Let’s break it down shall we? Interviews with Chefs are just awesome! – Well, for 2 reasons. One is that every chef has such an interesting story of how they rose to the position they are in currently. Two is that every chef has a different insider kitchen tip to share with you! In this series, I went up to the Nassima Royal hotel in Dubai to meet different chefs from different dining offerings of the hotel. One such chef is Chef Sanjeewa. Hailing from Sri Lanka, Chef Sanjeewa takes care of Celcius, the Executive Lounge as well as overseeing the entire dining operation of the hotel. Think of him as the right-hand for the Executive Chef of the hotel (or a Chef de Cuisine)
(A small disclaimer that I have changed the style of the interview a bit…do let me know what you think!)
Let’s get Talking…
It was quite lucky to pull out Chef Sanjeewa from the kitchen, considering that Saturday (25th March) Breakfast was unexpectedly busy – thanks to the storm! Cooking a buffet for a whopping 600 guests is definitely no easy task. Thankfully, I did manage to pull him out for a quick chat during lunch. With over 17 years of experience behind the stove, climbing up the ladder from a Commis to his current responsibility as a Chef de Cuisine, where he is currently responsible for overlooking various areas of the hotel’s dining outlets, he comes with a wealth of knowledge an experience. Majority of his experience being based in Sri Lanka itself, Chef Sanjeewa puts his heart and soul into food and what is delivered on the plate. Being driven by the environment of where he cooked, he tried to incorporate a bit of home into every dish he plates (unless it is strictly Continental). Of course, that being said, he loves the cultural diversity that Dubai has to offer. Having the opportunity to train many chefs from various trades, Chef Sanjeewa loves the idea of a challenge!
Gracefully embracing the idea of challenges being thrown at chefs with Dubai’s ever-changing food industry, he believes there is a constant need to stay updated and keep learning about the latest trends. Well, it is true that Dubai offers a much much varied Offering of Cuisines compared to Sri Lanka. However, he brings this (always staying updated) personality trait from his experience in Sri Lanka, thanks to the expanding tourism industry.
He goes on to explain that the Culinary ladder is an ever-growing line of career change from working in a single restaurant to overseeing multiple outlets. Well, personally, I did get a bit worried about how a Chef exercises his creative flair when he/she has to overlook multiple venues. However, Chef Sanjeewa did shrug this idea off by claiming that his did implement a lot of creative ideas, even at his position, in the form of à la carte, buffet, banquet as well as theme night menus. One of his biggest challenges was probably when he leaded a team to participate at the Gulf Food Competition, where they took home 19 medals. Honestly, and I can say this from experience, cooking a beautiful dish by yourself is easy, but teaching people to replicate it is something very difficult. (And I’m quite sure all the chefs who taught me at ICCA would be cursing me for this).
Questions that every Chef is asked…
Chef Sanjeewa entered the Culinary Industry with extreme dedication and hard work. The first seed was planted while watching a famous Chef cooking on TV. He goes on to explain that his passion for cooking was fueled when he selected a home science course in school. He also believes that his enthusiasm in the art, led him to where he is right now.
Working in a kitchen for long hours (time, in simple words) was not at all a problem. Taking a positive mind, with constant dedication and passion towards the art, he made up his mind with a clear target on the horizon.
As for the hypothetical situation (Confused? Well, I basically ask the Chef what he would eat/cook if hypothetically it was his last day on Earth) dish, he picked a Salmon Risotto (oh I could sure use some right now!). Well its hard to label Italian Food as “Favorite”, but it definitely is one among the most liked cuisines in the world. A simple piece of Grilled Salmon, on top of a truffle infused Risotto is something he would definitely enjoy!
What about a Specialty?…
Chef Sanjeewa took the time off and cooked us a beautiful Duck Confit with Seared Foie Gras Terrine and a Salmon Gravalax flavored with Beetroot. (I do apologize that I didn’t taste it, but it definitely look more than just appetizing!). Yes, I know you might be thinking that there’s a lot of Protein on a single plate and perhaps the pairing of Duck with Salmon may seem a bit off. However, he does go on to explain that this can be thought of as a “Fine Dining” version of a Surf `n Turf dish!