We were extremely fortunate to be able to catch up with young commis chef Siyathma Perera who won the Sri Lankan national contest for Bocuse d’Or 2022 and recently took part in the world finals in Lyon, France, on 23rd January. Team Sri Lanka participated in a live cooking session lasting 5½ hours where they prepared monkfish and a sea product menu for 15 people.
The Bocuse d’Or is the world’s largest and most prestigious cooking contest where commitment, passion, technique and creativity determine the greatest chefs of the future. Siyathma spoke to Hi!! about the competition, her culinary experience, and what went on behind the scenes.
Siyathma, congratulations to you and the team on reaching the finals. I'm sure that you have made many Sri Lankans proud and been an inspiration for those with culinary ambitions.
Well, I'm 21 years old and live with my parents and elder sister. I currently work at Waters Edge as a commis chef. Actually, I’m a positive person who loves my freedom. You would probably say, I’m also the friendliest person you've ever met when you get to know me a little. I love to travel a great deal with my friends and family too.
Other than that, I’m really into physical fitness so, if I'm not in the kitchen, I'm in the gym. I usually go straight there after work regardless of how tired I am. On my days off, I hang out with my friends. I enjoy my life to the fullest because we only live once. So that’s me - I live a very simple and happy life.
Um, when I was around 10 years old, I really had no idea what I wanted to do professionally, but I have had a passion for baking etc. ever since I was young. I started 'cooking' when I was like three years old but not with proper ingredients though. Whenever I was playing, I always wanted to be the cook, so I used sand, stones, and any natural thing which I could use as an ingredient to make food in our play house.
In my early teenage years, I still showed an interest in baking. I watched various culinary shows and followed mouth-watering recipes which opened my eyes and heart to the world of food. Later on, I began to experiment with new recipes that I created myself. Some turned out well and some turned out really awful. But that’s how you learn, right?
No matter how many times I failed when I tried new things, I never gave up. Sometimes, I would keep trying the same recipe over and over again until I got the perfect result. I slowly learnt that nothing made me happier than cooking good food. That’s how I started my culinary journey... when I turned 17, I knew exactly that I wanted to become a professional chef.
Sri Lankan ingredients make a huge difference when we compare our local cuisine with other food around the globe. Our regional cuisine has a unique flavour that is absolutely heavenly. People love Sri Lankan food, not just the locals, but foreigners too. You will never find the distinctive Sri Lankan flavours anywhere else in the world, only we Sri Lankans can create them. Naturally, I’m proud of our Sri Lankan cuisine and being a chef in Sri Lanka makes me even prouder!
Honestly, I have many favourite ingredients. However, out of them all, I'd say my favourite is a very basic yet very important one - salt. It enhances the flavour in almost everything, especially savoury notes. Salt also contains sodium, an essential nutrient that the body needs in modest amounts. It's just one of those ingredients which chefs just can't live without.
Not really. I participated in some small competitions at my baking school. However, the Bocuse d’Or 2022 happened to be my first-ever international competition and I consider myself very lucky to have been eligible to participate. From the first level of the competition when we qualified for the finals, it's been a fabulous journey and an amazing experience. So, I really believe, this is just the beginning and that the best is yet to come.
First of all, being a part of Bocuse d'Or is a huge privilege because this is not a chance that everyone gets. It's one of the biggest culinary competitions in the world and having competed in the finals I guess it was every chef's dream. I still can't believe that I've had the opportunity and I’m humbly proud of myself. This was an excellent opportunity for me to advance farther up the career ladder as well. In truth, my friends and I are looking forward to doing amazing things throughout our lives.
Yeah, it's all about hard work, dedication and continuous training. We prepared ourselves a lot for the national selections, and frankly, we trained continually for almost one and a half months, so those were days were quite demanding. We usually started around 7 am and continued until 2 am or 3 am. We barely stopped because we didn’t have enough time and so we had to put all our effort into it. Surprisingly, I never felt exhausted because I did it with all my heart. I love my career so much. I must also mention that this competition taught me a lot of things like, how to stay focused, time management, neatness and tidiness, and most importantly, balancing work and family life.
Well, balancing work, family and other things is super challenging, but I manage to do it anyway. Sometimes I had to sacrifice family functions, parties and many important events in life because of work. Being a chef is not easy at all, but family and friends are important too, you can't leave them out so, whenever I get free time, I always see them as much as I can. I usually spend time with my family on my days off. That’s really how I balance everything. I never let them feel that they're left out. On the other hand, when I'm at work, I only focus on my duties.
I've always wanted to get international recognition by doing something great, but I didn’t think that I'd be able to achieve it at such a young age. I'm really proud of myself for coming this far without giving up. First off, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me and helped me to achieve what I have today, including my mother, father, sister, family and friends. I wouldn’t have gotten this far if they hadn't been by my side.
Also, a special thank you goes to the president of Bocuse d'Or Sri Lanka, Mr Rohan Fernandopulle, chef, Nalin Hewage, our official coach, chef Chamaka Perera, chef, Madushanka De Silva, and all the other committee members as well.
The most exciting part of competing in the Bocuse d’Or is that I've had the opportunity to interact with some of the top chefs in the world, and if I'm lucky, I might even have the chance to collaborate with them in the future.
I want to achieve a lot in life and, despite the challenges I've faced so far, I think I'm still managing to reach my goals. Somehow - that’s the spirit within me. My plans are to travel the world and learn more about culinary arts. Then, I can share all my knowledge with young chefs. One day, I hope to have my name etched in culinary history. So I'm working hard to reach my objectives since hard effort is the only way to achieve success.
“NEVER GIVE UP, YOUR HARD WORK WILL PAY OFF ONE DAY” that’s the only advice I can give to our young chefs. No matter how many times you fail in life, you have to keep your head straight and continue doing what you do until you succeed. And one more thing, always stay humble and kind no matter how successful you become. Stay down to earth and always be a good person because, at the end of the day, only the good things we do will remain.
Thank you Siyathma and good luck with the rest of your career!
About Bocuse d’Or :
Bocuse d'Or, founded in 1987 by French Chef Paul Bocuse, is regarded as the world championship of cooking. Every two years, 24 young chefs from around the world compete at the highest level of cuisine. Since day one, interest in the Bocuse d'Or has grown steadily, and there are currently a number of pre-selection events organised as qualifying competitions, such as that held in Sri Lanka.