Colourful Koluu takes a bow
After seven years in the gourmet business, the well-known chef takes a six-month break hoping to come back healthier, shapelier and with something new on the menu

By Smriti Daniel
It is the blessing and the burden of some people to be the purveyors of change. These unique individuals not only rattle the cage with the things they do, say and choose but also, quite simply, by the way they live – day in, day out. Hemalalindra “Koluu” Ranawake – master chef, flamboyant Drag Queen, businessman, actor, local celebrity, globe trotter and friend to many – is one such man.

For close to several years now, Koluu’s clutch of restaurants have dominated the local cuisine scene and the man himself has become something of a celebrity, having garnered a reputation as an eccentric but nevertheless brilliant chef. Today, however, you only have to pass by one of his closed up, deserted establishments to know that change has raised its head. Koluu has closed all his outlets including Tulips on Duplication Road and Frangipani on Havelock Road. But the questions still remain…Why? What is he going to do next? Where do we go when we crave his signature triple layered chocolate mousse?

Koluu offers the answers to all these questions in his disarmingly candid style. “I’m on a six-month break,” he says smiling. “It’s been seven years in the business and it feels like all I’ve done is put on more and more weight each year.” Weight – that’s first on Koluu’s list of things to lose in the coming months – “I need to get my health and my shape back on track,” he says.

He goes on to reveal that the challenge of working with his restaurants has paled somewhat, especially since he does not consider himself a “financial wizard”.

His original restaurant – simply titled Koluu’s was a runaway success before it shut down a few years ago and his other restaurants were doing equally well.
In a city where it seems restaurants rise and fall with the sun, such success is not to be scoffed at. Koluu, who is well aware of his popularity, maintains that he has good reasons for all these decisions. He admits ruefully to having made mistakes, “sometimes my choice of location could have been better,” he says. However, he also gives hope to avid fans of his culinary creations. He intends to continue his partnership with the Barefoot Café and will still offer his catering services to those interested.

All this does not mean that Koluu is putting himself on the shelf - far from it. He intends to use his six-month break not only to relax, unwind and sort through his priorities but also to explore his options thoroughly. “I have discovered that I really love teaching,” he says, adding that he hopes to open a select culinary school around May next year. Adjoining the school will be a small specialised restaurant, designed along European lines with a minimum number of support staff and Koluu as the fulcrum.

For him, this move will mark a return to the simpler life, one reminiscent of his time in Portugal where along with an English boy and Canadian girl he took the local gourmet scene by storm.

Koluu also wishes to look into the possibility of compering local shows and pageants – a task to which he is well suited not only thanks to his expansive personality but by virtue of his experiences as well.

After all, he points out it was a team that included the likes of Ranil de Silva, Rosie Senanayake and himself who actually organised the island’s first international standard beauty pageants. This line of conversation segues seamlessly into what Koluu thinks is the most important ingredient in his success – originality.

“Everyone here has the herd mentality,” he says lamenting the lack of real innovation amongst many entrepreneurs today. He intends to remedy this where he can by taking on numerous jobs as a consultant for those wanting to immerse themselves in the treacherous waters of the food industry.

Despite his determination to step away from the business for a while at least, Koluu has received many offers to open restaurants with new partners – testament to people’s faith in his selling power. Koluu, however, is refusing to budge from his six-month plan.

In the meantime he wants to continue with his infamous but entertaining drag shows for as long as he can, though he does admit that the requisite footwear is beginning to wear him down. “Perhaps I’ll have just one more huge show and then I’ll hang up my heels for good,” he says adding that, “I’ll wait until I’ve lost at least ten kg.”

Why does he do it, especially since hand in hand with the attention comes quite a bit of notoriety? Well, he may love the gaudy clothes, the prima donnas who share the stage with him and even the heels he wears but most of all, he reveals, it’s about his audience. “I really enjoy entertaining people,” he says, “everyone needs a little lightness now and then.”

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