Cookbook writers often put their heart and soul into their work and this is certainly true of Kumar Pereira's Kumar's Family Recipes, a beautiful hand illustrated book originally created by the author for his sons as a collection of family recipes the boys could reference.
Kumar Pereira grew up in Sri Lanka and first explored the world of cooking when he was just six years old. One of the first dishes he created was a bread and butter pudding. In the 1960s, Kumar moved to London to study design, and when his parents came for an extended visit, his 'mama' taught him how to cook Sri Lankan curries, stews, soups and casseroles, as well as one-pot meals and desserts. He says that a trip to Europe, followed by working in Hong Kong during the 70s and 80s, further opened his eyes to the wonderful world of food. Kumar's English-born wife, Sally, aroused his interest in freshly roasting and grinding spices for curries, as opposed to buying packaged mixes. 'We loved going to the local markets to buy whatever was fresh and seasonal [that we could cook] together,' he writes.
The couple moved to Sydney in 1988 and Kumar says he feels very much at home here. 'Australian cuisine reflects the effects of globalisation and the influences of the many migrants and their cultures. I particularly love the quality of the produce here and am now more into growing my own and using what is seasonal.' The passionate home cook says he entered series three of MasterChef to improve his cooking skills. 'I am now becoming even more adventurous. Being on the show taught me so much, both in technique and method. Now food has become my world and given me a new life and new confidence.'
'Emboldened' by his MasterChef experience, Kumar has collected all of his family recipes, together with the lovingly drawn illustrations into an accessible ccokbook. He has also added dishes that he enjoyed as a small boy growing up in Sri Lanka, and a smattering of dishes from countries he has lived in and visited. Chapters cover recipes for herbs and spices; breakfast; lunch; starters; light meals; mains; accompaniments and sweets. There's plenty to cook from here: a range of curries, of course, and some other stand out recipes including crab salad with tomato and green tea jelly; linguine with sardines; Gamma's mango curry; stringy hoppers and coconut milk gravy; Sri Lankan treacle tart; and Kumar's bread and butter pudding, which he says he has now mastered. There are delightful stories about Sri Lankan family life and food interspersed throughout the book.
Having read the book, I wanted to know more and Kumar has kindly answered a few questions for me:
Firstly heartfelt congratulations on your book. You were one of the MasterChef favourites at our place and your book is a credit to you and a great legacy for your entire family and generations to come. I love that you write: 'that you are never too old to learn'. As a young boy in Colombo, did you ever imagine that some day you might be living in Australia, appearing on a cooking show and writing a cookbook?
In my wildest dreams I never imagined that my life would have turned out the way it has. It is a little crazy and I still find it difficult to believe or adjust to.
Your glossary of herbs and spices is great! For the cook who is novice to Sri Lankan cuisine, what ingredients would you consider essential?
Curry spices: coriander seeds, cumin, cloves, caradmom, cinnamon, fenugreek, curry leaves, pandan leaves, and chilli.
Do you have any 'food heroes'? Would you like to share with my readers who they are?
Nick Nairn, Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver [yes!], and Australia's Maggie Beer.
Your sticky toffee pudding is the all time favourite in your family. Do you yourself have a favourite recipe?
Only the last thing I cooked: leek, ricotta and speck ravioli. The recipe for this is on Kumar's blog!
You are a talented illustrator and you write beautifully. Which each of your stories, I found as a reader, I wanted to know more, to keep reading. I'd love to hear more about your family and your experiences, and see more of your recipes. Will there be another cookbook or memoir perhaps?
I do find that I am enjoying both the writing and the cooking very much. I have enough recipes that I have done in the last year; mainly for the tour/demos in Sri Lanka in January this year; my contemporary take on traditional SL food. I am writing regularly for a magazine there as well, and so have enough material, if I am asked!
What's next on the agenda for you, Kumar?
In the near future: a cooking stint at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hobart, early in October just after we return from England. Next year: a "dream" project in Sri Lanka. I have been asked as a consultant [design + food [menus /advice]+ kitchen garden with medicinal herbs, for an old house there that is being restored and going to be a boutique hotel. If I could have a choice of the ideaI project to do, this would be it, and I can't wait!
Kumar's Family Cookbook by Kumar Pereira (Allen & Unwin, $29.99. Thank you kindly Kumar, and also Allen & Unwin publicity, for giving me the opportunity for this virtual interview. Best of luck with your upcoming project, Kumar.
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