Chefs specialising in South Indian,Jain and Punjabi cuisines have become a hot favourite in Sri Lanka with the Indian tourists flocking the island nation wanting local cuisine besides islanders who have taken a fancy for the food.
From classy restaurants to large hotel chains and product development kitchens,those trained in Indian cuisine have a great career waiting for them.
“The reputation of a restaurant mainly depends on the quality of food and it is the chef who determines it to a large extent. Now that Indian cuisine has emerged a hot favourite in Sri Lanka,Indian chefs are also in demand”,Harinda Weerasinghe,Director (sales and marketing),Mount Lavina Hotel,one of the oldest heritage hotels in Sri lanka,said during a visit in Chennai.
“We require more Indian chefs to cater to the needs of only tourists,but also the local people”,he added.
Harinda said cooking is nowadays considered an art a craft that has given good chefs celebrity status. “Cooking these days has stepped out of the traditional kitchen and becoming a high-flying career”,he added.
An indicator that Indian chefs are now much in demand can be gauged from the fact that Indian chefs are now being paid about USD 1,500 a month in star hotels,up from 1,000 US dollars per month a few years back.
“Every year about five million tourists visit Sri Lanka. However,due to the ongoing strife between the Sri Lanka Army and LTTE,the tourist arrival percentage has decreased to about 20 per cent in 2008,compared to the previous year”,Weerasinghe added.
T M K Uduman,Chief chef in the Taj Samudra says that demand for chefs at high-end hotels and cooks in middle level hotels is at an all-time high. “Indians are not very adventurous when it comes to food. Even when they travel abroad,they still want Indian food”,he added.
He said there are plenty of options for those wanting Indian food from roadside shops selling ‘idlis and vadas’ to middle level restaurants and star hotels with exclusive Indian sections,offering ‘thalis’.
Uduman pointed out that good chefs command high salaries and were amongst the highest paid professionals in the hospitality industry.
“Most Indian chefs have a good knowledge of English to write and read menus. Besides they are also creative about new recipes and developing distinctive styles”,he said.
Asked whether Indian chefs were afraid to come to Sri Lanka due to the war,he said tourist arrivals might have declined to some extent,but the demand for Indian chefs was still high.
Umapathy,a regular visitor to Sri Lanka,said he prefers either South or North Indian dishes in the hotels. “I always prefer South Indian food whenever I visit Sri Lanka. Of course sometimes I try North Indian dishes too”,he says.
S C Theodore,a Tamil chef in Mount Lavina Hotel said that unlike most careers,which depend mostly on academic knowledge,being a chef requires one to use the senses of smell,taste and touch.
“Besides creativity,physical strength and a willingness to put up with minor problems like burns and cuts,cooks also need good human relation skills. Restaurant cooking is a team job,with many players necessary to fulfill customer needs”,he added.
Indian cuisine had made such an impact in this island nation that food festivals have become a regular feature in the country,which has many Indian restaurants,he said.