Born in Sri Lanka, she moved to Australia in 2007 to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in Hotel Management, graduating in 2011. At the age of 10 or 12 years, she started learning cooking from her Mum and Grandma. Being a very passionate cook herself, her Mum encouraged her to cook and read cookbooks. Whilst living in Australia she was inspired by the variety of cuisines and cooking cultures on offer and she found her strengths in the kitchen were Asian and Sri Lankan.
Chef Dhayanie Williams thinks that the general perception in the western world is that the Indian and Sri Lankan foods are similar and she wants to show the global market the difference in Sri Lankan flavors by showing the authentic dishes.
Here is an exclusive interview of the Chef Dhyanie Williams by Chatty Bear:
Tell us about your childhood in Sri Lanka and your parent’s influence on you.
I was born in Rakwana. I attended boarding school in Kandy for 12 years (Mowbray College). Boarding school meant everything was provided and I rarely found myself in the kitchen making meals. I really looked forward to going home on holidays, I missed my family and it was my Mum that encouraged me to read cookbooks, teaching me the basics of classic Sri Lankan and southern Indian dishes.
I am the oldest of four children, my family lived on a tea plantation and in 2007 I decided to move to Australia to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management at Homesglen Tafe, graduating in 2011. It was only when I moved to Melbourne, Australia in 2007 that it opened a whole new world of cuisines that I previously did not know about.
Living in a boarding school there were strict regulations, we did not have many outings. But it was an amazing time growing up in a boarding school, I had lots of friends & I also learned to be very independent from a small age.
Shifting to a new country entirely, did you go through any cultural shock?
No, I never had any cultural shock as such, before coming to Australia, I worked in Colombo, and the Colombo lifestyle is more like Melbourne. It took a long time to get used to the weather and the various seasons in Melbourne.
It was very tough coming to Melbourne as an international student. Working part-time and studying was difficult, working odd hours and the systems of lodging assignment took a good couple of months to get used to.
Tell us about your MasterChef Australia experience.
Getting into MasterChef was one of my dreams since the show started in 2009. As I was passionate about cooking, I was inspired by previous contestants and the dreams they possessed about the culinary world. I really wanted to experience what I saw on the show.
The MasterChef experience is wonderful, I learned so many different cooking techniques & recipes from fellow contestants, Judges as well as guest chefs. Having said that, there are bad times, there is a lot of pressure whilst cooking as you do not want to get eliminated and when you get eliminated it is a horrible feeling. However, I would not swap those experiences with anything else. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
What kind of cuisine interests you the most?
My favorite cuisine to eat is Italian – Italian food is something simple. There are limited ingredients used in a dish, but those ingredients shine through the whole dish. Eg – Pizza (Tomato and basil/Pasta with just 2 ingredients)
I love to cook anything and everything, but personally, desserts are the most rewarding, because I find when making a dessert you need to have lots of patience, and it is more challenging than making a savory dish. For example, being able to temper chocolate is a lot harder than making a Sri Lankan dish.
I know many Sri Lankan friends in Canada and India & when they share their favorite dish names, shockingly it is mostly South Indian dishes. Can you tell our readers a few uniquely Sri Lankan specific cuisine which you think describes Sri Lanka?
There is a lot of similarity with Sri Lankan and South Indian dishes, however there are several unique dishes that are very authentic to Sri Lanka. I pretty much love all the Sri Lankan Dishes. It is very hard to name one, but I will try and name a few.
Pork Kalu Malu (Black Pork Curry)
I love the complex flavors of the dish, dark in color, slow-cooked to absorb all the flavors of Sri Lankan spices. Cooked in a clay pot at its best. This dish is unique to our nation.
Hot Butter Cuttlefish
All the restaurants have their version of this dish, I had it in several places and loved all of them. I love the flavor of the fresh cuttlefish in Sri Lanka, the natural sweetness of the cuttlefish, then coated with batter deep fried, tossed through spring onion and in a sweet, sour, and spicy sauce. I love the simplicity of this dish and it is a flavor bomb.
Jaffna Goat Curry
Jaffna, in Sri Lanka, is known for its own style of spicy cuisine. The unique roasted curry powder used in this dish brings out the flavor of the goat. Slow-cooked with all the spices. I love this dish for its complex flavor of the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and moist meat.
Dry Fish Fry/Curry
I love anything dry fish, since I was small this has been my all-time favorite. Very simple dish but I love the flavor of the salt, any way you try to make it, it absolutely tastes delicious with Coconut Sambol, Dhal, and Fried Dry Fish that’s heaven for me.
Other unique Sri Lankan cuisines include; Konda Keum, Kokis, Jaffna Odiyal Kool, Milk Toffee, Pol Toffee, to name a few. Sri Lankan food for me is fresh, vibrant, colorful, full of flavor, and of course coconutty.
We use spices, herbs, and coconut in our cooking. I personally like;
Curry leaves – For the unique flavor and aroma when cooking.
Chilies – For fiery flavor, I love using chilies.
Cinnamon/Cardamom/Cloves – For the aroma and it can be used in both sweet and savory.
Coconut – It is very essential in Sri Lankan cooking, also you can use all the parts of the coconut.
Unfortunately, most of the world is not aware of the unique cuisines Sri Lanka is able to offer.
Throughout your journey what is your favorite dish that you have prepared?
I have prepared so many different dishes, the favorite dish was the “Coconut Roti, Coconut Sambol, creamy dhal, and Chicken Curry that I made on MasterChef Australia 2019. The judges loved the unique flavors of each component that I served, and I got to show the authentic Sri Lankan food to the world.
How do you plan to spread awareness about the uniqueness of Sri Lankan cuisine in Australia?
I have been conducting Instagram Live cooking sessions with other guests on a consistent basis, where most of the time we have showcased Sri Lankan cuisine. During the week I also showcase a Sri Lankan dish on social media platforms at least once a week. This is through images & videos.
In March I did a Sri Lankan dinner experience with “Gaja by Sashi”. Due to the current restrictions, it’s difficult to collaborate with restaurants. However, once the restrictions ease, I can start running these exclusive Sri Lankan dinner experiences.
I recently collaborated with Drool Australia and conducted a cooking lesson to showcase Sri Lankan & Asian flavors.
I’ll also be releasing a small video series on social media platforms later this year about my culinary adventure in Sri Lanka. I have collaborated with Jetwing Hotels for this.
Have you ever been to Canada & India? Any future tour planned here?
Not till now, but I would love to visit Canada and India one day and explore the culinary world.
The series of my Culinary & Travel Adventure of Sri Lanka will be posted on my YouTube channel later this year. And I would love to do the same thing when I visit India and Canada as well.
Are you running any business right now?
I launched my catering arm of the business where I am able to cater for private functions, birthday parties, etc. The media arm of the business creates cooking and product review videos. Through videos, I can collaborate with various brands and cook meals with their products. I am also planning to launch a range of spice mixes. For me, going into MasterChef has opened lots of different opportunities. It has also given me the confidence to pursue my food dream.
Read more from Chef Dhayanie Williams Here