From Sydney's coastline to Coastal Kitchen, we talk to chef and restaurateur, Peter Kuruvita about his brand-new series and what life is like on the Sunshine Coast.
By
Farah Celjo

21 Oct 2016 - 9:24 AM  UPDATED 22 Dec 2016 - 7:51 PM

Watch the first episode on SBS On Demand here.

 

What has you excited about this brand-new series? It is in my new backyard, and I was also very aware of what a food destination the Sunshine Coast is. I also love the fact that every one here is very connected to health and wellness -  getting your hands on organic, sustainable and ethically farmed food is relatively easy. I am proud to call this place home and so excited about being able to devise menus that are local.

How did your move to the Sunshine Coast come about? It was a combination of big events in my life and it was also triggered by, in hindsight, a rather small one.

After my departure from the Flying Fish restaurant in Sydney, where I dedicated 10 years of my life, Starwood hotels offered me another restaurant in Noosa. It was such a ray of sunshine in a rather dark time. I began to commute to Noosa regularly to work in the restaurant and with the hotel. The trigger was my continual stress of getting out of the plane and into a cab.

Because I lived in Zetland (a mere $15 taxi ride away from the airport) I always knew I would have a cab driver upset that he or she did not get a bigger fare. I just said nothing at first and on the last cab ride, I had a raging argument with the driver, got out of the cab and walked into our house and told my wife Karen we were leaving Sydney and moving to Noosa. There was really nothing in Sydney for me anymore and we needed a sea change.

I could not think of a better place than the Sunshine coast. So my concern has turned to joy.

What was the most challenging and most rewarding things to come from the big move? The challenges are few, it has everything a person who has worked physically hard for the past 37 years wants. I surf, I love food, I crave a clean environment for my family to grow up in. The schools are excellent, we have an airport nearby and it is safe. My kids are living a life we could not in the city, safely moving about the streets to visit friends, a great heath-driven mentality and good hospital and universities.

I used to love living in the city of Sydney, and I saw Sydney grow up, I recall riding horses in Rooty Hill and Blacktown station only having five shops. I moved to Bondi when it was still all boarded up and sewerage used to pour into the bay, you could buy a house in Bondi for $200,000. I am still lucky to be traveling all the time and visiting the great cities of the world, but I love coming back to the Sunshine Coast to hear the surf and birds in the morning and swim in clean water and breath clean air.

I thought at first that recruiting the right staff may be an issue, but what I have found that there are so many like-minded people on the Sunshine Coast, who are either generational locals or newbies like me, we all love where we live and understand to do so we need to not only work hard but be on par with the cities. The biggest complaint I have is when the surf goes flat for a month, like it has just done. 

Besides your Sri Lankan flair what other flavours can we expect to enjoy in the series?  [The series features] a list of 22 dishes that span all the way back to the 1980s, like cooking a calf's liver with honey and raspberry vinegar. [The series showcases what Peter has learned over his career, from classic French techniques to his Sri Lankan heritage]. I really did not plan what to cook till I saw the produce and met the producer and it was so easy to use nearly every single item from a dish that was local. I wanted them to be all achievable for the home cook and I shared some of my long held secrets, too.

From the show: Try Peter's steamed mud crab with ginger, chilli and shallot sauce.

 

What are your 5 Kuruvita kitchen must-haves? Mortar and pestle; coconut scraper; a good heavy cast iron skillet; a set of good quality sharp knives; and my outdoor charcoal BBQ. With these 5 items you can create culinary magic!

In the series there is a strong focus on food and health - how did that affect the way you have interacted with your cooking and ingredients?  I have grown up with this in mind. Ayurveda is part of Sri Lankan daily life, you always knew the medicinal and nutritional value in food, sometimes before even learning its name as a food. We follow this in our everyday lives and so it was nice to get an opportunity to share that within the series. 

Have you got a series highlight? So many! But meeting Tom Kendall of the Permaculture Research Institute in Kin Kin was literally off the grid and his ingenious and caring attitude towards our planet is so inspiring. 

Peter and Tom tackle some fresh produce.

You mention Tom's positive approach to sustainability, so what do you think it takes to become self-sufficient with your produce? Becoming self-sufficient takes a lot of sacrifice, if you can do that in the city it would be amazing but I fear that would not be possible. Living on a block of land in the city makes it easier as passionate entrepreneur Crystal Maymann also shows us with her certified organic boutique farm Crystal Organics. Her small quart-acre block yielded all you would ever want for a fully sustainable food source. 

Tom generated everything and this takes even more commitment. I asked why he did not sell some of the abundant food he grows and his answer was that everything need to be ploughed back into the ground. His stove was amazing, using only a tiny amount of fuel and his methane gas from the cows gave him gas. I don’t know if you could get totally off the grid and get rich, but he was certainly happy; his son was a bright young man who worked in the local Kin Kin café. Life certainly seemed full and at the same time beautifully simple. I think that Tom sleeps very well at night knowing he is doing his bit to save the planet. 

What's on the cards for Peter now that the Coastal Kitchen series has finished filming? Well, I am just about to hand in the manuscript for a subcontinental vegetarian book. I am also consulting to a beautiful hotel in Sri Lanka called Cape Weligama, and I have designed their menus. Many Sri Lankans always ask me when I will open a restaurant there, this will be as close as they can get to that.

Accor hotels have just taken over the hotel in Noosa and I am looking forward to a long relationship with the group. Our restaurant in Fiji, Flying Fish Fiji is approaching 10 years now, Flying Fish Tokoriki will reopen soon after its total destruction by the last cyclone. I have also added another restaurant in Samoa called Aggie Greys by Peter Kuruvita.

I am working with Dilmah tea and assisting with the conceptualising and opening of T lounges around the world. Next year will take me to Tehran in Iran and many other Middle Eastern countries as the people of that region have a very strong and deep culture of fine food and tea.

But most of all, I hope I can spend a bit more time with my family.   

 

Peter Kuruvita explores fresh & native ingredients in his series Peter Kuruvita's Coastal Kitchen. Visit the program page for more details, recipes and guides.

Episode guide
Peter Kuruvita's Coastal Kitchen | Episode guide
Having bid farewell to city life and moved to the tropical seaside town of Noosa, chef and restaurateur Peter Kuruvita is on a journey to uncover the fresh and local produce that has made the region one of the foodie destinations of Australia.