December 2014 | Indian Hotels

The king of the kitchen

Dhaithya Krawage talks about how his culinary journey through kitchens around the world has increased his passion for food and how it has led him to his current post as executive chef at the Taj Samudra, Colombo

Today I am a contented man. I have seen the world, cooked for some renowned celebrities and am the executive chef of the finest hotel in the country. Yet, none of this would have happened had my older sister, Eeshadhara, not encouraged me to consider taking up professional cooking as a career option.

Growing up, I used to watch my mother in the kitchen. She was my formative culinary influence. It was from her that I learned to cook meals and curry hoppers, and Sri Lankan specialities like kalu pol maluwa (roasted coconut with jackfruit seed), bibikkan (a cake made with palm sugar and cashew), the typical southern special tuna fish amul thiyal, sago pudding and thala guli (sesame seed and palm sugar balls). I still cherish those informal lessons she taught me.

Taking my sister’s advice, I joined the hospitality industry as a trainee in Ceylon Hotels Corporation. I worked there for almost three years, then took a break with the intention of bolstering my work experience with some professional education. I joined the Ceylon Hotel School, and completed basic cookery courses. I then joined Hotel Triton Ahungalla, the best resort in Sri Lanka, to complete my industrial training. It was at this time that a dream began to take firm root in my mind, the dream of one day becoming the best in my profession. In 1987, I joined the Hilton as an assistant steward. While doing the two-year, professional cookery diploma course, introduced by the Hilton in 1988, I studied under the tutelage of chef Neil Gow, the founder member of the Chef Guild, Sri Lanka. Chef Gow is the greatest culinary influence in my life. The other chefs who have guided me are chef Robert Wanko and chef Cheek Wong. All three chefs pushed me to learn the finer details of my job. They also encouraged me to participate in competitions, and not be afraid of pressure.

After completing my professional cookery diploma from the Ceylon Hotel School, I worked at the Taj Samudra Hotel, Colombo, as a sous chef in the fine dining restaurant, and then as a sous chef garde manager at the Forte Grand Abu Dhabi. The next stop on my career path was when I was offered the position of a private chef to Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer. This was decidedly a turning point in my life. It was here that I got an opportunity to cater to the taste buds of some of the world’s movers and shakers.

Later I returned, bursting with experience, to the Taj Samudra, where I worked as an executive sous chef. I then had the opportunity to work with one of the best and most respected chefs, chef Natarajan.

Working at different hotels, I learned the best of all cuisines and gained competency in working in nearly every section of a kitchen. I also gained the skills that serve me well today when I am faced with the challenge of running a large kitchen like this, namely, finding the right ingredients and people with the right attitude.

What drives me is the possibility of creating a dish that pleases the palate and looks aesthetically appealing. The satisfaction of guests continues to motivate me. While I generally follow the original recipe of a dish, I experiment with new ingredients to add a twist. I make sure that I do not compromise on the nutritive content of the food and its intrinsic value. I usually blend Sri Lankan spices into the food to create a fusion dish.

I am particularly partial to Japanese, Mexican and Mediterranean cuisines but for comfort food, I still crave my Sri Lankan rice and curry. Having traversed a highly interesting career path, I am very happy with where I am now. Today I count my stint with Mr Packer and the successful re-launching of the Taj Samudra as the highlights of my career.

In spite of being the boss at work, and having the privilege of directing others to cook their best, at home it is my wife who calls the shots. She insists on enjoying my cooking while she relaxes and has a great meal.