Beyond the boundaries of taste with Rachithri | Sunday Observer

Beyond the boundaries of taste with Rachithri

Rachithri Fernandopulle is a young and established Sri Lankan chef now going places in Australia. Having trained at top places in several countries she is now domiciled with her husband..... Who is also her barometre for the new dishes she creates. Cooking is in Rachithri’s genes – her father is well known Sri Lankan hotelier, restaurateur and chef, Rohan Fernandopulle.

Q:You are a food consultant with David Jones, Australia, a well reputed company. What does your work entail and how much of actual cookery do you do in the course of your daily work?

A. It is a job category that was started a few years back, due to the growing customer demand for convenience food. We live in a world where, as home cooks, people are continuously finding a way to reduce time spent in a kitchen. Everyone in Australia has to do a job, especially women, so for married women who have to go to work, look after kids and return home and cook, life is difficult. Due to this reason, there is continuous demand for ready to eat or ‘heat and eat’ products. My job is a mix between food science, cooking and marketing. What I have to do is look at market trends, understand trend patterns and develop food that is flavourful and also safe for consumers to eat. Previously, as a chef, it was food that was prepared on the day and customers consumed on the day. But now I need to use food science and to keep the product on the shelf for 10 days without losing its flavour and appearance.

My job doesn’t involve cooking on a daily basis. But I spend a lot of time in the kitchen experimenting with new flavours and flavour combinations. I also need to manage the whole process from concept development to launching a new product which also consists of designing, packaging, liaising with food stylists to capture product pictures to go on the packaging. I enjoy my current job I do a lot of work as there are different elements I have to manage.

Q: You have been employed in Australia for a while. Can you say something about your previous employment, for example, the type of work you did?

A: I was a chef before I became a Food consultant/ Product Developer for David Jones. From the age of 16, I used to work in the kitchen. I have worked in Europe, China, Sri Lanka and Australia as a ‘chef’. My last employment was at Shangri La, Sydney. I have worked in many 5 Star hotels and Michelin star restaurants around the world.

Q: Do you find the kind of work you do better than a chef’s job and if so why?

A: It is not a very simple question to answer. As a chef, I enjoyed what I did and I had a tremendous love and passion for cooking. What made me divert from this was the fact that when I arrived in Australia, hospitality was very different from what I experienced in Europe and Sri Lanka. Due to numerous reality food shows such as Master Chef, Australia, everyone in Australia was a chef. I had 7 years of training in the best restaurants and hotels to build a career as a chef, but due to these shows, in 6 months a home cook was able to be a chef and open up a restaurant. I always wanted to be different. And I had to ask myself, what differentiates me from the rest of the chefs and that got me thinking, as to what can I do using my culinary skills and that is where I came across Product Development. I enjoy what I do very much. Previously, I was only able to serve the food I cook, to a limited number of people, but now since David Jones is a country wide chain all Australians can enjoy and taste the food I develop.

Q; Is your cooking confined to your job or do you experiment and create beverages and dishes in your spare time?

A: My hobby is cooking. Every Saturday I would create new dishes and enjoy them with my husband. My husband is the guinea pig all the time. I also cook every day at home. So’ basically it is a full time job for me.

Q: What type of cooking do you enjoy most?

A: I love fusion cooking. I love combing European cooking with a bit of Lankan flair.

Q: Do you promote Sri Lankan food in Melbourne?

A; Sri Lankan food has been forecasted to become a trending cuisine in 2019. I am hoping to develop a few Sri Lankan dishes at David Jones in the near future and I have always promoted Sri Lankan food through my Cooking Channels as a chef.

Q: How popular is Sri Lanka food over there?

A: In Melbourne Sri Lankan food is somewhat more popular than in Europe, which is very exciting. For many years, Sri Lankan food has been under the radar and many people did not know what Sri Lankan food tastes like. It is very exciting to know that people now understand what Sri Lankan food is, especially with a lot of foreigners travelling to Sri Lanka and experiencing our cuisine.

Q: What attracted you to a Chef’s career?

A:My dad has been my inspiration and guiding light. From the day I was born, all I have seen is cooking and I was very fortunate to experience good food and different cuisines from a young age.

Q: Tell us about your early training and subsequent career development?

A: I did my O/Ls and with the 3 month break I had after it, I joined Win stone Hotel School and did hotel school work and my A/Ls at the same time. Just after I finished my A/L, I joined Hilton Colombo as a kitchen apprentice. Here, I trained under my dad which was the hardest part as he knew every mistake I did in the kitchen and he was always very strict with me.

I did not call him dad I had to call him ‘chef’ at work. It was not very easy to see him as the Head Chef for 10 hours and then see him as a father for the next 10 hours. At Hilton I was also fortunate enough to compete in the all island Best Apprentice Competition where I won the Best All Island Kitchen Apprentice of the Year Award. Then I applied to one of the best Hotel Schools in the world, the Paul Bocuse Institute, where I learnt everything about French cooking. I also trained under several Michelin star chefs.

Q: Where did you school and what were your subjects for the A/Ls?

A: I went to St.Bridgets convent and I did French, English literature and Business Studies for A/L. I also did my Bchelors Degree in Gastronomy and I have just completed my MBA.

Q: You are a young woman doing a very responsible job. How do you balance this and your personal life?

I love my job and work. But I have sacrificed a lot in my youth to be where I am today.

I moved away from my family at a very young age and missed so many important occasions in my life because of work. But now I have to come to the realisation that life is too short to sacrifice even more. I do have a strict policy of giving my 100% at work and when I am home I will enjoy what happens at home. Also I have a very understanding partner who will always support me

Q: What do you do for relaxation?

A: I cook or I shop for clothes, I am a shopaholic.

Q: What are the differences you perceive between the young Australians’ life styles and the lifestyles of Sri Lankan youth?

A: Australia is a country where you have got to work from a very young age either by doing a part time job or summer holiday work.

We were blessed enormously in Sri Lanka where we did not have to find money to go out with our friends or for pocket money, but young kids here, from a very young age, know the value of earning, which I respect a lot.

Although I did not have to earn money for my rent or pocket money at 13, I have been working my way up from the time I was 16 years old. Today, I have climbed up the ladder without anyone’s help and to be 28 years oldand where I am today, is due to parental guidance.

I am very thankful to my parents for pointing me towards the correct path. It has taken 12 years to get where I am today, but I still have time to enjoy my youth.

Q:What kind of clothes do you prefer?

I love very girly outfit’s, dresses and skirts. The main reason being when I was a chef all I was allowed to wear is the chef jacket and trousers. So I love to wear skirts and dresses outside of work.

Q: What are your favourite foods?

A: I love Japanese food

Q: What part does religion play in your life?

A: A huge part. I always believe if someone follows any religion, the world will be a better place. I am a Roman Catholic and my husband is a Buddhist.

I respect every religion.

Q: Who are your role models?

A: My dad is my biggest role model and my biggest critic in life.

Q.: What advice would you give to youngsters aspiring to be chefs?

A: Being a chef is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work to be a chef. There are only two types of chefs, a good chef and a bad chef. You write your own destiny.

I started my life as a chef, which opened so many doors for me because of the talents and knowledge I possess in the culinary field. As my dad said ‘the sky is the limit in this career path’ and I am proud I chose the correct path.

Q: How often do you visit Sri Lanka and what do you love to do when in Sri Lanka?

A: Every year, for Christmas I come home. All I love to do is eat my mum’s food. But I enjoy trying out all the new restaurants which have opened up in Sri Lanka.

Q: Finally, how do you see yourself and what are your future plans?

My dream is to open a restaurant in Australian with my dad. In the near future I hope to make it a reality.