What it takes to be the best

Cayman’s Chef of the Year, Indika Kumara, Head Chef with Bacchus sits down with Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull to discuss his career and his cuisine.

How does it feel to be awarded the Cayman Islands Culinary Society’s Chef of the Year for 2009?
I’m really happy and excited. Everyone has been very kind in congratulating me.

Tell me about your training and your career progression.
I’m from Sri Lanka where I undertook a three year training programme as an apprentice at the Golden Star Beach Hotel. Sri Lanka is home to many of the large chain hotels and the Golden Beach Star Hotel is a four star hotel. There I was able to train in all departments. Every three months we would attend college to undertake the theory side of the course.
After my training I went to work at the Ceylon Intercontinental where I worked as the second commis chef for three years. Then I decided I wanted to work overseas so I moved to The Maldives where I worked at the Vilamandoo Island resort for a year. After that I moved to Dubai to the One and Only Royal Mirage, a huge 1200 roomed hotel where I was the demi chef de partie in the cold kitchen for three years. From there I moved to the Cayman Islands where I worked at Fisherman’s Reef before moving to Bacchus eight months ago.

How have you benefited from working abroad?
I have had the amazing opportunity to work with people from all different backgrounds and countries and this has allowed me to learn from them and gain from the experience in a big way.

What is your culinary style?
I cooked mainly continental cuisine in Dubai and here in Cayman but I love infusing dishes with Asian influences such as soy sauce, sesame oil, chillis and spices. We have recently introduced a new menu at Bacchus and this has allowed me to incorporate some Asian flavours into the dishes. For example, we now have nasi goring on the menu, a first for Cayman. This is basically an Indonesian fried rice dish with shrimp, chicken, egg, chilli, soy sauce garnished with a fried egg, chicken saté and prawn crackers. We have also brought in beef short ribs cooked slowly in a mixture of hoisin sauce and a demi-glaze until the meat is incredibly tender.  

Is this the first culinary award you have received?

I actually received the Best New Employee of the Year award at the One and Only Royal Mirage in Dubai in 2004. They said I received the award for my dedication and hard work. I was also the Outstanding All-round Achievement Chef Phillip Cup recipient in 2008, awarded by the Cayman Islands Culinary Society.
Why did you first enter the profession and what words of wisdom can you offer young people in Cayman wondering whether they should begin a career in the hospitality industry?
In Sri Lanka we were all hopeful that we would travel and work abroad to broaden our horizons. I thought the culinary profession would be a good way to learn a trade and travel. I liked the idea of working in the hotel trade and thought I could make a good career out of it.
Working in the industry means you have to make sacrifices by focusing totally on your job. To be a good chef you have to be passionate about food; you have to read cook books and research new recipes all the time.
It is long hours, working hard physically and mentally in sometimes hot conditions but all this does not matter if you love your job, are enjoying what you do and are just focusing on the food.
If you put your mind to it you know you really can do anything.

Don’t miss the Valentine’s special at Bacchus all you can eat and drink ‘Champagne and Lobster Night’ for $59.95 per person.