The Sunday Leader

Koluu The High Priest Of Sri Lankan Food

By Angela Seneviratne

Hemalallindre Ranawake, (Koluu), is not only a celebrity chef; he is a man of multifaceted talent. Today, he has reached iconic status as a TV chef and host, a critic of culinary preparations, an entertaining illusionist actor, a dancer and a writer.

Always the star in any kitchen, Koluu has literally gone through the mill in both training and experiencehoning his extraordinarily creative, culinary talent, know-how and skills. He recalls his childhood at a time when there were not many hotels in Colombo, and all the entertaining was done at home, and reminice on how his father, then a journalist, would always have people dropping in to visit – people who were fed at whatever time they visted. For Kollu, growing up in the midst of a hub of people, thus began an interest in cooking. Baking was soon to become his specialty, and he remembers the first cake he made at the age of 16 for Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu, Richard De Zoysa’s mother – an occasion that opened avenues for orders for desserts, cakes and cake structures for weddings and private functions.

Koluu went through formal training at the Hotel School in Colombo and on completion, ran a niche catering service specialised in birthday parties, dinners and lunches. In the year 1989, Koluu took a rather large step in contracting his services overseas. He accepted a position in the Foreign Ministry of Portugal and assumed full control of the kitchen at the Embassy of Portugal in Iraq. When Iraqi-Kuwaiti hostilities erupted the following year, Chef Koluu transferred to Europe, travelling though Turkey, Ankara, through to Istanbul and exciting exotic places, stil in emplyment with Portugal’s Foreign Office – a position he held for 9 ½ years.

In 1992, Koluu was privileged to be appointed the Personal Chef of an American heiress domiciled in Portugal. His experiences in Europe gave him wide exposure to various cultures and cuisines. He also gained invaluable experience in dealing with personal styles, tastes and preferences.

He was given residency in Portugal which he now regrets giving up. Yearning at that time for the “Green Green Grass of Home” he engaged himself in the training of kitchen staff of Colombo’s thriving catering industry. Recalling this time, he laughs heartily at himself, quipping that he had not only gained an increased following but also gain weight!

Subsequently, Koluu acted as the food consultant to the popular Barefoot Garden Cafe of Colombo from 1999 to 2008, on the invitation of Dominic Sansoni, which was a tremendous success. He still thinks the Barefoot Garden Café is one of the nicest restaurants in Colombo. He also owned and operated KOLUU’S FRANGAPANI, KOLUU’S and KOLUU’S TULIPS in downtown Colombo during this period. These quaint restaurants were hot favourites at the time and the talk of the town.

Koluu’s long list of achievements reads like a stunt-man’s diary; a couple of recent highlights include positions as Food Consultant to Clubs such as the Dutch Burgher Union, the 80 Club, and a major catering organization servicing large-scale office and private functions. He’s developed fresh menus, engaged in staff training and revamped the kitchen division of the Royal Colombo Golf Club. He has headed the team at the popular Lemon Restaurant and is proud to be the only Sri Lankan invited to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America Show in America.

Having authored a collection of tried and tested recipes in a well received cookery book, he is now keen to promote Sri Lankan food, a tradition he feels is dying. Having worked for 15 months on a special formula to blend spices and condiments that would bring alive the beautiful culinary style of Sri Lanka, in 2014 he thought of pushing Sri Lankan Curry out into the world. “I am not a believer that Sri Lankan means a rural village, with clay, mats and thatch. I mean modern Sri Lankan cuisine, presented, for instance, in a 4 or 5 Course Menu”. His wild side of life entails acting, entertaining, dancing, and the ever popular annual drag show, which is full of carefree entertainment, the latest of which will be on the 15th of February, and is done for charity. Kollu says that he is radical in his ways and has done whatever he wants in life, and does not bother with what people think about him.

He has great fun penning his weekly column, on the truly frivolous and scandolous life stories of people in Colombo; some of which is received badly, some with humour. “That cannot be helped.” says Kollu, ‘If the cap fits, one could wear it! In looking back on his life he finds nothing to be resentful about, because the bad times, if any, have shaped him to be the person he is today. “Life is all about having fun, through the ups and downs.’ he says. On advising aspiring young chefs, he says that one must be focused, but, more importantly, one must have proper taste buds! He feels that both the practicals and the training periods are necessary to the learning process, and thinks it unfortunate that non-professionals nowadays refer to the internet in order to access recipies – the culmination of which he feels are more often than not, unpalatable.  One must learn not only how to cook, he says, but also the finesse of it!

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