What’s for dinner tonight, Tama?
We’re going out, hopefully. My boyfriend, Mat, is a chef and he’s recently opened a restaurant (Ester, in Sydney’s Chippendale), so it depends when we both finish work. Chinatown is a favourite place to go.
On nights when you’re staying home but you’re exhausted, what will you throw together?
Brown rice and vegetables.
Yes, that’s a standard go-to for when I’m tired, with a sambal on top.
What’s your failsafe dish for when friends are coming over?
Sri Lankan crab curry. It’s relatively easy and it looks impressive – and it tastes good. It’s a nice dish cause you can all sit around and eat it with your hands.
You’re into shared food, aren’t you?
Yes, I tend to get quite bored if someone just puts a whole plate of food in front of me … I like lots of little things, and it’s more interactive.
What’s your food philosophy?
Seasonality is really important to me – it just makes sense. I’m also quite a fan of vegetables in general, and of letting their individual flavours shine.
Tell me about Berta’s Sagra (“festival”) dinners.
One night a week we pick an ingredient and base four courses around that. We’re doing balsamic [right now] and we’ve done cheese, blood orange, pickle …
Pickle for dessert?
We did a cheese plate with pickled grapes, pickled apple chips, bread with pickled cranberries in it … it was pretty delicious!
What does a typical work day look like?
There’s no kind of normal day for me – I sleep in a little if I can, but that’s rare. I start at the restaurant anytime between 9am and 3pm … other things (like writing, recipe testing, making salumi or honey) get weaved into my days.
How big a part of your life is your Sri Lankan heritage?
I’ve got a big extended Sri Lankan family on my mum’s side, and in my twenties I spent quite a lot of time there. In my work, I’ve done Chinese, French, Japanese and now Italian … but even with the Italian, I slip some curry leaves in sometimes.
I have to ask: what does the “O” stand for in your name?
My Dad’s story is that it’s after Omitama, a precious jewel in Japanese. But it does pretty much come down to having hippie parents!
What’s an unusual food we could be eating more of?
One ingredient I really love using is oca – it’s from the yam family. It looks a little like a witchetty grub and it’s pink; it tastes almost like a lemony potato.