Cricket is the order of the day, what with the ongoing T20 Sri Lankan Premier League and the impending T20 World Championship in Sri Lanka. To gastronomes however, T20 means Tastefully 20. Whilst compiling this season’s savours we’ve remarked that coincidentally and remarkably people we’ve highlighted happen to be in their twenties, curiously, all exactly 23–seems when fresh young talent comes of age. Hats off to these “uncapped” players. To pursue the cricketing parallel, we’ve even a team of 11 that’s bowled our taste buds over.
Like the game’s shorter version, we’ll be brisk and breezy. To re-cap quickly, in chronological order, already featured 23-year-olds who’ve attained a pitch of perfection in their field: Tyronne for salads (Satin Wilder), Dilusha for wraps (Milk & Honey), Sanjeewa for smoothies (Urban Kitchen), Graham for floor-management (Urban Kitchen), Isuru for naans (Spices), Chef Jerome for sandwiches (Verandah), Chef Madushan for breads (Casa Colombo).
Our Playing 11 completes with……
Jeewaka (Curry Leaf): Reigns over the roti. He’d have languished at a small hotel in rural oblivion, but Chef Rohan spotted him. We too spotted this 23-year-old who stands under a thatched stall spinning rotis like Muralitharan does the cricket ball. Oh, watch him flip the dough like can-can dancers do their skirts and roll it as translucent as tracing paper. On request he roasts rotis so crisp they snap. But spare him time-devouring tasks when guests throng, although when don’t they at what an international guide just declared Colombo’s Best Lankan cuisine restaurant.
Nevertheless, Jeewaka’s seniors confirm, “He’s never intimidated by crowds.” Amidst clamour, Jeewaka wraps rotis into slick cocktail triangles enclosing Chef Karu’s marvellous spiced baby jak or rolls them into cigars of sweet potato, admittedly, under Chef Karu’s stringent supervision. But already Jeewaka’s hoppers are distinct. If the legendary Ravi, re-called post-retirement by resounding demand, makes hoppers as flimsy as fine lace, Jeewaka’s have the porous stiffness of the Elizabethan collar.
He has no formal training but oozes raw talent, surpassing colleagues who boast Hotel School credentials. It’s refreshing to have youngsters transform a Colombo institution that bears the test of time like test or taste match cricket. But nowadays Curry Leaf has become hot stuff (in other senses), quite like 20-20 cricket. If I’d once seen 18-year-olds celebrate a birthday bash there then next I witness a posse of 16 girls in hot pants, throwing a 16th birthday bash whilst Jeewaka, only slightly older, plays on with the roti. Another twirl and a toss. Well, this boy always wins the toss.
Priya (Ciocconat Lounge): Our hottest, or rather coolest, new find. For no Colombo barista shakes an iced cappuccino quite like perfectionist Priya. She reveals she has been following my articles about a “girl barista” at another neighbourhood café. But if the former plays with taste, measuring proportions in fanciful frappes, then our 23-year-old trumps with technique.
And it’s often tougher to master basics. But Priya effects a master stroke with iced cappuccinos where a whimsical cap of foam googlies over a velvet body. Priya wins you over with a maiden over. And if the venue served tea, we’re confident she’d bowl you a top Tea-Twenty.
Affan (Ciocconat Lounge): He is Ciocconat’s training manager. He is 26, but looks sweet 16, although we’ll pretend he’s 23, like the rest of our team. When Priya first presented me her iced cappuccinos I teased Affan that his protégé had outdone, outrun, or run him out, in cricketing parlance. Affan, without batting an eyelid, proceeded to pull off a hat-trick with two varieties of iced cappuccinos (accompanied by frothy technical details about the subtle differences in methods of rarefaction and consequent taste and texture of foam). It isn’t for nothing he has trained in Italy. He comprehends coffee.
How many in Colombo do? If he brings a tender touch to his coffees then he runs the place with a firm hand. And he can match the prowess of Ciocconat’s Dubai-based Head of Training who visited Colombo recently. Ah yes, Affan fixes you match-winning coffees. Without any match fixing.
Khema (Ministry of Crab): One sensitive, sensible PR who understands food. Enfin! This 23-year-old is an eloquent, engaging, epicurean. Furthermore, having worked in journalism, she even understands that it isn’t a food critic’s job to market any particular establishment, nor the PR’s to dictate a journalistic review. I must confess myself surprised when, following the fifty-fifty (not twenty-twenty) review I gave MOC Khema mailed back, “Thank you for the positive comments on the food.” Exemplary maturity this. A PR who appreciates the essence of a culinary critique enables honest appraisal!
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