Gourmet Galle: Rishi Naleendra

Feb 29 2024.

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Hailing from Colombo, Rishi Naleendra is an internationally acclaimed chef who has three Michelin Stars to his name. Having honed his culinary skills in Australia, he worked in restaurants such as Taxi Dining Room and Tetsuya’s and moved to Singapore in 2014 to take on the role of chef at Macalister Mansion.  He opened his first restaurant Cheek by Jowl in 2016 which earned a Michelin Star in its first year. In 2019, he opened a second restaurant, ‘Cloudstreet’ which was awarded two Michelin Stars in 2021.  In 2020, Naleendra opened his third restaurant ‘Kotuwa’ paying homage to his heritage. Last weekend, Rishi was the celebrity guest chef of Gourmet Galle (happening January 12 – March 31 in the South). He hosted a four-course dinner at Kurulu Bay and conducted a Masterclass at the Galle Fort Hotel. Ahead of his events, Rishi chats with us about his entry to the culinary world, his signature style and his best advice to home cooks.

Tell us a little about your journey with food and the culinary world. I left Sri Lanka 20 years ago when I was 18. I always thought I would be an architect, but I ended up in the culinary industry – working as a sous chef at a pub. Once I got married I thought I couldn’t just be cooking around, I wanted to take it seriously. I applied to every single restaurant at Melbourne and that’s when I got the opportunity to work at Taxi Dining Room. I was there for four years. Then I worked at Yellow and Tesuya’s in Sydney. Opening my own restaurant was the goal. I love cooking but running a restaurant is more than just the cooking – it’s also about the ambience and finding the right music, so much goes into it. It’s almost like a drug, it’s addictive to keep getting it right. So we moved to Singapore where I opened my restaurants and 10 years later, no regrets!

Can you recall a particular moment/memory which started your love for food?  Growing up in Sri Lanka, a fancy meal for us was going to McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut or a Chinese restaurant at a hotel. Going out to eat was rare since we always ate at home. When I first moved to Melbourne, it was a culture shock because I was never exposed to the restaurant culture growing up. I was amazed about all the options. One of the first fine dining meals was when I took my wife out for her birthday to George Calombaris’s The Press Club. I was mesmerised by every single detail of our experience – the elegant service and how they put on a show every night! After that we got into the habit of eating out at least once a week and that helped me to explore and discover a lot of new things. 

What’s your signature style when it comes to food and cooking? Simple. And that’s something you get with experience. When I first started cooking it was about doing it all but now my style has grown and you can see it in the dish. You learn to make simple ingredients great and that’s the experience and confidence that comes with doing this for so long.

As a professional chef, what’s your honest advice for the home cook or the first-timer? Have fun with the food. I hate doing things that I can’t have fun with, and I avoid it.

What’s the menu highlight for your dinner at Gourmet Galle? I had tried doing what we did overseas in Sri Lanka but I’ve learnt that when you go to a different country, you have to showcase something they haven’t seen with their own produce. So the menu is made using all local ingredients. It’s a Sri Lankan menu but not really. We are doing a flatbread with all the ingredients used to make pol roti and we’ll serve it with a seeni sambol butter, chargrilled prawns with a curry and gotukola emulsion for the dressing. Then, for mains a whole heritage chicken roasted in devilled butter which is brined overnight for 48 hours with a mahi mahi and crab bisque. For dessert, buffalo curd parfait with salted kithul caramel and arrack.

What’s the ‘one-off’ recipe you’ll treat guests to at Gourmet Galle? I’ve decided to teach how to make buffalo curd Parfait. It’s a very versatile recipe. Since it's difficult to make homemade ice cream here, this is the best way to do it so I think it would be a great recipe, especially for the home cooks.

Your thoughts on the Gourmet Galle initiative? It’s amazing. It’s not easy to bring down so many acclaimed chefs – there are many moving parts to make it happen. But it’s a timely initiative. When you can’t travel abroad, bring it home! Gourmet Galle is a 12-week-long gourmet food festival up and down the south coast of Sri Lanka giving guests the fantastic opportunity to enjoy a meal cooked by celebrity and world-renowned chefs and to learn how it’s all done at their masterclass. The dinners take place in exquisite homes and the finest boutique hotels and each menu is curated especially for the occasion.

Up Next!

Catch world-famous Indian chef Hari Nayak for dinner on Saturday, 9th March at Malabar Hill or join him for a masterclass on Sunday, 10th March.  For more details on the chefs and the full programme, visit https:// gourmetgalle.com


Panchali Illankoon

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



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