Clothing - Drake's, Savile Row.
An afternoon of culture: The Sir John Soane Museum.
Under £15 meal: Neco Tantuni in Enfield, Kofteci Mecin on Green Lanes or Mona Food in East Ham.
Splurge date night meal: Brawn, and no holding back on the wines.


Shag, Marry, Kill:
Pork, Beef, Prawns: Shag Pork (sorry mum), Marry Shrimp, Kill Beef.

If the Andouille Campfire dog were personified what would be their…
Occupation? Bass Tech on a metal tour
Most worn item of clothing? Battle Jacket with crusty DOOM and GAUZE patches.
Favourite genre of music? D-Beat
Celebrity crush? Sakevi Yokoyama

If the Vegan Muffuletta dog were personified what would be their…
Occupation? Italian Deli Meat purveyor
Most worn item of clothing? A cornicello necklace over a white vest
Favourite genre of music? This song
Celebrity crush? Adriana La Cerva


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