Dish It Out - Aruni Jayathilaka

Jan 13 2022. views 815

How do our food experts cook and eat? This week, recipe developer, food photographer, and food stylist, Aruni of @yummyorhealthy, takes our Q&A!

What’s the story with ‘yummyorhealthy’? 
I started sharing some of my dishes and recipes on my personal Instagram, and since I got a lot of positive feedback, eventually I started an account just for food.  I began to take recipe creation and food blogging more seriously, and when the pandemic hit, I suddenly had a lot more time to work on it. Since gyms were closed, I wanted to make sure my husband and I didn’t end up obese, so I tried to focus more on healthy meals that were still delicious.  I wanted to challenge the idea that a healthy diet meant tasteless food, hence, “yummyorhealthy” was born!

Dead or alive, who would be your dream dinner-party guests to cook for? 
I’ve always wondered if Gordon Ramsay would be happy with my dishes.  I’d really enjoy the challenge of trying to impress him!

What’s the most exotic food you’ve eaten?
While it may not seem all that exotic to my American friends, the first time I ate sushi was an adventurous experience for me.  Raw seafood is not a Sri Lankan delicacy, so when I got to enjoy it for the first time in Dallas, it certainly felt adventurous to me.

Your favourite odd food pairing?
Marmite is already something you either love or hate, and not only do I love it, but I love to combine it with wood apple jam!  Just add it to some buttered toast and you’ll see.

If someone wanted to impress you with food; what would it take? 
I think if they could take a simple dish and elevate it to exceed my expectations, I would be truly impressed.

What’s the trick to food styling done right?
Practice makes perfect.  If you compare my first few Instagram photos to more recent shots, there’s a learning curve. I can’t understate the importance of taking the time to practice shots, try different setups and styles, and observe techniques from other photographers.  I still have so much to learn.

What’s one thing you miss about the Sri Lankan food scene?
I’d love to go back and have some Devon chicken pastry.  In my teenage years, we used to grab these tasty treats whenever we could, and I still love them.  

Do you ever see yourself opening your own restaurant one day? 
Absolutely. I have a vision of opening a coffee shop in a small city or suburb, serving homemade baked goods, like my apple pie, honey cake, and a few classic Sri Lankan pastries.  

Describe your style when it comes to food styling and food photography? 
Dark and moody.  I like to use that contrast between light and shadow to create minimalist shots that are still visually striking to the audience.

What’s a recipe you struggled with the most?
I found that one of the hardest pastries to master was pie crust design.  It took a lot of experimentation, but I finally got the hang of it.  

Your proudest recipe development? 
That would have to be my take on Russian honey cake or Medovik.  This is a cake made up of multiple thin layers, separated by cream frosting, all infused with wildflower honey.  The cooking process is long but well worth it.  The result is a decadent, sumptuously moist cake with a deliciously sweet aftertaste.

What got you into cooking?
My inspiration for cooking comes from my mother.  She took the beautiful natural bounties of Sri Lanka and crafted delicious and nutritious meals for our family.  When I moved to the USA for my Ph. D., I took what I had learned and started to cook for myself.  Cooking for me became a hobby, a way to relax after a busy academic workday.  Eventually, I started to create my own recipes, mixing my Sri Lankan heritage with the multicultural cuisines I encountered in the US.

What’s a dish you’d love to relive for the first time?
I can’t even remember the first time I had them, but I still love Sri Lankan fish cutlets.  They’re still one of my favourite snacks and I haven’t found anything that beats them yet.

Your favourite food shot? 
When I was taking this capture, my kitten couldn’t help nosing around.  I decided to just let him be and kept on shooting! I was able to get this perfect shot of him actually looking at the camera on the first try.

Your favourite childhood meal?  
Watalappan.  My mom used to make it for special occasions, so I’ve always associated it with exciting events or big surprises.  So, when I make it now, it gives me warm feelings of good times with friends and family.

Light, colour, composition, set up – you can only have one in a shoot; which one? 
Light!  Without light, I can’t get that contrast that I love for my shots.

Eat with your eyes or think with your stomach -which one wins?
Eat with your eyes.  If I don’t like how the food looks, I know I’m not going to enjoy it! Chances are, if it looks great, it’s probably going to taste great too.



Panchali Illankoon

Law Graduate, food and travel enthusiast and full time dog mom..



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