Chef’s spice of life
Cooking expert Peter Kuruvita shares love of food and family
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.
That whole culture, everything surrounded the kitchen. Everyone gravitated towards the kitchen.
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.