spices and all that's nice in 'Burst of Flavors'
The day was sunny and
breezy and the place was Doris Duke's Tudor-style mansion on the
Atlantic coast in Newport, Rhode Island. The soup was perfect for
that sunny day and the special guest was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
The hint of ginger in the soup was refreshing against the slightly
sweet and tart orange...
Fit for Royalty
Sri Lankan master
chef Kusuma Cooray concocted that special tomato-orange soup for
Jackie O' when she was tobacco heiress Doris Duke's personal chef
in the late 1970s.
later, asked to prepare a special banquet for President Chandrika
Kumaratunga as she hosted world leaders with Britain's Prince Charles
as chief guest, she chose delicate Nuwara Eliya asparagus to create
a tempting asparagus mousse flavoured with sweet, aromatic nutmeg.
has spent the last 27 years away from home in faraway Hawaii, intermittently
travelling around the world cooking for royalty and celebrities
in turn. But she has never lost her taste for the spicy cuisine
of her homeland and her first book launched last year
celebrates the spices, both exotic and everyday, that flavour Sri
The book was
five years in the making. As a professional chef, she had all the
culinary expertise at her fingertips but she also took the time
to research extensively on the spices of Sri Lanka to bring out
a volume where spices and herbs are used to enhance Western cuisine.
Her husband Ranjith Cooray, who died last year, a botanist by profession
helped immensely with the botanical names and the use of spices
in Ayurvedic treatments etc. she recalls.
are lots of books written on cookery, but abroad people don't eat
curries all the time and what I was aiming at was to show how spices
can be infused with the Western style of cooking." Though the
book was written primarily for a Western audience it is useful for
people here too, as it shows them new ways with the spices and herbs
they take so much for granted.
is also Sri Lanka's consul in Hawaii and she felt the book would
be an ideal vehicle to promote the expensive Lankan spices such
as cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.
'Burst of Flavor'
has sold extraordinarily well, surpassing her publisher's expectations
and will soon go into its second print, she says. To novice cooks
and experts in the field it is a fascinating mix of Eastern and
Western, with recipes so delectable, they look straight out of a
five-star kitchen, yet seemingly extraordinarily 'do-able', when
presented in her clear, methodical style. Each recipe is introduced
with valuable titbits and spicy nuggets of information. It is also
beautifully illustrated. The photographer took one whole summer
over it; he would only do two photographs a day, he was so meticulous,
Ms. Cooray recalls.
There is sweet
nostalgia as she describes the favourite dishes of her childhood.
"I still remember the spice-rich chicken, beef and mutton curries
I enjoyed as a child," she writes. "Each had its own distinctive
blend of spices that gave it a special character. Chicken curry,
the family favourite had a reddish-brown sauce poured over the chicken,
which was almost falling off the bone. There were other times when
the chicken curry was almost dry and had a dark, mahogany colour
to it. We did not eat beef often, but when we did it, it was in
thick succulent slices with lots of black pepper and golden brown
onion rings." Stuff to whet the appetite certainly.
Yet, she is
mildly critical of how little Sri Lankan cuisine seems to have adapted
to the health demands and concerns of the present day. "Curries
are still very oily," she comments, adding, "you don't
really need coconut in everything."
in Hawaii, where she is associate professor and chief instructor
of the Culinary Institute of the Pacific, University of Hawaii,
Kusuma Cooray's early interest in cooking was nurtured at home in
As a young
woman she pursued her interest in cooking, training at Le Cordon
Bleu and the National Bakery School in London before moving to La
Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. Then it was off to Hawaii which
is where she met and married Ranjith Cooray and began her career
in teaching cookery. A stint as Executive Chef at the Willows and
Banyan Garden restaurants in Honolulu helped establish her name
in Hawaii. Over the years, she has trained hundreds of professional
chefs and takes delight in the fact that she has introduced the
magic of spices to them, for she does not believe in keeping Eastern
and Western cuisine apart. "There is no unbridgeable gap between
East and West and between Asian and other Pacific cultures of the
world. Each has much to give the others. With appreciative handling,
even the most foreign ingredients and flavours live together harmoniously
and bring out the best in each other," she writes.
She is also
a firm believer in cooks 'going by the feel, the smell,' of the
food. "Don't be afraid to improvise, to substitute if you lack
a particular ingredient," she urges.
has also not omitted to share her expertise with Sri Lankan chefs
and her university conducts regular exchange programmes with the
Ceylon Hotel School Graduates Association.
So what of
the future? "Once you start writing, it's difficult to stop,"
smiles this charming culinary ambassador for Sri Lanka and she is
now just completing another book on cooking with fish.
Burst of Flavor
will be launched on August 8 at 7 p.m at the Hilton Hotel.
- Renuka Sadanandan