An interview with the first Sri Lankan Chef in Bangladesh – PART I
It’s a warm summer morning. Here I am having a conversation with the first Sri Lankan chef in Bangladesh. His name; Chef Rajeeva Mendis. The Chef chose to study hotel management because he thought he didn’t have to study a lot and it’d be a piece of cake for him. Chef chuckles and says; “well let me tell you it wasn’t a piece of cake, it was a lot harder because I was baking the cake”.
He graduated from Ceylon Hotel School and School of Tourism in 1992, specializing in Professional Cookery and his first job was at Palm Beach Hotel in Sri Lanka as a Commis cook. From there he got the opportunity to work with a lot of great hotels and resorts.
After being asked about his frequent job change chef says, he found it hard to stick to one place for a long time. Hence he shifted jobs quite frequently initially in his career. Chef adds; “I don’t know if this trait is a blessing or a curse but I got to travel a lot for this trait of mine”. He has working experience in Dubai, Cyprus and Bangladesh alongside Sri Lanka.
Being a chef has its own privileges the chef says; “I had the opportunity to learn authentic French cuisines from Dubai, where I worked under a French supervisor. I also worked in Cyprus and travelled to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore for different culinary events representing Sri Lankan cuisine”. Safe to say he got the first hand learning experience of different cuisines of different countries.
He also got the opportunity to work as an Executive chef for Sri Lanka Vs Australia, India Vs Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka Vs South Africa cricket matches. Throughout his career, he has been fortunate enough to work with many inspirational chefs and got to meet many celebrities too! He adds; “my all-time favorite chef has to be Gordon Ramsay, I admire his talent and I love how witty he is”.
For a person who has never stayed put in one place for long stints of time; the only place where he could stay for a long time was in Royal Park Residence Hotel, Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has been working at the Hotel for about 10 years now. Currently, he is the Resident manager and the Executive chef of the hotel. The chef thinks the reason he managed to work here for the longest period is because of the similarities of Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan culture and hospitality and the respect that he gets here. Also, most of the ingredients of Sri Lankan cuisine are available here. However, he couldn’t find a few unique ingredients like Goraka (A fruit used in Fish Ambulthiyal), King coconut and a few spices. Thus he says; “whenever I visit Sri Lanka I bring these ingredients with me as Royal Park wants to bring the authentic Sri Lankan flavors here in Bangladesh”.
Sri Lankan food habit is very similar to Bengali food habit chef says, the only difference that stands is the cooking procedure. Most of the Sri Lankan recipes are prepared using water. It is known as the cold method of cooking back in Sri Lanka. The other method, the hot method, is where they cook food in vegetable oil which is the most favored way of cooking on this part of the continent. Also, another difference is the use of spices. Majority of Sri Lankan dishes include spices, such as; curry powder, curry leaves etc. Another unique aspect of Sri Lankan cuisine would be the use of coconut & coconut milk in the dishes.