Damian D’Silva needs little introduction. Widely recognised as a “heritage” chef, the 63-year-old chef has been championing local techniques, ingredients, and recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation – but sometimes forgotten or lost. Now, D’Silva is embarking on a new project: The Heritage Table – a series of collaborations at Kin at Straits Clan where he will cook alongside other chefs in Singapore who are also keen to share the foods of their forefathers. Most recently, D’Silva has cooked with Australian-Sri Lankan chef Rishi Naleendra, who, after years of running modern Australian joints Cheek and (more recently) Cloudstreet, is finally opening a Sri Lankan restaurant, Kotuwa. The Peak speaks to d’Silva about the ins and outs of putting two cuisines together on the same table.
How did the collaboration come about?
When we embarked on The Heritage Table, we wanted to encourage deeper exploration around cuisine and culture, as well as how they influence one another. We’re beginning to see more chefs embracing heritage and culture through food, so what better way to widen our understanding than to tap on to their knowledge? This is an opportunity for us to celebrate fascinating and diverse culinary traditions and diversity beyond what we do at Kin, especially ones that are lesser-known or underrepresented.
Ultimately, it’s about finding the right partners to collaborate with. Partners who recognise the importance and value in preserving heritage, and with Rishi, there was great synergy. At Kotuwa, he’s reconnecting with his Sri Lankan heritage and sharing it with a wider audience, which is very aligned with our mission at Kin.
Was it easy/difficult to find Singaporean heritage dishes and Sri Lankan dishes that gel well together?
Dishes found in both Singapore heritage and Sri Lankan cuisine are generally rather complex and robust in flavour. Singapore heritage food is influenced by all these diverse cultures that were introduced to Singapore through immigrants, so one will discover interesting similarities in terms of the spices, herbs and ingredients used.
It was a very collaborative process throughout. Having an understanding of each other’s intended menu helped us narrow it down to dishes we felt would pair well together. My grandfather knew how to execute a handful of Sri Lankan especially Jaffna recipes which he’d adapted with local ingredients – these are the recipes which I decided to showcase on this menu.
The most important thing is to find a balance between all the dishes on the menu, you don’t want to put forth a menu of specialties that are too heavy. You’ll find a rich Sri Lankan Crab Curry alongside an aromatic dum-style Fish Briyani while the piquant Lychee Achcharu brings a hint of spice. At the end of the day, we want our guests to enjoy themselves and hopefully, leave with a greater appreciation of the culture.
Was there anything you guys learnt from each other?
It’s definitely been an enriching experience with plenty of cultural exchange and sharing of knowledge. Chef Rishi and I visited Geylang Serai market a few weeks ago, dedicating the morning to exploring produce and sharing insights.
While I was fortunate enough to have grown up with the exposure to Sri Lankan dishes that my granddad cooked, this collaboration allowed me to delve further into this country’s rich and wonderful culture. One of the dishes Kotuwa has introduced to the menu is Dallo Baduma, a Chinese-Sri Lankan dish – crispy fried squid tossed in chilli butter and served with stir-fried vegetables.
I’m always grateful to work with like-minded souls, especially with Rishi who recognises the importance of keeping traditions alive and preserving heritage. Our hope is that we can continue to foster greater appreciation and interest among the community to reconnect with their roots.
More info at the Kin website.