Chef’s spice of life

Cook­ing ex­pert Peter Ku­ru­vita shares love of food and fam­ily

Central Telegraph - - READ - BY Letea Ca­van­der

Tele­vi­sion chef Peter Ku­ru­vita’s first me­mory of food was the smell of diesel mixed with curry and rice. “I was born in Eng­land so when we lived there my dad was an en­gi­neer. He had his own work­shop where he used to tin­ker on cars,” he said.

Ku­ru­vita’s fa­ther would fin­ish in the work­shop and then come in to eat. “You eat rice and curry with your fin­gers,” he said. “One of the first mem­o­ries I have of food is Dad com­ing home, wash­ing his hands and then he used to feed me with his fin­gers. But I could still smell the diesel.

“It was such a warm, touch­ing mo­ment – mixed with a lit­tle bit of diesel.”

Ku­ru­vita was born in 1963. His Sri Lankan fa­ther and Aus­trian-born mother moved their fam­ily to Sri Lanka when Ku­ru­vita was a young boy.

It was in his an­ces­tral home, which is now 370 years old, in the Sri Lankan cul­tural cap­i­tal of Colombo that Ku­ru­vita be­gan to learn more about spices and fresh pro­duce.

Dur­ing the chef’s child­hood, the kitchen was the cen­tre of the home.

“That whole cul­ture, ev­ery­thing sur­rounded the kitchen. Ev­ery­one grav­i­tated to­wards the kitchen,” Ku­ru­vita said.

“The men would come in and in­struct the women how to cook and the women would kick them out. It was the whole heart­beat of the house.” He said his par­ents were also pas­sion­ate cooks. “Foodie – that word didn’t ex­ist. But in Sri Lanka, and even Aus­tria where Mum came from, their gen­er­a­tion were cooks,” Ku­ru­vita said.

“They cooked with pas­sion and they had time to cook, even though a war got in the way. But food was a re­ally big part of ev­ery­day life.

“That re­ally af­fected my­self and a lot of peo­ple from my gen­er­a­tion be­cause food was some­thing that you could still spend time with. The world wasn’t as fast.”

The chef’s pas­sion for food has taken him across the world dur­ing more than three decades in the in­dus­try.

Ku­ru­vita, now 53, be­gan his cook­ing ca­reer in Syd­ney. He even­tu­ally opened Syd­ney’s Fly­ing Fish Restaurant and Bar in 2004 and led the kitchen team as ex­ec­u­tive chef for eight years.

In 2008 Ku­ru­vita repli­cated this model at Fly­ing Fish at Sher­a­ton Fiji Re­sort and, in 2014, he opened Fly­ing Fish Toko­riki on Toko­riki Is­land, also in Fiji.

Back in Syd­ney, with wife Karen, he had been rais­ing his sons, Jai, 17, Mar­ley, 16, and Taj, 11, but the co­ag­u­la­tion of peo­ple and fast pace in the city was caus­ing an un­der­ly­ing stress to the fam­ily. “It was good while I had the restaurant there,” he said. “But it’s also quite stress­ful on the fam­ily when I travel. The free­doms weren’t there, the traf­fic was worse. Karen was in the car for two-and-a-half hours a day.

“All of that cre­ated ten­sion. When I was trav­el­ling, I al­ways dreaded call­ing home be­cause you’d have to hold the phone away from your ear and lis­ten to some­one un­load all their frus­tra­tions.”

The chef was look­ing for a sim­pler life­style for him­self and his loved ones and even­tu­ally found it in Noosa, on the Sun­shine Coast. In 2013 Ku­ru­vita brought his culi­nary skills to the Noosa Beach House.

“Now I strug­gle to get them (the fam­ily) on the phone. They’re al­ways out surf­ing. It’s made a big dif­fer­ence to the dy­nam­ics of the fam­ily and that’s been a great thing for us,” he said.

As the chef ex­panded his restaurant trade, the bright lights of tele­vi­sion also beck­oned. Ku­ru­vita’s first se­ries, My Sri Lanka with Peter Ku­ru­vita, earned him an Aus­tralian Lo­gies 2012 Award in the Best New Male Tal­ent cat­e­gory.

In 2012 Ku­ru­vita’s next se­ries, Is­land Feast with Peter Ku­ru­vita, com­bined beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tions with cui­sine in In­done­sia, Van­u­atu, the Philip­pines and Cook Is­lands.

The chef’s third 10-part se­ries, Mex­i­can Fi­esta, meant Ku­ru­vita trav­elled through Mex­ico and, the lat­est se­ries to air on tele­vi­sion, Coastal Kitchen, fo­cused on the Sun­shine Coast.

The chef last month re­turned from a trip to Iran in his role as am­bas­sador for Dilmah tea. He helped set up a tea house in the cap­i­tal of Tehran and he learnt more dishes to add to his reper­toire and po­ten­tially his menus.

He said his boys had watched him cook and cut pro­duce their whole lives and they now grav­i­tate to the big is­land kitchen bench, in their Noosa home, to learn of the recipes Ku­ru­vita has picked up dur­ing his trav­els.

He said it was dif­fi­cult be­ing away from home. Dur­ing the lat­est trip, he missed his son’s 16th birth­day and his 22nd wed­ding an­niver­sary.

“The thing about trav­el­ling is that I get to see up to 20 dif­fer­ent kitchens a year. And that gives me the in­spi­ra­tion to bring it back to Noosa and keep it fresh,” Ku­ru­vita said.

The chef’s favourite mem­o­ries of food range from a fine-din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in France to eat­ing crab noo­dle soup made by an old woman by the side of the road in Viet­nam.

“You don’t have to be sit­ting in a fancy restaurant to have the most amaz­ing meal of your life,” the chef said.

“A lot of it has got to do with the per­son’s pas­sion who’s cook­ing. My Dad used to say, ‘If you don’t want to cook with love, get out of the kitchen.’ ”

Week­end read­ers, too, will have the op­por­tu­nity once a month to try one of Ku­ru­vita’s recipes, gained from his years of travel.

He also prom­ises tips and tricks on how to pick the best seafood at the su­per­mar­ket and the se­crets to buy­ing the best spices.

The chef joins our other food ex­perts, Do­minique Rizzo, Matt Sin­clair, Mag­gie Cooper and Dan and Steph Mul­heron.

Check out Ku­ru­vita’s first recipe with Week­end in the easy eat­ing sec­tion.

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That whole cul­ture, ev­ery­thing sur­rounded the kitchen. Ev­ery­one grav­i­tated to­wards the kitchen.

PHO­TOS: JASON SMITH PHO­TOG­RA­PHY AND SBS

NEW FACE: Celebrity chef Noosa Beach House’s Peter Ku­ru­vita joins the Week­end team of food ex­perts. Tele­vi­sion chef Peter Ku­ru­vita has trav­elled the world learn­ing recipes for more than three decades and, be­low, from the TV se­ries My Sri Lanka With Peter Ku­ru­vita, in 2012.

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