Peter Kuruvita finds seafood heaven at Noosa, and the Beach House



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By BANDULA JAYASEKARA


The Hundred-Foot Journey is one of the most delicious movies about food I’ve ever seen. However, it took me more than 100 feet, and a flight from Sydney to Noosa, to meet celebrity chef Peter ¬Kuruvita in a bid to find out more about his own journey through the hearts and stomachs of Australians.


Call it a meeting of two ambassadors. Mine may have been the official title, but I reckon Kuruvita, in his unofficial role as Sri Lankan culinary ambassador — his other "hats" are restaurateur, TV presenter, author, speaker and consultant — might have achieved more for the country of his forebears.


I had been invited to spend a day and a night at the Sunrise Beach home Kuruvita shares with his wife Karen and three sons Jai, 16, Marley, 14 and Taj, 8. Having left the hustle and bustle of Sydney two years ago, Peter is now the big foodie fish in a ¬smaller pond: as executive chef at Noosa Beach House, he lends some TV-chef glamour to the resurgent Queensland resort town.


Take a stroll around Hastings Street with him and there’s not much chance of one-on-one conversation. Wherever we are — by the beach, at market stalls, dropping by a Japanese restaurant for sushi and good Aussie beer — there seems to be an endless stream of locals eager to interrupt, usually with the same question: "What’s cooking today, mate?" To which Kuruvita invariably responds with smiles, warmth and details about the night’s menu at the Beach House. Maybe modern prawn kottu, made with roti bread; his take on ambul thyal, a type of sour fish curry; chilli crab; and his famous Sri ¬Lankan fish curry.


Why Noosa, after eight years as executive chef at Sydney’s Flying Fish? Kuruvita says he was surprised — pleasantly — to find a wider mix of international clientele in the town he now calls home. And then, of course, there was the lure of sun, sand and sea. He and his family love the outdoors and his three boys are good surfers, just like their dad.


The sea is a recurring theme. Peter Jayantha Kuruvita was born in London to a Sri Lankan father and Austrian mother. The ¬family — including Peter’s brothers, ¬Philip and David — moved to Sri Lanka when he was four years old. It was an interesting trip. The family travelled overland until they reached the ¬Indian coast, from where they were booked on a ferry to Sri Lanka. On learning the ferry was out of action until further notice, Kuruvita senior paid an intermediary to build a makeshift raft to take them the final 30km to their destination.


It was in Sri Lanka that Peter learnt to cook, first at home from his father and then from his doting grandmother, who lived in Kuruwita, a small village between Ratnapura and Eheliyagoda in the Sabaragamuwa province of the island-nation. The family moved to Australia when Peter was 11.


He met his wife, Karen, 25 years ago at the then Bilson’s Restaurant in Circular Quay, where he was head chef. Having invited the waitress out to dinner, Kuruvita chose a venue specialising in seafood — Golden Century in Chinatown — with the aim of impressing his date with his culinary knowledge and sharing his love of his favourite food. If there was an awkward moment at the start of the evening when Karen revealed she didn’t actually like seafood, he must have handled it with aplomb. By the end of the night she’d changed her mind, and that was that; in February the couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.


These days, Karen is Kuruvita’s manager/PR/girl Friday and the first person he consults when writing menus. And his favourite home cook. "We all love her one-pot chicken rice," he says.


At Noosa Beach House, a joint venture with Sheraton Noosa Resort, his menu reflects both his travels — including for SBS Food, where his most recent series was last year’s Mexican Fiesta — and his love of Sri Lankan cuisine.


"I’m working hard on modernising subcont¬inental food," he says, "and contemporary Sri Lankan dishes (such as a twist on wattalapam, a coconut custard pudding made with jaggery and honey) are sharing the menu with all the others." "Others" might include dishes referencing Mexico, Japan, Fiji and India. In Fiji, Kuruvita has launched two Flying Fish restaurants, at Sheraton Fiji and Tokariki. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, he is setting up a school of tea, a ¬charity initiative as part of role as ambassador for Dilmah.


But most of all, his menu at Noosa Beach House is all about … Noosa. Think seafood (spanner crabs, Mooloolaba prawns, black kingfish, mackerel, tuna and more); "amazing" dairy foods; and the organic farms of the region.


"The produce here tastes so real," he says. "It’s as close as you get to being back in Fiji or Sri Lanka.


"I had stopped eating pineapples and bananas for many years in Australia, but since moving to Noosa I’m enjoying them again ... A pineapple is ripe before it is plucked and the bananas are sweet and soft."


Bandula Jayasekara is Sri Lanka’s former consul-general in NSW and Queensland, with the rank of ambassador.


Peter Kuruvita will host a seafood dinner on May 16 at Noosa Beach House as part of the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival. More: noosafoodandwine.com.au


Bandula Jayasekara is Sri Lanka’s former consul-general in NSW and Queensland, with the rank of ambassador.


Sri Lankan fish curry, as served at Noosa Beach House.


Sri Lankan kingfish curry


50ml oil


1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped


2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped


1 x 5cm pandan leaf, roughly torn


2 sprigs curry leaves


2 green chillies, split lengthways


½ tsp fenugreek


½ tsp fennel seeds


1 tsp chilli powder


2 tsp cumin powder


1 tsp coriander powder


1 tsp turmeric


3 pieces goroka (Garcinia gummi-gutta, used as a souring agent in Sri Lanka and Southern Indian pork and fish curries, available from Sri Lankan grocery stores)


1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces


500ml coconut milk


10 x 160g portioned kingfish fillets, skin off with the bones reserved


100ml oil, to cook the fish


salt


Fresh coriander to garnish


For the curry, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the onion, garlic, pandan leaf, curry leaves and green chilli. Fry until the onions are translucent. Add the dry spices and kingfish bones and stir to combine; cook out for a further 5 minutes. Add coconut milk. Bring to the boil and simmer until the mixture has reduced by half.


Make the tomato sambol and raita (recipes below). Set aside until ready to serve.


Remove the curry from the heat and strain it into a separate bowl. Set aside until ready to serve.


To cook the fish, heat the oil in a heavy- based pan over high heat. Add the salt to season the pan. Gently place the kingfish fillets in the pan and leave to cook for a 2-3 minutes. Turn the fish and cook the other side. Once cooked, remove from heat and serve immediately. To serve, place a piece of kingfish on the plate; drizzle with the strained sauce and garnish with fresh coriander. Serve with tomato sambol, raita, lime wedges and basmati rice.


Tomato sambol


3 ripe tomatoes, quartered


1 onion, finely sliced


2 green chilli, finely chopped


1 clove garlic, finely chopped


½ tsp Maldive fish


juice of 1 lime


salt and pepper


Peel the tomatoes by plunging them into a pot of boiling water for 15 seconds and then into a bowl of iced water. Deseed and cut the tomatoes into 5mm dice. Combine all ingredients at the last minute.


Raita


500g plain yoghurt


2 medium Lebanese cucumber (seeded and chopped)


1 medium lemon, juiced


1 small red onion, finely diced


1 teaspoon roast whole cumin seeds, ground


½ teaspoon diced green chilli


½ teaspoon sea salt


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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