This International Chef Shares His Signature Sri Lankan Inspired Recipes

From the sprawling tea plantations of Colombo to Auckland’s urban oasis, allow Chef Volker Marecek to inspire you with the flavours and textures of Sri Lankan cuisine

Volker counts his time at the MJF cooking school as a career highlight. Photos / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Chef Volker Marecek is well travelled.

His CV reads much like an itinerary. After all, he’s cooked in the kitchens of an Irish Castle, The Savoy Hotel in London, two different hotels in Berlin, the Langham Hotel in London, the National Museum in Canberra, The Berkeley Court Hotel in Dublin and a five-star hotel in Estonia, before accepting a job at the then-Langham Hotel in Auckland nine years ago.

Add a trip to Sri Lanka to the mix, and Volker’s just about seen it all.

In 2016, Volker visited the MJF Centre’s Empower Culinary Hospitality and Inspirational School in Colombo, Sri Lanka and still counts the experience as one of his favourites to date.

Founded by Merrill J. Fernando, the MJF Foundation is Dilmah’s philanthropic arm. The MJF Centre was first established in western Sri Lanka and seeks to create opportunities for disadvantaged youth through education of the gastronomy and hospitality industry.

The German-born chef was one of three chefs to visit the cooking school and says the trip was certainly one to remember. “I like to give back to people that are not as fortunate as me,” he says. “It’s great to help young chefs to grow and develop, and to acquaint them with different cooking styles.”

Applying his knowledge of both Asian and European cuisine, Volker taught students how to cook a variety of dishes, including a meat strudel. He also showed them how to create their own pasta using a pasta machine he brought with him. That pasta machine is still used by students today.

To celebrate their newfound cooking stills, Volker worked with students to put on an afternoon tea for 400 children. “We taught them [students] the recipes, but they were the ones making the dishes. The students all worked as a team, and they were very proud of the end result,” he says.

Successful graduates from the cooking school are presented with opportunities to work in five-star hotels in Colombo and beyond. “If they work hard and show passion, doors are opened for them,” Volker says. “In the future, it would be great if these students could come to New Zealand for a year and experience working in hospitality here.”

Back home in New Zealand, the executive chef at Cordis Auckland still considers Sri Lankan flavours and textures in his own cooking, including tea-based recipes.

“Cooking with tea is very interesting as it opens new flavor opportunities. One of my favourites is Lapsang Souchong — it is very smoky and works well with chocolate,” Volker says.

Seeking to deliver Sri Lankan tea and spices to the Kiwi palate, discover two of Volker’s signature recipes to try at home.

“The dhal is really nice when the weather is warmer – it’s a very homely dish best enjoyed with family,” Volker says.

Serves 4

1 Tbsp vegetable or coconut oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp of cumin seeds
1 sprig of curry leaves, broken up
1/2 finely chopped onion
1 tsp of turmeric
250g red dhal
2 garlic cloves, halve
2 split green chillies (optional)
450ml-700ml boiling water
60ml coconut milk
salt to taste

1. Thoroughly wash dhal in three changes of water

2. Heat oil in a pan, once hot add the mustard and cumin seeds

3. As the mustard seeds start popping, add the onion and curry leaves. Reduce heat to medium

4. Add in the red dhal and stir around the pan, so they can soak up the heat and until they have a nice glossy shine to them

5. Turn the heat to high and add in 2-3 cups of boiling water

6. Add in the turmeric, salt, garlic and chillies

7. Leave to cook on a high heat for around 10 minutes

8. Once the lentils have cooked and the sauce has thickened, turn the heat to medium and add in the coconut

9. Let the coconut milk boil in the pan with the lentils for a further minute

“The sweetness of the pineapple slowly roasted on the spit with the earl grey tea syrup is a nice and refreshing when combined with the yummy coconut ice-cream,” Volker says.

Serves 4

1 pineapple

Earl Grey tea honey glaze
100ml Dilmah Earl Grey tea
70g honey
30g sugar

Coconut ice-cream
300ml thickened cream
300ml thick coconut cream
250g condensed milk
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp desiccated coconut

1. For the coconut ice-cream, use an electric mixer to beat the cream until thick.

2. Add the condensed milk, coconut cream, desiccated coconut and vanilla extract and beat for another five minutes until creamy.

3. Pour mixture into prepared pan; cover with plastic wrap and freeze for six hours or until frozen.

4. For the Earl Grey honey glaze, use a high-sided saucepan over medium-high heat, to bring cold tea, honey and sugar to a boil.

5. Turn the heat to low and stir constantly until the sugar dissolves completely and the mixture is clear. Remember, the longer you boil it, the thicker the syrup will be when cooled.

6. Cut off the leafy top of the pineapple, and then carefully cut off the rind. Using a sharp knife, make a series of spiral cuts to remove the eyes.

7. Set up the BBQ for spit-roasting following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat the BBQ as hot as it will get.

8. Thread the pineapple onto the rotisserie spit crosswise so the spit passes through the middle of the fruit and the ends will be closest to the fire. Working over a tray or sheet pan, drizzle the Earl Grey Honey Glaze over the pineapple.

9. When ready to cook, attach the spit to the rotisserie mechanism and turn on the motor. Spit-roast the pineapple until it is darkly browned on the outside. This can take as little as 10 minutes or as long as 20 depending on how hot your fire is.

10. Halfway through spit-roasting, brush the pineapple every minute with the syrup

11. Take the pineapple to the table on the spit on a cutting board. Remove the spit and slice the pineapple crosswise.

12. Serve the hot pineapple with the coconut ice-cream

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