Currying Russian flavour
Solis head chef gets creative with the traditional tastes of Sri Lanka...
Russia and Sri Lanka don’t have too much in common. With the former’s Siberian territory famous for freezing temperatures and extreme winters it’s very different to the green and lush island known as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.
The traditional cuisine of each country is, unsurprisingly, not too similar either.
Anyone thinking of preparing Russian food might come up with a menu including Borscht - a tasty beetroot soup, blini - a thin pancake and pirozhki - small stuffed buns. The tastes are a million miles away from the fragrant curries of Sri Lanka.
So they would not be obvious plate mates, you might think. But Sri Lankan chef Wasantha Siriwardana has been trying to cross the cultural divide with a menu inspired by Russian and Sri Lankan cuisine.
Chef Wasantha has been working closely with some of the regular Russian clients at the Solis Beach Club on Palm Jumeirah to come up with a unique dining experience - and has found the challenge fascinating.
He says: “With Russia sharing borders with a number of countries, like Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and others, there are many traits but I think they have influenced the world with their cuisine by keeping it simple. Sri Lankan cuisine is fascinating but not complicated to prepare. Most say it is spicy but it is not.”
Chef Wasantha believes an inquisitive nature is essential for anyone interested in learning about food and that has driven him on his latest fusion quest. Sri Lankan cuisine was an obvious choice for him as he got his first taste of cooking from his mother.
His favourite recipes are Ambul Thiyal - a fish curry - or the Devilled Chicken and Khottu Rotti.
After finding that he was not only talented but enjoyed getting creative in the kitchen, chef Wasantha progressed from home-made tips to a three-year Sri Lankan apprenticeship.
From that background he got a job in the Colombo Hilton, before moving on to the Maldives Hilton, where he moved up the ranks.
Here in Dubai, he worked at the Jumeirah Hilton as well as the Dubai World Trade Centre before becoming head chef at Solis.
Throughout his career he has never lost his passion, or curiosity, for cooking - he says he was forever asking the chefs at the Colombo Hilton for their advice and opinions. His creations are a source of joy for him and when asked to pick out his favourite dishes on the Solis menu, he says: “I like all my dishes, as they all were selected items as per guest suggestion and some of them of my choice too.
“If I really had to choose, then I would say a pan-seared, pot-roasted duck breast served on roasted garlic potatoes with red cabbage marmalade.
“The reason it is special is because I have used authentic ingredients and a dash of my own spices to make it exquisite.”
So what menus might chef Wasantha went to explore in the future?
“I have always been challenged and fascinated by the far eastern cuisine. I find it different and full of flavours - it really does reflect the rich culture of the lands.”
Chef Wasantha’s Pan-Seared, Pot-Roasted Duck Breast
250g duck breast, 200g red cabbage, 150g potato, 50g bilberry, 300g jus, 300ml orange juice, 200g honey, 10g salt, 15g pepper, 20g garlic, 100ml olive oil, 50g butter, 100g sugar, 50g redcurrant jelly, 25ml balsamic vinegar
To make red cabbage marmalade:
Put chopped red cabbage, sugar, orange juice, vinegar, honey and redcurrant jelly in a stove-top casserole dish or heavy iron sauce pan. Bring to boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes. Let it stand to cool then refrigerate.
Pan-fried roasted duck: Rinse the duck breast halves and pat dry. Rub the remaining spice blend, vegetable oil and butter onto both sides of the breasts. Place in a pan - skin and fat side down. Do not move until the skin is deep brown - should take about five minutes.
Turn the breasts and cook until the internal temperature of the thickest part is well done. Remover the duck from the pan and place on a plate, cover with foil for five minutes. While the duck is resting, place the skillet onto a burner over medium heat to warm through. Slice each duck breast diagonally into half-inch strips.
Divide among four plates and drizzle each serving with half tablespoon of aged balsamic vinegar. Arrange the sliced duck and ladle blueberry sauce. Serve with red cabbage marmalade.