As the host of last year's My Sri Lanka, Peter Kuruvita set out to reconnect with his ancestral home through the food of his childhood. In his latest series, Island Feast, the Sydney-based chef and restaurateur sets off on a whole new adventure, with one goal in mind: to find out what the island communities eat, and how this has evolved over time.
We talk to Peter about filming this adventure-food television show, what he loves about fishing, and the food insights he learnt while traipsing the Philippines, Indonesia, Vanuatu, and the Cook Islands.
What will you forever remember about filming Island Feast with Peter Kuruvita?
The many and varied people I met along the way. [I'll remember] the Philippines for its diversity, and its love of pork and barbecues; Indonesia for those amazing boats of Bira, and the island of Ternate; Vanuatu struck me as the most harmonious place on earth – simple, but beautiful; and the Cook Islands for the people and their amazing freshwater prawns.
Before setting off, how familiar were you with the cuisines of the Philippines, Indonesia, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands?
I thought I knew Indonesian cuisine, but was blown away with its seafood and sambals. I found it difficult to get my head around Filipino food for a few days, but then found some real gems – lechon, or barbecue, and halo halo. Before leaving, I couldn’t find much about the Cook Island or Vanuatu cuisines, but, when I arrived, all it took was talking to some of the people and going from there.
Which dish were you most excited to make for your family upon returning home?
The Indonesian sambals were where I started, but, on returning from the Philippines, I had to do the barbecue pork skewers – with the secret marinade.
In what ways are the flavours of South East Asia and the Pacific different or similar to Sri Lankan?
This was a real challenge. The common ingredients were lime and chilli, but, from there, it was a real whirlwind. Keep in mind that the spice route was all through these countries, and the influence of these foreign traders moving through left a big impact. Vanuatu was the purest, and this is also because of lack of foreigners settling on their islands and no forced labour programs like many of the other islands.
You could say that Sri Lankan food is similar to Fijian village food, without the Indian influence – very simple. Sri Lankan food is complex and has many rules. Filipino food is a real mix of anyone who had ever set food on their soil, but also with a set of firm rules. The Cook Islands have been influenced by New Zealand and so their traditions run strong as well.
As a chef, TV presenter and father, what is your food philosophy? What do you hope your boys take on when it comes to food?
Fresh, healthy and balanced. Enjoy your indulgences in moderation, and try everything.
How did filming this series differ from your experience on My Sri Lanka?
I think the statement "out of my comfort zone" was bandied around a bit. It was four countries over many millions of square kilometers of ocean, different cultures and situations. It was a hard, but very satisfying, adventure. I pushed the adventure side a bit more and every place we went to was unfamiliar to me, as were many of the ingredients.
You’re an avid fisherman. Tell us how you came to love it and what you enjoy so much about it.
Fishing is like surfing; it is deeply satisfying. The knots, lines and hooks need to be attached and presented properly to catch fish; to hook and land a big fish is very hard to describe. I have always loved fishing because it was when I could sit with my brothers, friends and family, and have a mutual goal, talk little and enjoy each other's company.
Do your travels inspire changes to your menu at Flying Fish?
The hunt for new ingredients never ends, and, occasionally, you discover a cooking technique or ingredient that I can incorporate onto the menu.
What do you hope viewers most take away from Island Feast with Peter Kuruvita?
The sheer beauty and adventure that can be had in "off the beaten track" places, great food, easy-to-cook recipes, and the chance to see some places that you may never have considered visiting. I hope to change some misconceptions about Indonesia, and introduce the raw beauty of Vanuatu. Plus, hopefully, also educate people about how unsustainable fishing practices can affect the ocean and the people who live off it.