Peter Kuruvita has more strings to his bow than he can count, or should I say fry pans in his kitchen? Either way, there is a reason this culturally-diverse chef, with a career spanning 35 years, is being followed by budding chefs around the world – and it’s not just his charismatic cooking.
Laundry hangs from windows and there is a queue stretching 200 metres from the butcher's stand, which claims to sell the best carne (meat) in the city. Up the road is a corn mill churning out masa (cornmeal) and fresh tortillas daily.
Chef Peter Kuruvita stands against the bustling backdrop of thousands of locals buying necessities for their daily lives, arms filled with fresh tomatoes, avocado, dried chili and coriander.
Here, at Mexico City’s Centro Histórico, the Australian chef has brought 14 cooks for his Mexican Fiesta Tour, sharing some of his and the country’s, cooking secrets.
“I lived in Mexico for three-and-a-half months, learning and discovering the country and the local way of cooking.”
The chef, restaurateur and media personality has become a household name for his rich and culturally-inspired cooking.
His television shows, My Sri Lanka, Island Feast and Mexican Fiesta, are a tropical feast for viewers as he teaches all there is to know about the history and food preparation in these unique destinations.
I started my first job cutting garlic bread.”
Whether it’s an up-close look at how tortillas are made, to meandering through the neighborhood and tasting crisp masa patties called tlacoyos, stuffed with beans or cheese and topped with cactus, Peter knows all the good foodie spots.
Peter and his family moved from Sri Lanka to Australia in 1997, after which time he says he had a hard time at school, where bullying was rife.
“I found out it was legal in Australia to leave school at 15-and-nine-months and I told my family – all of whom were extremely successful academics, that I was leaving, school was not for me,” he says.
Peter’s father told him in order to quit school, he would need to receive a school certificate and then get a job.
“One day, Dad and I were driving down the main street (in the southern Sydney suburb of Mortdale) and he stopped the car in the middle of the road, looked at me and said, ‘you like cooking, right?’ I answered with a yes and the next thing he is telling me to go up to the restaurant and ask for a job!”
“The restaurant was called Crabapple, it was a family-owned restaurant and the young chef who answered told me they were thinking about getting an apprentice, invited me in, passed me a knife and I started my first job cutting garlic bread,” he says.
Within three months, Peter upgraded to cooking main courses, mastering knife skills and transforming dishes with new flavours and technique. In 1982, Peter finished his apprenticeship under the watchful eye of famed chef Greg Doyal.
“I moved out of home by the age of 16-and-a-half ... I now look at my son and think, how did I do that!”
The day after finishing his apprenticeship, Peter went to India, backpacking for almost a year before moving to the UK for two years and working throughout London.
“It was hard labour. I was beaten, abused, burned and all the rest. But I managed to get a job in a Michelin Star restaurant as well as some well-known spots, so my experience grew pretty quickly.”
Upon returning to Australia, Peter took a job at a five star hotel on Hayman Island. He was then offered a job as head chef of a new restaurant in Sydney, Flying Fish, which became an icon in Sydney and in Fiji, for which Peter led the kitchen team as executive chef for eight years.
Now living in Noosa, Peter travels with tours and works as a consultant for restaurants around Australia.
“I am learning all the time, rubbing shoulders with different chefs and learning from them. That’s what keeps the food I do contemporary ... I love to watch everything evolve.