My cooking career has been, in a word, eclectic. I started kitchen life in a modern British restaurant in London before globe-hopping back home to Sydney only to land in a French bistro. From there I had a brief moment in a less-than-traditional Japanese joint, after which I moved to China (or at least an outpost of China on Crown Street in Surry Hills).
There I stayed, gaining an appreciation of produce, provenance and the delights of cooking in a wok. From there I went one suburb over to a shiny new spot where I was given free rein. The only caveat: it had to be Italian. Happily, I complied, curing meats, making pasta and focusing on the seasons. Slowly, though, curry leaves crept in.
All this country criss-crossing has had an effect. I look at the similar threads in these cuisines and let that inform and inspire my cooking. When I begin building a dish or a menu, I start with a particular country's cuisine in mind. This, coupled with a particular ingredient or season, becomes the base to which I add other flavours.
Black braised brisket
The food of my Sri Lankan heritage is the anchor to the recipes here. The pipi dish, for instance, had its inspiration in a curry cooked for me on a coconut plantation. I added anchovies for sea-richness and speck for its hint of smoke and unexpected appeal with the creamy coconut milk. From here the ideas grew and suddenly we have a collection that brings to mind a Sri Lankan cooking in northern Italy in the autumn. Serve any of these dishes alone and you'll find flavour aplenty; together they're a banquet of complementary delights.
The seeni sambol on the eggs is a traditional Sri Lankan condiment yet also echoes the flavour of an Italian agrodolce. The clams are sauced with bay and curry leaves that work like a perfect marriage of two different cultures. The beef dish has a stronger, darker flavour, tangy with tamarind that, along with the spicy, sharp rhubarb pickle, cuts through the fattiness of brisket. The cabbage dish, flavourful yet understated, adds crunch. Then there's curd and kithul, for dessert - again, simple ingredients that come to a refreshing end.
The love cake is another story, a strictly traditional Sri Lankan recipe, by way of Portuguese rule, that gets better with time. Make it in advance, then, as you cook all these recipes for what I hope will be a perfect dinner party, you can eat it mid-afternoon with a cup of tea to give you the strength to carry on. These flavours and ideas are an amalgam of my experiences in the kitchen and at the table - I hope they become part of yours.
The Lankan Filling Station food stall is at Carriageworks Farmers Market on Saturdays; 245 Wilson St, Eveleigh, NSW, lankanfillingstation.com.au*
Recipes by O Tama Carey