TOWN OF ORIGIN
Visiting the temple
Savinda Dharmadasa is chef de cuisine at PappaRich in Sri Lanka. With his experience of working internationally, he hopes to broaden the PappaRich chain in Sri Lanka and introduce more authentic Malaysian food to the island at an affordable price.
– Compiled by Ashwini Vethakan
Q: As a chef, how does your day unfold?
A: I begin the day by checking the fridges, and organising the morning’s meat and vegetable orders. Then I compile a prep list and prioritise my tasks for the day. Once the situation is under control, I have a morning meeting with my team and delegate accordingly. While the team prepares for the day, I spend my time brainstorming and testing new recipes.
Q: What was your first dish?
A: It was a Katsudon at Nihonbashi. As an apprentice, I was only supposed to shadow the fry chef around and listen to every word he had to say. I wasn’t expected to do anything more because it was my first day in the kitchen at that point.
So I watched him all afternoon, repeatedly preparing Katsudons. Eventually, he took a break and asked me to inform another chef if an order came in. But since I’m a shy person, I was a little afraid to speak to anyone on my first day. So I went ahead, and cooked and plated the dish on my own!
With shaky hands, I took it and placed it in front of the head chef. He promptly yelled at the fry chef who was supposed to be mentoring me. Nevertheless, since it went well, I was allowed to work at the fry station in the first week at my very first job.
Q: Who inspired you to venture into the hospitality trade?
A: ‘Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly’ by Anthony Bourdain was what inspired me.
Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement as a chef?
A: By the age of 22, I was running the kitchen of a tapas bar called Long Room in Melbourne, which seated 240 people.
Long Room was a unique venue – it would open up for lunch as a bistro and carry on through the day till around 8 p.m., then slowly shed its skin and turn into tapas bar, and continue this way until 11 p.m. From then onwards, it would be a nightclub until dawn.
This created a high-pressure and fast-paced environment – so keeping my head above water changed me as a person. It was the most exhausting and exciting year of my life.
After experiencing the long shifts and never-ending rush of customers, life was easy once I left the restaurant to pursue my career because I wasn’t afraid to walk into a kitchen and start cooking.
Q: Who was your most challenging customer?
A: My mum. She was my first teacher and expected more, and pushed me harder than any formally trained chef has ever done. And she is still the hardest person to impress.
Q: What are the emerging trends in food and drink?
A: With COVID-19 causing havoc, I feel people have made their own dining table into a chef’s table. As more and more consumers are unwilling to dine out because of safety issues, they are opting to cook at home.
However, cooking at home too might be time-consuming with the new working from home (WFH) routines. Therefore, frozen foods or recipe boxes will win favour with Colombo society. I’ve started my own little business too by creating an easy to cook homemade frozen dumpling under the Instagram handle ‘Doh_Boii.’
Q: Your advice for the home cooks amongst us...
A: Be clean and methodical. Always keep it simple with the best ingredients and let them sing for you. But most of all, enjoy your time in the kitchen and showcase your personality on a plate.
Q: What are your favourite ingredients?
A: Garlic, fish sauce and galangal – because these few ingredients tend to uplift a dish and create that ‘wow factor’ while being in the shadows.
Q: Three favourite utensils that you can’t do without...
A: Fish spatula, a good chef’s knife and tongs.
Q: Any cooking tips or tricks for readers…?
A: Firstly, follow a recipe until it is second nature to you and you find it comfortable to play around with. Then feel free to start experimenting.
Q: Tell us about your future plans...
A: I want to work with PappaRich and educate the general public on Malaysian cuisine. We at PappaRich intend to expand in Sri Lanka, and hopefully reach a larger number of diners to introduce authentic Malaysian food to everyone at an affordable price.
Q: Your advice to aspiring chefs would be…
A: Skills can be learnt. So never rush; keep your head down, grind away and enjoy every moment.
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND WHIPPED GOAT CHEESE
500 ml-dry white wine
50 ml--olive oil
45 ml--fresh lemon juice
12g----crushed red pepper flakes
1 head-cauliflower (with leaves removed)
Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Bring the wine, oil, kosher salt, lemon juice, butter, red pepper flakes, sugar, bay leaf and eight cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the cauliflower, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally until a knife can be easily inserted into its centre.
Using two slotted spoons or a mesh spider, transfer the cauliflower to a rimmed baking sheet after draining it well. Roast and rotate the sheet halfway through for 30-40 minutes until the cauliflower is brown all over.
WHIPPED GOAT CHEESE
120g----fresh goat cheese
75 ml---heavy cream
3 tbsp--olive oil
Coarse--sea salt(for serving)
While the cauliflower is roasting, blend the goat cheese, cream cheese, feta, cream and two tablespoons of olive oil in a food processor until smooth, and season with sea salt. Transfer the whipped goat cheese to a serving bowl and drizzle it with oil.
Transfer the roasted cauliflower to a plate. Drizzle it with oil and sprinkle sea salt on it. Serve with the whipped goat cheese.