Inside the bright and airy kitchen at Marriott Weligama, the counters are stacked with tempting delights and the décor gives off a beach-side vibe. Executive Chef Sandeep Pande joins us for a coffee after completing his lunch time duties. “I believe in giving people choices,” he says, explaining the restaurant’s ethos of ensuring that there is something for everyone. “I don’t follow the live station concept,” he enthuses. “I follow the live kitchen concept.” This is true in that his team of chefs are friendly, present and still interacting with guests, even after the main rush is over, and this is credit to Pande’s approach. “A lot of guests do not understand the concept because they are used to train-like buffets.” He says, why offer seafood that has been out on the counter, when it can be made freshly for customers in 10 minutes at their request?
At the core of Pande’s passion for cooking are two key observations developed over his years of experience. Namely, 1) cooking has to come from the heart – “The upper pocket, not the lower pocket”, and 2) knowledge is key – “For you to understand food, you have to understand culture.” Asks Pande, “How many of us would go and find out the history of our food?” The geography of a place influences its cuisine, as the surrounding landscape influences the crops and the grazing of animals.
Unsurprisingly then, local is a key component of procurement, with 70% of food coming from the local region. Marriott standards require certain dishes to be included, but Pande put his own special twist on them – for example, a ‘surfers benedict’ made with seared tuna rather than imported salmon that has been flown thousands of miles. The traditional options are available if people want them, but diners are gently nudged to sample the best that Sri Lanka has to offer. Adds Pande, “You’ll never find me using the word ‘good’. We always strive for great.”
You can read our interview with the General Manager of Weligama Bay Marriott, Elton Hurtis, here.
Motto Real food, cooked with passion, is food fit for the gods.