EVOKING EMOTION AND ESOTERIC
Of Art & Culinary launches on ARTRA Magazine with Cover Personality, the eminent Dharshan Munidasa, revered culinary artist and founder of acclaimed restaurants Ministry of Crab, Nihonbashi which have been ranked on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List. Born in Tokyo, to a Japanese mother and Sri Lankan father, Dharshan unearthed his passion for the culinary during his time at Johns Hopkins University, USA, where he obtained a Double Degree in Computer Engineering and International Relations. Dharshan also established The Tuna & The Crab in Galle; a hybrid Japanese and Seafood restaurant that combines the cuisine of Nihonbashi and Ministry of Crab. Having opened Nihonbashi at the Radh Hotel in Kandy, Dharshan introduced Casual Washoku to the hill country, serving a selection of signature Japanese dishes in an informal setting. He has been invited to prepare degustation menus in various establishments across the world; including the Regent in Taiwan, the Intercontinental Hotel in Sydney, the World Gourmet Summit in Singapore, Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, Cheval Blanc Randheli Resort, Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou At West Lake and Shangri-La Hotels in London, Tokyo, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Dubai.
“If you think of a cuisine the plate is our canvas. Our colours are the ingredients we play around with, and they can be vegetables, mountains or harvests of the oceans,” said Dharshan on the artistic nuances of a dish. As we explored the diverse components of the culinary arts from the visual motifs, performative nuances to the artist’s practice, he reflectively stated that the artistic expression is two-fold in the culinary process. “One is visual, and the other is what happens inside the mouth. There’s a saying in Japanese, which implies you feast with your eyes first. Food intrigues as it blurs the line between what you see and what you consume”.
“Food is joy. It is very difficult for me to eat something that doesn’t taste good. We, as human beings eat three meals a day, so we have opportunities to enjoy. If you eat something bad, you’ve given up one third of a meal to have joy. For me, food is love, passion and joy and to create, is equally enticing. To witness people consume it, and share the same emotions is another way I receive joy through food,” said Dharshan. The chef’s preliminary years were spent in Japan of which its rich culture and practices have seamlessly flowed into his dishes and his way of life. However, Dharshan’s less than conventional start in his culinary journey, a notion he prides himself most on, is his education of food itself; that Dharshan never attended culinary school but rather, learnt each practice from the people of the places in which he lived throughout his years, from observing and understanding the origins of their food and what they mean to them.
“I learnt so much from experience, trial and error” said Dharshan. His learning experiences have been influenced intrinsically through the food and living cultures of Sri Lanka and Japan. “My Japanese upbringing have greatly influenced my culinary process in terms of etiquette to practice whilst my Sri Lankan side have helped me source exceptional ingredients and skills that others find very hard to. I was taught how to grade crabs by competent crab mongers in Pettah,” he said as we conversed on his upbringing and its influence upon his profession. “The Japanese culture celebrates nature grandiosely. They may have high-tech gadgets and supreme technological proficiency but they inculcate a sense of appreciation towards nature to their offspring from a very young age. When we were kids we were encouraged to fish in rivers and lakes, catch cicadas in butterfly nets, practice ikebana and bonsai, and wabi-sabi where the beauty of those is characterized by the endurance of time. Rust and moss were considered inherently beautiful – the appreciation for nature was high. Consuming all these experiences and values whilst being in Sri Lanka, stemmed by love for food making” mused Dharshan on the inspirations and influences that make the chef he is today.
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